Thames garden that grows friendships, as well as fruit and vege


Last updated 09:59, October 2 2017

Thames Bright Smile Community Gardens in partnership with the supported lifestyle Hauraki Trust have been selected as finalists in the 2017 Gardena Gardener of the Year competition.

It’s the relationships that have grown in the garden they care for that makes it such a special place for Rebekah Manley-Campbell and Samantha Claire.

The two women work in the garden belonging to the Supported Lifestyle Hauraki Trust, which provides care for those with intellectual disabilities and traumatic brain injuries. Their commitment to the work has seen them named as finalists in the annual Gardena Gardener of the Year awards run by NZ Gardener.

Rebekah and Samantha are employed to work for three hours a week at the garden in the Coromandel town of Thames, although inevitably they give it a lot more of their time, especially in the summer months.

Read more about this year’s finalists:
Trevor Crosby
Andrea Reid
Bay of Plenty Tree Society
Balclutha Community Garden

Rebekah Manley-Campbell (left) and Samantha Claire.

“It’s a lovely green space where there is always something fruiting or flowering,” says Samantha. “In summer, I’m pretty much here everyday, at least to do some watering. I might put in 10 to 20 hours in a busy week. I love watching the plants grow and seeing other people excited about it.”

The garden has areas to walk through and relax in, and there are organic vegetable beds, subtropicals and flowers.

The “Lifestylers” come to the garden regularly for morning tea and barbecues, and are encouraged to help out if they want. “It really depends on their abilities,” explains Rebekah. “One lady loves to pick peas and beans so we always make sure to plant plenty. A couple like to pick posies and there’s even some that enjoy carting heavy stuff round in wheelbarrows, which is great.”

Both agree that teaching gardening skills is as important as helping the Lifestylers form friendships with volunteers who come from outside their community.

As important as teaching gardening skills is helping the Lifestylers form friendships with volunteers who come from outside their community. “We get elderly people, mums with young kids, children. There are lovely moments and lots of joy and sharing,” says Samantha.

Both she and Rebekah are busy mums. They find time for the garden between home-schooling their kids, and they say it’s pleasing to be often told how beautiful it is. “But what’s really important to us is the way it brings people together. We’ve seen how community gardens can change lives.”

Have you made up your mind? Vote for the GARDENA Gardener of the Year 2017 now.

- NZ Gardener

Originally published at