26 May 2023

Shell Cove Community Garden is providing more than just veggies for residents

| Kellie O'Brien
Start the conversation
Joe Vespoli holding beetroots

One of the Shell Cove Community Garden members Joe Vespoli with produce grown from the gardens. Photos: Supplied.

The Shell Cove Community Garden lies deep in the heart of one of the fastest-growing regions in New South Wales, surrounded by an ant-like army of builders erecting apartment living for retirees and a five-star luxury hotel.

This shot of green overlooks a marina, which houses craft that would not look out of place hosting a Stefanovic or a Packer on a champagne-tinged Sunday afternoon sail.

The bustling little community garden has taken root in the exploding South Coast suburb of Shell Cove and it’s growing a sense of community within a rapidly expanding urban environment.

Garden coordinator Graham Kohler said the garden started as eight beds funded by Fraser Property Group in 2019 and has grown its footprint to 35 beds through self-funding and community donations.

However, Graham said it had become more than just a garden where locals could pick a few veggies.

“The garden had brought a lot of the newer members of the community together and given them a social outlet,” he said. “A lot of people come into the area, mostly from Sydney, and have no social network whatsoever.

“They’ve used the garden as a point to meet other people. That’s worked really well because now we’ve got quite a large social group, where we not only garden but we go out as a group and do trivia nights, go on excursions to various places, and have lunches.

“It’s really become a focal point for a lot of the local community.”

READ ALSO Fred Hollis is driving change as a community volunteer

However, the location isn’t permanent due to future planned developments on the site.

Graham said Shellharbour City Council had confirmed it would be given a space in Sophia Park, between Shellharbour Village and Shell Cove. Council is working with Frasers Property Group to review community feedback before developing the final site design.

“Originally it was going to be all wetland, but Council has identified as part of their ongoing strategic plans with community spaces that it would be better to make that a multi-purpose park and part of that is the community garden,” he said.

“I think it’s an ideal location. It’ll be a link between the village and Shell Cove.”

He said until the move happened towards the middle of next year, the gardens would remain in the more visible waterfront precinct.

“The garden beds have always been quite open to the public, so people can wander through, explore the garden and help themselves to a few veggies as they need,” he said.

“We get a lot of tourists down during weekends and they seem to love wandering through the garden, exploring and talking about it to our members.

“We always get a lot of positive feedback from those people. But because it is open, you do get the odd little bit of vandalism and we also get a few people taking too much.

“We can’t do much about that, because we are a community garden.”

People in a community garden

The Shell Cove Community Garden has become a central focus for social networking in the area.

To raise funds to purchase seedlings and soil, the group has sold plants at the waterfront markets, received generous donations through its donations box, and run school and preschool workshops.

It also works with Healthy Cities on school holiday workshops where cooking classes use produce from the garden, and it runs propagation workshops and information sessions for the public.

“We’re not just a group that sits around and plans our own things, we try to be part of the whole community,” Graham said.

He said this was part of the Council’s Community Garden Strategy, which provided a strategic focus for establishing and expanding community gardens across Shellharbour. It was prepared in consultation with existing community garden groups and the public.

It revealed the public wanted community gardens that involved culture, knowledge sharing, connection to the community, growing and gardening, and local events.

READ ALSO More than 35 million items donated, 6500 tonnes diverted from landfill and it all started in Woonona

“There are some aspects of (the strategy) that will be really good in the way that they want to unite the community by bringing in different activities and using the community garden as a central point for various social activities in the community,” he said. “I think the strategy overall is quite encouraging, so now it’s about coming up with a policy on how to run them.”

While a strong band of 30 members turn up regularly for working bees on Wednesdays from 9 am to 11 am and Saturdays from 2 pm to 5 pm, Graham encouraged new members to join.

“They can come with absolutely no knowledge at all and they’ll be guaranteed to learn a lot.”

Plants are available for sale during the working bees, including ornamentals, orchids, bromeliads, ferns, succulents, herbs and vegetable seedlings.

Start the conversation

Daily Digest

Want the best Illawarra news delivered daily? Every day we package the most popular Illawarra stories and send them straight to your inbox. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.