Solace in the garden

Barbara Davidson on her garden seat in Leura: A place for visitors to stop, rest, even eat lunch.
Barbara Davidson on her garden seat in Leura: A place for visitors to stop, rest, even eat lunch.

While most people found the last six months stressful, boring or lonely, Barbara Davidson in Leura found peace.

When the 85-year-old found herself isolated, like so many others, she turned to her garden for pleasure.

"It just gave me so much solace and strength and peace," she said.

She is not alone. The inaugural Pandemic Gardening survey, conducted in June-July by Sustain: The Australian Food Network, found over 80 per cent of the 9000-plus respondents said gardening during COVID-19 had been very important to them.

No shortage of colours in Barbara Davidson's front garden.

No shortage of colours in Barbara Davidson's front garden.

More than 70 per cent had been sustained by growing their own food.

Some had found relief from mental health issues, like depression, while others had experienced a sense of accomplishment, hope and improved physical health. Many benefited from the social connection of chatting with neighbours or passers-by.

Mrs Davidson had plenty of people walking past her colourful front garden, many forced to change their usual exercise routines because of COVID.

"There were more people walking past, more people stopping to chat and more people to stop and look at the garden," she said.

She has put a bench seat in the front yard, where everyone from locals to tourists have stopped to rest, take photos, sometimes even eat their lunch.

The street is lined with ornamental cherries and in early October someone posted a photo of the blossoms on Instagram. Hordes of photographers descended, even a wedding party, Mrs Davidson said.

Her daughter, Elizabeth Docking, the community greening officer with the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney, said she had initially worried about her mother, who was living a long way away from the rest of her family.

Ms Docking said her mother had always been a regular visitor to nursing homes, particularly those with no other visitors. When those visits stopped, she wondered how she would cope.

"We soon realised that the garden was filling the space of her volunteer hours. Our daily conversations had a regular theme - what she was doing in the garden and who she had contact with that day."

Ms Docking said her mother's experience tallied with the results of the Sustain survey.

"Throughout Australia people were connecting through front yard gardening. These interactions were making people feel good and new friendships were being formed," she said.