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The gifts of my garden during lockdown

22 October, 2020

In 2015, after climbing South Korea's third highest mountain with her husband, Young Ok sustained a spinal cord injury in a car crash. Almost five years on, Young Ok has been getting through lockdown by getting busy in her custom-built accessible garden - tending to her plants and engaging with curious neighbours. 

After repatriation to Australia, I spent a week at the Austin (ironically now, in quarantine) and then 6 months in rehabilitation at Royal Talbot. I then returned home and started to rebuild my health and strength, all the time missing my beloved garden.

Initially, I had a Korean lady help with cleaning and tidying the house and to take me into my garden which was overgrown with weeds and flowers. Whenever trying to garden with her, our neighbours would come to see me. The time in the garden was the most enjoyable since my accident. However, I wanted to actively work in the garden and decided I needed a wheelchair accessible one.  

Years of research 

With my husband, Bob, I visited numerous raised and accessible gardens to see whether they were wheelchair-accessible. I had many discussions with Anton Harrington at Talbot who provides accessible gardening there. Through the Spinal Community Integration Service (SCIS), we were put in touch with the Monash University Architecture Department which produced a design for our front and rear gardens. Although great on aesthetics, it did not allow me to get my hands dirty!

After reviewing all sorts of on-line resources for function, design and materials, I decided to design my own garden. With learnings from the university approach, we decided to divide the project into 2 stages – front garden, then rear garden. Finally, after 2 years’ research and endless drafts, with my husband’s help we started construction of Stage 1. It was my happiest time to see my garden develop according to my own design. 

It was my happiest time to see my garden develop according to my own design.

Project manager 

As I would tire quickly, I project managed while Bob supervised/assisted with the various activities/workers. The project involved a builder/carpenter and labourers, a plumber, concreter and a landscape gardener/horticulturist and crew and diverse equipment and materials.

Eventually, the result was a wheelchair-accessible garden in what used to be our front lawn/garden. With the effort involved in completing Stage 1, we decided that Stage 2 could wait until I had the front garden working well.

Much to consider

We learnt that creating a wheelchair-accessible garden isn’t just a matter of putting in a raised garden bed(s).  A lot of research, thought, measurement and preparation went into the shapes, widths, heights and likely plantings to maximise access, shade and light. It also necessitated having an automated watering system.

Pathways had to be firm and all-weather. The area needed to be as flat as possible to reduce effort in a wheelchair, and drainage had to be able to clear heavy deluges as a result of the reduced porous surface area. With my husband’s devoted help in my garden, I planted fruit trees, shrubs, flowers and vegetables and headed towards my next goal, having a great time in my garden! 

The bounty 

Now I tend to my garden on most days, weather depending. In the summer months, I grow tomatoes, cucumbers, capsicums, zucchinis, strawberries, rhubarb, grapes, loganberries, persimmons, pears, mulberries, nashi pears, cherries, blueberries, beans, basil, Italian parsley, garlic, silver beet, lettuces, spring onions, and some Korean vegetables.

In the winter months, I grow lettuce, silver beet, kale, broccoli, spring onions, coriander and Korean vegetables.I also grow flowers - roses,orchids, bromeliads, daphne, osmanthus, succulents, cosmos, snow drops, daffodils, irises, forest lilies, lilies, freesias, rosemary and lavender. Most of the time we have some flowers in our garden. All year round, I can look out from our front windows and enjoy the colours of the foliage, fruit and flower displays changing with the seasons, and the birds and insects visiting. I can sit and relax in peace and happiness.

However, plants always give me back more than what I have put into them – they give me warmth, happiness and pleasure.

Fortuitously, I enjoy cooking. Initially, Bob did most of the cooking with me, doing some with a helper. Now I can do a lot more and so Bob and I share the task ensuring that very little of the produce from my garden goes to waste. What we don’t use, we give to family, friends and neighbours. That is a bit restricted at the moment!  

Healthy garden, healthy mind

Food isn’t the only benefit from my garden. I get great therapeutic benefits and satisfaction from being in and working in the garden. I don’t notice my neuropathic pain when I am in the garden and I get exercise, vitamin D and fresh air. Despite COVID and the restrictions, I still have great conversations with neighbours and passing locals out for exercise. My garden is also a local talking point.

Finally, gardens are never finished. They need constant care. However, plants always give me back more than what I have put into them – they give me warmth, happiness and pleasure.

I will finish with a quote from Jenny Uglow, “We may think we are nurturing our garden but, of course, it’s our garden that is really nurturing us.” 

AN INVITATION

Young Ok is proud of her garden and loves to show it to others. It is a great asset for her and she is keen to share the benefits with anyone interested in her research and experience with constructing and using her garden and in the trees, shrubs and plants in it.

You are welcome to have a look at her garden in person, COVID-19 restrictions permitting. Contact Spire at AQA or Anton at Royal Talbot.

Some websites Young Ok thinks you might like: 

www.diggers.com.au

www.offthegridnews.com/survival-gardening-2/peecycling-how-to-fertilize-your-garden-with-nutrient-rich-urine/

Young Ok has been living with a spinal cord injury since 2015. She lives in suburban Melbourne with her partner, Bob. This article was originally published in the August 2020 edition of NewsLink.

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