NEWIE's HIDDEN GARDEN OF EDEN - CHRIS BROWN / by Kian West

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nm_web_images_10-Minus the naked people, and the religious undertones.When I am asked about community gardens, most people are pleasantly surprised when they learn that there is almost 20 community gardens in the Newcastle area, almost one in every suburb except a few of the snooty ones. Some are as big as a bowling green, some as tiny as a few herbs on the street, but they all share the same ideology, growing food on a very localised scale. The intent behind these green spaces come about from delightfully diverse assortment of political persuasions - from groups who want to exercise practical political acts right through to a single person who just wants some fresh mint for their Saturday afternoon Mojito without thinking anything of it. Nonetheless, they all share the same crux; Stuff the big stupormarket chains! We can grow it ourselves, and we can grow it bloody beautifully. The popularity of Community Gardens has exploded over the last 5 or so years, but the concept of community gardens has been around since the mid 70's. The first was in Melbourne and the idea exploded. The garden I run in Belmont started in 1994 but it wasn't until the early 2000's for the idea to catch on in Newcastle. Since then, some very much loved projects have flourished and continued to evolve according to the community's needs. One of Newy's best which I will share with you in this issue, is Sandhills Community Garden. Hidden behind the train sheds in the foreshore park is one of Newcastle's greatest community assets – an edible forest with winding terraced paths and luscious herb and vegetable beds. There are no fences or gates, and therefore it is incredibly inviting. Cheerful flowers, rich aromas, contrasting foliage and diverse insect and bird life all add to the gardens charm. Established fruit and nut trees are scattered along the hillside, under planted with herbs, veggies and other edibles. The garden's caretaker, Christine and I have talked at length about the concept of foraging for food – taking a little from one plant, and moving on to the next. The focus for seasonal veggies tends to gravitate towards plants which produce quickly, over a long period. Don't expect to walk out of the garden with a kilo of spuds and a watermelon, these things take time to develop and are often quickly snatched up. Veggies and herbs such as asparagus, kale, rocket, peas and beans can be picked daily and are the heroes of this garden. Take a little, leave the rest for others – that's the garden's philosophy. What a meditative and grounding act it is to wander through the garden and collect a handful of greens for a quick stir fry. It's very rewarding to donate a plant to the garden and know that you are helping to provide free, organic, living food to people who really appreciate it. You can find more information about Sandhills Community Garden on their website, or you can pop down and see Christine most afternoons.CHRIS_WEB sandhillscommunitygarden.com Lots of Mulch, Chris Brown