Creating a community

Sunday, 05 March 2017

The Cottage Garden Club meeting, Epping, Sydney on 4 March 2017

Twenty-five years ago this May, something quite wonderful happened in the gardening world in Sydney. A woman with amazing energy and vision, by the name of Sue Perkins, created the Cottage Garden Club and spread the word that a meeting would be held in a church hall in Epping. My small circle of gardening friends was very excited and we turned up on the day. For me, it was the first time I had left my baby daughter for more than a few hours so it was a big outing! Hundreds of other keen gardeners converged on the church hall and a community was born: a community of Sydney gardeners. Of course, we all knew a few other gardeners, but the Cottage Garden Club hugely enlarged our circle of kindred spirits and forged lifelong friendships.

Beautiful bromeliads for sale at the Cottage Garden Club on 4 March 2017, grown by Jan Wightman

Four times a year, ever since, we have turned up to meetings, to revel in a variety of fabulous stalls selling unusual and interesting plants not attainable in mainstream nurseries; gardening books; and gardening-related paraphernalia, such as sturdy plant supports, beautiful greetings cards, bird houses and much more. Members can sell their own plants, giving 10 percent commission to the club. On the front steps of the hall, people leave excess plants, bulbs or seeds from their own gardens as give-aways to other members. So very many of the plants in my garden have been obtained from the club meetings.

Plants from the Secret Garden & Nursery on sale at the Cottage Garden Club on 4 March 2017

The meetings showcase three or four speakers each time, and over the quarter-century we have heard some superb talks on a wide array of topics and learned so much about gardening and enriched our knowledge. Some of my favourite speakers over the years have been Rob Willis from the erstwhile Belrose Nursery, the ever-entertaining Mary Moody, Michael Cooke, Peter Valder and Elma Webb. At the most recent meeting, this past weekend, one of the speakers was Marianne Farrar, from the Secret Garden & Nursery at Richmond NSW, an establishment I have mentioned several times in my blogs: a not-for-profit horticultural organisation offering a supportive and educational environment for people with a range of abilities, providing them with many experiences and opportunities, including an invaluable sense of purpose, social connections and skills . The nursery, open to the public, sells a wide range of interesting plants suited to the Sydney climate, many of them propagated by the centre's clients. A selection of the plants was on sale at the Cottage Garden Club on Saturday. The big news from the Secret Garden & Nursery, as I alluded to in a blog last year, is that they will be moving to their new premises at Clydesdale Lane, Richmond (on the grounds of Western Sydney University, entry via Londonderry Road).

Part of the new nursery site at Western Sydney University, Richmond NSW

The new site is much bigger than the current one and some stunning buildings have been constructed. There will even be a cafe and children's playground, complete with a castle! The quirkiness of the original nursery will be retained and the garden plants will be dug up and taken to the new site. I was pleased to hear that all the resident animals, including the pigs, will be transported to the new location! Just like the Cottage Garden Club, the Secret Garden & Nursery has created a magical sense of community, with its staff, volunteers, clients and visitors, and it is a unique place.

Freebies donated for members, by members at the Cottage Garden Club

As well as the quarterly meetings, the Cottage Garden Club has regular outings to gardens around Sydney, as well as numerous trips away, within NSW, interstate and overseas, to visit fantastic gardens and garden events, such as the Chelsea Flower Show. Each meeting in Epping is like stepping for a day into another world: being with souls who totally understand our obsession with plants and gardens. I have met so many delightful people through the club, and part of the joy of attending the meetings is to catch up with old friends. I feel as if I have finally found my 'clan' in life and the older I get, the more important that seems to me!