Lenore Boxer was one of the 19 founding members that got together in 1999 and decided Kangaroo Island needed a garden club.
“I’ve always loved gardening and this was something many people got a lot of enjoyment out of over time,” the now 76-year-old remembers.
She is still one of 65 active members and the club’s Vice President this year, but would not have imagined the important role the club would play in helping the island recover from disaster.
Kangaroo Island is a small community of around 4500 residents, many of which live out on farms towards the more remote western end of the island and for whom gardening is not only a joy but also part of being self-sufficient.
Unfortunately, the Black Summer fires in December 2019 and January 2020 took that joy away from those hardworking people, losing livestock, farm infrastructure, houses and their beloved gardens.
That’s where the garden club came in.
Straight after the fires, the ABC Gardening Australia front lady Sophie Thomson decided to help the KI community and ended up calling Kangaroo Island Garden Club president Anne Morrison.
Ever since that call, Anne’s Kingscote home has become the depot and delivery centre of any garden-related donations from all over Australia.
“We can blame Sophie Thomson for that,” Anne says.
“I didn’t know Sophie before this, and I don’t know that we would’ve gotten as far without her.”
The Kangaroo Island Garden Club assisted and supported Sophie in her goal to create the Parndana Community Garden which opened in March 2020 and has been a godsend for all fire-affected island gardeners.
After realising it would be a long time before people can begin rebuilding their own, this shared veggie patch was the next best thing.
“It has been a beacon of light for people, it gave them a bit of hope for the future,” Anne says.
Kangaroo Island Garden Club members attend regular working bees to maintain the wicking beds in the public garden so those still rebuilding can continue to pick a few greens without worrying about the rest.
Since the fires, the Kangaroo Island Garden Club has helped hundreds of island gardeners to get their green patches back up and running or start a new one from scratch.
“Our newsletter still goes out to 113 fire-affected gardeners every month,” Anne says, adding that she’s had more than 300 visits from people picking up donated items.
The 69-year-old from the UK admits that most mainland connections were created by Sophie’s incredible reach, with donations coming from everywhere still landing on Anne’s doorstep to be distributed around the island.
“It has not been a hardship,” she says.
“It’s been great to be able to help, it’s just community.”
The club has dispersed 450 fruit trees, 2500 tube stock plants, vegetable and flower seeds, two pallets of potting mix, 300 roses, one pallet of rose fertiliser and so much more since January 2020.
Donations also included cash assistance as well as gardening gloves, tools and books.
Anne has also become the main contact for any garden-related events on the island, ranging from Bushfire Revival days to Open Gardens where the members aim to inspire those who lost it all.
Whatever helps those who need to take their minds off bigger worries for a while and get their hands back in the soil.
Anne, her committee and members know that it is going to be a continual thing and they are aware of the mental health benefits gardening can have after experiencing trauma.
“I don’t know how many donations we will continue to get but I can see me doing this for another couple of years,” she says.
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