This is the story of how our pollinator garden became a place of wellbeing and belonging for our project team, Charles Sturt University staff and students, and the broader Bathurst community. Our primary aim, when we started the project, was to build a pollinator garden on Charles Sturt’s Bathurst campus. We wanted to create a habitat for pollinators – bees, birds and butterflies – to support biodiversity on campus. However, we found this project also became an opportunity to construct a space for the wellbeing of people. The garden was created in a transitional time, between two lockdowns in 2020 and 2021, and formed a liminal space between work and nature for people on campus.
In late 2020, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and with funding from Sustainability at Charles Sturt, our team was formed around a shared interest: to protect pollinators, in particular native bees. We decided to regenerate a garden area, to be designed as a habitat for bees, by planting native plants and installing bee hotels. However, we quickly realised that we also had to attract people, to gain local knowledge and engagement. We reached out to people through social media posts and using our 2MCE Community Radio, with our project team taking turns to report on our garden as it developed.
To gain forward momentum in our project, our team set up a ‘guerrilla balcony garden’ without any forethought or design. We scavenged found materials to reduce our costs, such as old filing cabinets that made perfect raised beds. We added vertical garden beds made from an old pallet, and a little table and chairs, to the previously deserted balcony in our building. Then surprising things happened. The normally closed balcony doors were being left open so that everybody in the building could enjoy the new garden area. People started to use the improvised garden for lunch breaks, meetings with colleagues and students, and as a pleasant space to enjoy the sun. What, at the surface, appeared as a physical gardening activity, evolved into a space for building relationships. In turn, it helped us feel well and resulted in a place to belong.
We turned our creative attention to the design of our main garden area. Instead of concentrating on one central location – which would not have been suitable for bee hives as it may have been too close to people – we designed several small garden areas. This supported the pollinators’ progress as they foraged. We worked with interest from the university’s maintenance team and we focused on overgrown and underutilised garden beds.
On 16 October 2021, a few days after the New South Wales COVID-19 lockdown was lifted, we held our community garden event. Even though the day was rainy and cool, we were delighted by the number of people who joined. We let the volunteers form their own groups and decide on which of the garden areas they wanted to build. One volunteer recognised a flowering redgum tree among the seedlings and gathered some helpers. The group named the gum tree ‘Lenny’ and predicted he should reach 40 metres in height.
On 12 December 2021, we officially inaugurated our garden, calling the space PK’s Pollinator and Community Garden in memory of a colleague and friend who had passed away.
Now a year has passed and we are busy looking after the various garden areas – watering and weeding. The wet and coolish weather has helped the plants establish. Today’s garden fills the liminal space of the pandemic and imbues a building with a feeling of connection and contentment. The growing plants, by attracting pollinators, continue to reinforce our resilience and reward our persistence.