25 January 2017

Kelmarna Community

Not just a teaching resource, shared gardens are a way to bring whole communities together, says passionate environmentalist Adrian Roche.


share

From its hippy heyday in the early 1980s to a space where the community can shop, garden or just hang out, Kelmarna Gardens is a survivor - proving an enduring asset in an era when the threat to Auckland’s green spaces intensifies.

On its sunny slopes, small vegetable plots mingle in a haphazard, natural way with flowers, herbs, fruit trees, hot houses, a worm farm, bee hives, a chicken coop and a shop. A Welsh pony and livestock graze surrounding paddocks.

Community groups, children, whole classrooms, locals and volunteers come and go. Tucked behind a row of houses in the heart of Ponsonby, it is a charming old-fashioned, back to earth oasis where it’s easy to forget the jangle of the city.

Administered by the Kelmarna Trust, the 4.5 acre city farm and organic community garden in Hukanui Crescent has a sole employee, manager Adrian Roche. With a business degree and post-graduate diploma in environmental management, Adrian first came to the garden as a volunteer in 1996 and became the manager in 2003. Now charged with revitalising the farm as an active sustainable garden at the heart of the community, he says, it is a dream job.

As he leans back in the chair of the rustic little garden shed that is his office, he says, “I’ve done lots of study around sustainability. Sustainable enterprises should be supporting people and they should support the environment too. This project does both. It’s a beautiful combination.”

The role deepens his connection to the environment. “It becomes a richer and richer experience.”

He looks to nature to inform his gardening style with a high commitment to sustainability and diversity of spaces - no poisons or artificial fertilisers. 

“Diversity gives the garden strength. Never put all your eggs in one basket. It’s what happens in nature. Nature minimises bare soil, so we try to plant densely using permaculture techniques.”

At Kelmarna Gardens people can see how food is grown and there are workshops on topics such as composting, organic gardening, bee keeping and foraging. 

It began as a market garden when Paul Lagerstedt wanted to show how to make a living off a small piece of land using biodynamic principles – a holistic, ecological and ethical approach to farming - developed by Rudolf Steiner. The Council gave him the land. “This plot had been owned by the nuns of the St Vincent Home of Compassion who ran an adoption processing centre for unwed mothers in Hukanui Crescent in the 1970s. “A couple of years later, the Kelmarna Trust was formed and they’ve leased it since then. From the beginning they have promoted organic gardening.

The Trust received funding to run it as a PEP scheme where people on the dole ran a trading programme. But the funding dried up and Massey graduates tried to make a go of it. They stayed for a couple of years before the Council discovered elevated levels of lead in the soil. So they stopped growing food and concentrated on flowers.

 As Adrian explains, it turned out all older, inner city suburbs have slightly elevated lead levels due to having been exposed to paint or petrol in cars. But not to the extent they should cause concern. “You are allowed up to 100 parts per million. It’s not ideal but it’s comforting to know, even Michelle Obama discovered lead when she was setting up an organic garden at the White House. We’ve done what we can by adding organic matter and keeping the soil alkaline to reduce the amount the plants take up. It’s important not to eat the soil around the plants on things like dirty carrots. Just be aware.”

In 1991, Unitec and the mental health organisation Framework partnered to give people with mental health issues a non-threatening place to work and feel good about themselves. Framework continued to support the scheme until February last year. Suddenly Kelmarna Trust had to consider how to keep the place going while also supporting the mental health process. Kelmarna Gardens entered a new era of fundraising.

“We’ve been out there doing Facebook and Instagram, trying to get support from the community. We have a membership scheme to become a Friend of Kelmarna Gardens with a monthly donation. We never had the website before. It’s going well, but we need more. We need to get people to come and help, have a picnic on the lawn. It’s a community asset. We’re reaching out to schools and the community.”

There are many benefits, he says. “It’s a beautiful place to be. Gardens are not just about creating food. They’re about creating community. They get you out of the house and provide a chance for interaction. We’re also educating people and supporting the mental health industry. It’s well-documented gardening is good for mental health. It’s a tolerant, more accepting space. And you can always get good gardening advice here.”

For those in other communities keen to establish shared garden spaces, Adrian says it’s easy to find the land. “The difficult part is forming relationships. Gardens challenge you to create community.

“People need to look to each other, hang out and do things together. You have to have some impetus to start off.”

The Council supports such initiatives and there is a process you can go through to get a piece of land. But you will probably find a shared garden in your community already. “Get behind it and support it. They all need help. I’ve never come across a community garden that didn’t.”

Adrian's Gardening Tips:

1. Grow food plants – not random stuff like native trees because you’ll have a strong commitment. A tree just sits there forever.

2. If you starting out, grow salad ingredients. Salad leaves are really easy to grow and you don’t need much space.

3. Buy an old Yates Gardening Guide from your op shop and have a read before you plant to avoid mistakes.

4. Plant courgettes, cucumber and beans first. They’re super-reliable.

5. Don’t try growing capsicum, eggplant or kumara. They’re tricky.

6. Plant onion-y smelling plants around the outside of your garden, like leeks and spring onions. The strong smell is a deterrent to pests.

share

Return to blog

More recent posts

17 August 2017

Making His Mark


Decorative artist Ross Lewis ‘love affair’ with wall space began when he was just four years old. Since then his art has developed and exploded across walls and ceilings.

More
10 August 2017

Sound and Vision


Retrofitting the latest, smart audio-visual and security systems into an older-style home may be easier than you think.

More
3 August 2017

The Art of Selling Houses


An on-going artwork by John Radford has evolved into a wonderful and somewhat unintentional parody on the Auckland real estate market.

More
3 August 2017

Tranquil Sanctuary


Unique is a word that should be used sparingly. However, there are exceptions, and this Westmere house is it – a truly one-off design and something very special indeed.

More
27 July 2017

Global Clean-Up


The energetic Co-founder and CEO of Sustainable Coastlines, Sam Judd thinks big - and he’s rapidly making inroads on a global scale.

More
24 July 2017

June Market Wrap


Although there’s been a decline in the number of properties for sale this month, this has led to stiffer competition for buyers and a slight increase in the median price.

More
20 July 2017

Change Maker


Hell-bent on realising the full potential of Auckland’s Unitary Plan, energetic Generation Zero hustler Leroy Beckett discusses the group’s latest agenda.

More
6 July 2017

Modern Twist


With more than thirty houses to his name, Cameron Ireland can reasonably call himself a specialist in the art of converting small, draughty villas into edgy family homes.

More
29 June 2017

Over the bridge and far away…


After a long week in the office, head to Birkenhead and start the weekend with one of many energising walks.

More

Contact Us

Are you interested in knowing more about one of these articles? Please fill out the form below to get in contact with us.