Sophie Thomson's community garden grows Kangaroo Island community spirit after bushfires

The large group of volunteers celebrating with Sophie Thomson after the completion of the new community garden at Parndana. Photo Sophie Thomson Facebook page
The large group of volunteers celebrating with Sophie Thomson after the completion of the new community garden at Parndana. Photo Sophie Thomson Facebook page

A newly built community garden is growing not only vegetables but also community spirit on bushfire blackened Kangaroo Island.

Gardening identity Sophie Thomson from the ABC's Gardening Australia wanted to do something after witnessing the horror of the bushfires not only KI but also in the Adelaide Hills where she lives.

Ms Thomson has been a regular visitor to the Island over more than 20 years having given many talks for the KI Garden Club.

The first segment she filmed on Kangaroo Island 13 years ago featured the Stokes Bay Bush Garden grown lovingly by John and Carol Stanton, which sadly was lost in the January fires.

She happened to be on Kangaroo Island just a few weeks before the first fires broke out on December 20, filming three segments for the show.

One of the segments featured the stunning house and garden of Roni and Cathy Cohen whose south coast property was surrounded by flames on January 3. Luckily the house survived.

Cathy and Roni Cohen with Sophie Thomson during the filming for Gardening Australia. Photo Sophie Thomson Facebook page

Cathy and Roni Cohen with Sophie Thomson during the filming for Gardening Australia. Photo Sophie Thomson Facebook page

Also featured on Gardening Australia was the herbarium of Bev Overton AM and her assistant Michelle Haby, and also Emu Ridge Eucalyptus distillery operated by Bev and Larry Turner.

Ms Thomson said she had experience with the garden bushfire recovery work after the Sampson Flat and Pinery fires of 2015.

She wanted to apply this experience and knowledge to Kangaroo Island and so started making a few phone calls and investigations through her contacts at the garden club, including Stuart and Lenore Boxer and Anne Morrison.

After recent success with wicking beds in her own garden, she thought could apply this to KI and help individuals who had lost their homes and gardens. She also heard there was need for vegetable and other seeds to replant gardens.

"Kangaroo Island is a different story, it's more isolated and many residents are used to the old ways of growing your own vegetables and being self sufficient," she said.

She chatted to Tracey Heinrich and Madelyn Kelly on their bushfire impacted farms at Stokes Bay, who informed her that survivors were still taking care of infrastructure, farm and stock needs and were not ready to focus on gardens.

Having seen the community gardens in Kingscote, it dawned on them that perhaps the best way to help was build a new community garden on that end of the Island.

"A community garden is not only about growing things, it's also about building connections, sharing and helping to build resilience," Ms Thomson said.

A plot was found at the back of the Parndana school grounds and groundskeeper Daniel Dunstan, who advised her to cover the garden to keep out the plentiful possums and wallabies.

Mrs Heinrich also happened to be married to the presiding member of the Natural Resources Management board, Andrew "Aphid" Heinrich, who was able to leverage a grant through the SA Department for Environment and Natural Resources KI.

"They were very interested in something that supported health and well-being and in particular mental health," she said.

Ms Thomson said many other businesses, large and small, and organisations also helped with donations of material and dollars.

In the end, she and a team of about six arrived on KI in March with 15 IBC containers to make wicking beds.

12 of the containers went to Parndana making 24 beds, while three went to expand the existing community garden at the Kingscote community centre.

Together with a large group of Kangaroo Island volunteers, the new Parndana community garden was built in four days, with a fifth day spent revitalising the Kingscote garden.

Guardian of the new Parndana community garden, Denis Perkins checks on the magnificent looking crop of cabbages.

Guardian of the new Parndana community garden, Denis Perkins checks on the magnificent looking crop of cabbages.

She said she realised that a community garden needs a guardian to look after it, and so Denis and Maree Perkins, who live just up the road are now looking after the garden.

Needs on Kangaroo Island might shift over the years and so she said the garden could even be dismantled and individual wicking beds moved to people's farms if that's what they wanted.

Ms Thomson has also put together a series entitled "Gardening after fires" series that is now available to view at https://sophiespatch.com.au/.../.../gardening-after-fire-videos/

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