It’s the re­la­tion­ships that have grown in the gar­den they care for that makes it such a spe­cial place for Re­becca Man­ley-Campbell and Sa­man­tha Claire. Both are em­ployed to work for three hours a week at the gar­den in the Coro­man­del town of Thames, al­though in­evitably they give it a lot more of their time, espe­cially in the sum­mer months.

“It’s a lovely green space where there is al­ways some­thing fruit­ing or flow­er­ing,” says Sa­man­tha. “In sum­mer, I’m pretty much here ev­ery­day, at least to do some wa­ter­ing. I might put in 10 to 20 hours in a busy week. I love watch­ing the plants grow and seeing other peo­ple ex­cited about it.”

The gar­den be­longs to the Sup­ported Life­style Hau­raki Trust, which provides care for those with in­tel­lec­tual dis­abil­i­ties and trau­matic brain in­juries. It has ar­eas to walk through and re­lax in, and there are or­ganic veg­etable beds, sub­trop­i­cals and flow­ers. The “Lifestylers” come to the gar­den reg­u­larly for morn­ing tea and bar­be­cues, and are en­cour­aged to help out if they want.

“It re­ally de­pends on their abil­i­ties,” ex­plains Re­becca. “One lady loves to pick peas and beans so we al­ways make sure to plant plenty. A cou­ple like to pick posies and there’s even some that en­joy cart­ing heavy stuff round in wheel­bar­rows, which is great.”

As important as teach­ing gar­den­ing skills is help­ing the Lifestylers form friend­ships with vol­un­teers who come from out­side their com­mu­nity. “We get el­derly peo­ple, mums with young kids, chil­dren. There are lovely mo­ments and lots of joy and shar­ing,” says Sa­man­tha.

Both she and Re­becca are busy mums. They find time for the gar­den be­tween home-school­ing their kids, and they say it’s pleas­ing to be of­ten told how beau­ti­ful it is. “But what’s re­ally important to us is the way it brings peo­ple to­gether. We’ve seen how com­mu­nity gar­dens can change lives.”

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