Words from the wise

Oc­to­ge­nar­ian Avis Lee­son be­lieves gar­den­ing is the ul­ti­mate life les­son

Nadia - - CONTENTS - For in­for­ma­tion on Na­tional Gar­den­ing Week, head to yates.co.nz/na­tion­al­gar­den­ing. To of­fer as­sis­tance to The Avis Lee­son Fruit Tree Trust or to find out about im­ple­ment­ing Avis’ school gar­den­ing pro­gramme, con­tact Avis on 021 192 9929 or avislee­son@gmail

She’s had six heart at­tacks, nine strokes and three bouts of blood poi­son­ing, but health con­cerns aren’t what keep Avis Lee­son up at night – it’s the worry of no longer be­ing able to run her suc­cess­ful school gar­den­ing pro­gramme that sees her wan­der to the kitchen for a late-night short­bread. This is why the 87-year-old is now com­plet­ing a man­ual to help schools around the coun­try con­tinue the food­grow­ing scheme she started 10 years ago.

Con­cern about child poverty, cou­pled with her ex­pe­ri­ence of sur­viv­ing a dan­ger­ous bout of blood poi­son­ing, prompted the Hamil­ton-based gar­dener to vol­un­teer to teach kids about how fruit and veges are grown. “I was sort of born in the gar­den; my mum was a gar­dener,” Avis says.

She started by cre­at­ing a veg­etable gar­den with a class of new en­trants at the Mor­rinsville pri­mary school she at­tended as a child, and has since helped 400 schools and kinder­gartens set up vege gar­dens, as well as or­gan­ised the plant­ing of fruit trees in schools around the coun­try – all with help from spon­sors such as Mcgrath Nurs­eries and Yates.

Avis is now work­ing with the Hamil­ton City Coun­cil and lo­cal schools to cre­ate com­mu­nity gar­dens where chil­dren and mem­bers of the public can grow food to­gether to help “get our com­mu­ni­ties back to­gether”.

To tie in with Na­tional Gar­den­ing Week (a Yates com­mu­nity ini­tia­tive run­ning from 6-13 October), Avis shares her thoughts on gar­den­ing, re­silience and ac­cept­ing life’s ups and downs:


If you don’t teach kids where food comes from, you can’t blame them for not eat­ing proper food. Mil­lions of dol­lars have been wasted on re­search and try­ing to ban chips and drinks, whereas all they needed to do was find an al­ter­na­tive, such as grow­ing food, and kids ac­cept the al­ter­na­tive.

Sow­ing a seed

Would you be­lieve that at a coun­try school not one child had ever seen a seed? I said to them, “Where do the car­rots come from?” and they had no idea. They didn’t know that veg­eta­bles grow in the ground.

Teach your chil­dren

There’s such a sense of sat­is­fac­tion when you’re able to work with lit­tle peo­ple and give them a start in life on a sound diet that doesn’t cost the earth be­cause you can grow it your­self. And it doesn’t have sprays and chem­i­cals on it be­cause you do it or­gan­i­cally.


I started life a lit­tle bit be­hind the goal­posts in­so­much as I only have one artery, not two. The poor old ticker’s been work­ing fairly heav­ily for a long time. It used to be a bit of a prob­lem. The nurses would say, “Huh, she’s conked out again.” You’ve got to have re­silience. It’s a mat­ter of ac­cept­ing life as it comes. I was very much blessed with a lov­ing, car­ing fam­ily and a won­der­ful mum. She never mol­ly­cod­dled me in any way. She just said, “You can cope, dar­ling. You can cope.” And there was never any doubt that I could. I just had to. I sup­pose it’s put me in good stead.

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