The Royal Botanic Garden Sydney’s Youth Community Greening program celebrated its 10 year anniversary at one of the first gardens established in the program, Bidwill Community Garden in Mount Druitt. Youth Community Greening shares horticultural expertise 'beyond the garden walls' to vulnerable preschools, migrant youth groups, youth off the Streets, Juvenile Justice centres, disability groups and many more young people across New South Wales.
Over the past decade this program has been able to support the development of more than 326 gardens, 73,263 participants and train 930 teachers. And on this very special occasion of our 10 year anniversary, we couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate then to spend the morning with the local community of Bidwill and two inspiring young men, John and Keith, two boys that grew up next to the community garden.
The neighbourhood boys
The dynamic-duo spent endless hours being entertained in the garden by Youth Community Greening activities and enjoying the fresh fruit and vegetables that they helped plant. From the age of nine, the neighbourhood boys took part in the free after school program, school holiday activities, special occasions and weekend events in the Bidwill Community Garden as part of the Youth Community Greening program.
Their early childhood memories of hearing laughter in the garden and the smell of fresh vegetables on the barbeque are a far cry from the reality of other children that grow up in low-economic areas where drugs, depression and neglect are all too familiar.
The boys didn’t know it at the time, but the hive of positive activity right next door was a convenient after school safe haven – times that could have easily been lonely or made them a target of negative social influences if left to their own devices.
As the neighbour of the garden, Keith would climb onto his trampoline to take a better look at the activities that the Youth Community Greening Officer, Elizabeth Docking, was planning for the day. He would pop his head over the fence to enquire or just to chat with Elizabeth before recruiting John to join him in the garden for a fun afternoon.
They boys loved the social aspect of the garden, the challenges that Elizabeth would make up for them and the feeling that the neighbourhood was bonding while tending to veggie patches amongst the rich smell of soil.
As the kids grew, so did Youth Community Greening – the program began to cater to older children who enjoyed the educational challenges, despite it being school holidays or after school. It is with these challenges that Elizabeth found Keith and John in their element. Keith’s ‘over the fence’ conversations would also enquire ‘will there be a challenge today?’
Quite often the boys were joined by Keith’s mum Mary, who usually was the only parent attending. While not always being able to assist the boys with their challenge, she was there for moral support.
Outside of the day to day activity, the community garden is a meeting spot during the holidays such as Christmas and Easter. A place where the neighbourhood comes together for the biggest and best celebrations in Bidwill. To Elizabeth’s delight, Keith and John have become admirable young men, who are part of their community and continue to come to the garden and assist with events – helping to sell raffle tickets and clean up.
Like many of their neighbours, they believe that the garden is not about charity but community. Friendships, skill sharing and working together are as much of a priority as sowing seeds and propagating plants. It’s about the kids, families, adults and elders from the wider community that all get involved, take stewardship of the projects and guide the gardens into their future for further generations to enjoy.