Meet Marianne Farrer, Coordinator, The Secret Garden and Nursery
The Secret Garden and Nursery is a not-for-profit community and therapy garden that allows variously abled people to work together in a beautiful space. It’s also a great local nursery, with plants at bargain prices. Every year they come to Collectors with a truckload of salvias, ornamental grasses and handmade bee hotels.
What appealed to you about working at the Secret Garden?
They advertised in the paper for a horticulturist, preferably someone with experience with disadvantaged people. I didn’t have that, but I always felt that I wanted to do something more than just work in a nursery. I remember being daunted by this huge task when I started - this big overrun piece of land, not much of a nursery, and just me and some work for the dole people a couple of days a week. Then disability groups started coming in and I looked after them as well, but each year the nursery grew. Over the years it became a really beautiful place.
How is it funded?
We always had financial worries and it got to the point we were going to have to close. I thought we can't let this beautiful place die so I wrote letters to all the local politicians and tried to get the word out. Deborah Gersbach, CEO of North West Disability Services, had this vision of setting up a centre like this on her own property. Instead North West took us over. We make a bit of money from plant sales, and hope to start making more from parties and functions and weddings in your new wedding garden.
How many people do have coming here for programs?
There are 30-40 most days - from disability services, or work for the dole, or inmates from Parklea Correctional Centre doing volunteer work at the end of their custodial sentence, plus our own core of volunteers. They could be in the garden or nursery, or the cafe or woodwork shed, or with the animals or our horse-riding program - whatever suits.
What kind of plants do you focus on in the nursery?
Richmond has fairly extreme conditions so we choose tough plants and we get feedback from customers that they do really well once they’re in the garden because they haven't been coddled in glasshouses.
Where does your plant material come from?
Mostly from my garden! But we also get donations - not long ago a guy turned up with a ute-load of succulents his wife had dug out of their garden!
After all this time, what keeps you committed to the Secret Garden?
There’s so much satisfaction in seeing the smiles on people's faces, watching people flourish - and seeing this tiny nursery grow and grow - and be recognized for the quality of our plants. It’s a beautiful place to come to work!
The Secret Garden and Nursery is open Monday –Saturday, 9-5, Clydesdale Lane, Western Sydney University, Richmond Campus. We look forward to seeing them upload their treasures at Collectors' Plant Fair.
Interview and images: Robin Powell via The Garden Clinic Magazine