by Zoë Heine
Science in Society student at Victoria University of Wellington
Within an hour of the move to Level 4 being announced I had placed an order for seeds. It was a panic buy; I already had plenty of seeds on hand, it was simply an act to reassure myself amid uncertainty. I wasn’t the only one. The seed company sent a newsletter later that week declaring: “Every day is like the busiest day in spring.” While happy to have the orders, they went on to urge gardeners to be careful about what seeds they were planting: “According to sales over the last two weeks, ANYTHING GOES but realistically…. don’t be tempted to sow heat lovers any time soon.”
This newsletter made me wonder, exactly how would Covid-19 impact on gardening practices in New Zealand? In this blog, I collect together some notes on how Covid-19 has affected New Zealand’s gardening community.
Facebook groups dedicated to garden chat began to fill up with references to lockdown, including satirical memes on how much gardening would get done. First-time gardeners began posting questions about what to grow first. Some long-time gardeners despaired – all the plants had been bought up at the garden centres, and they’d probably just die in the hands of inexperienced gardeners (though I’d hazard plenty of plants die at the hands of experienced gardeners too). However, the majority were gardeners sharing tips and inspiration on every aspect of gardening.
The Facebook group “New Zealand Gardening on a budget” took the opportunity to encourage resilience through vegetable gardening. A post at the start of lock-down suggested starting winter gardens. Experienced gardeners were encouraged to share their knowledge, and newbies encouraged to ask questions.
While online discussion could continue uninterrupted during lockdown, other gardening practices had to pause. A Wellington Facebook group for swapping plants was quick to put a halt on all trade. An admin post from 25 March reads:
“Sorry if you’re grumpy, but this is non-negotiable. The more strictly we stick to the rules of this lockdown, the sooner it can end. Let’s play our part in keeping our most vulnerable safe and just use what we’ve already got in our gardens – propagate EVERYTHING!”
The page has instead become a space for identifying mysterious plants and tips on what to grow in Wellington in Autumn. As one user commented, instead of plants “we’re sharing/swapping advice and knowledge.” For home gardeners, lock-down has meant a pause on visiting garden centres and reliance on the suppliers still shipping. For many community gardens it meant a complete pause on garden activity. On March 27 Taupō Community Gardens posted the below on their Facebook page:
Thank you all for being so passionate about this wonderful resource. We know that there are many of us that have found peace and purpose and a special connection with this community space – and this also means that some who pop down casually don’t realise how many others are doing the same…which is why we cannot do other than say please resist the temptation to be there until it is safe for all once more.
Vegetable gardening is often associated with community resilience. Andrea Gaynor, has written on the role gardens play in both independence – our ability to feed ourselves; and interdependence – our ability to feed our community. Gardens create community resilience not just as places to grow vegetables, but as restorative spaces for mental and spiritual wellbeing. With working bees off the table, some community gardens remained open as part of wider green spaces; Berhampore Community Garden posted, “You are more than welcome to walk through the orchard and you might even find some ripe Granny Smiths. Enjoy the serenity (once the bloomin’ southerly dies down!)”
I spent the past year researching at community gardens in Wellington, and my own garden took a back seat. After six weeks of enforced home gardening, I am now harvesting fresh rocket and mesclun from the packets I ordered. Aotearoa is now entering a new stage, one where more contact will be allowed, and community gardens will begin to re-open. My collection of observations in this blog seeks to illustrate the possibility of further research into gardening and Covid-19.