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Living legend named the nation's horticultural hero

Living legend named the nation’s horticultural hero

22 November 2010
A green-thumbed Canterbury volunteer who’s inspiring school children – and his whole community – to get growing has been named the NZ Gardener 2010 Gardener of the Year.

Alan Jones (aka Jonesy), a lifetime Leeston resident and part-time bus driver, offered to pop in for a few hours to help his local primary school, Leeston Consolidated School, plant its vege garden. But when he found that the kids didn’t know the names of the vegetables – or even, in some cases, that vegetables begin life the garden – he realised he could help bridge the “gardening generation gap”.

As a student at Leeston Consolidated School, Jonesy learned how to garden from his dad. When he discovered that today’s kids want to learn too, but their parents don’t necessarily have the skills to teach them, the keen vege grower thought he “might be able to help out”.

“At Leeston School, we’re all legends in the making,” is how principal Lynda Taylor, who nominated Jonesy, put it. “But Jonesy’s one of our true living legends.”

With Jonesy’s help, the school put in another five beds, then planted them up for the season. The volunteer garden guru spent up to 30 hours a week weeding, watering and planting – often with a troop of children trailing after him, asking questions.

The pupils were so inspired by Jonesy that they organised their own fundraisers to enable them to buy new plants for the season, and fruit trees for the orchard they established this winter. They’ve also funded the garden’s development by holding plant stalls and selling excess crops. Surplus has also been donated to a local retirement village, and used for regular Friday harvest lunches, where whatever is ripe is picked and cooked – an exercise that saw previously vegetable-shy kids enjoying their greens, some for the first time.

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Teachers and parents have been inspired too. With the children buzzing about the school gardens, so many people asked Jonesy how they could establish a garden at home that he started writing a fortnightly column for the school newsletter, helping to get his whole community growing. Dozens of families have now started vege gardens of their own.

“Jonesy’s absolutely right, kids get a huge thrill from seeing something grown – and from harvesting something they’ve grown themselves,” says NZ Gardener editor Jo McCarroll. “But the skill of growing fruit and veges at home has almost skipped a generation. It’s Jonesy, and the other amazing volunteers in school gardens all over New Zealand, who are making sure Kiwi kids get a chance to learn.”

As the 2010 Gardener of the Year, Jonesy has scooped the top prize of $5000 to spend at his local Mitre 10, and a luxury weekend at the 2011 Ellerslie International Flower Show.

NZ Gardener magazine’s annual NZ Gardener of the Year competition aims to recognise and reward the nation’s unsung horticultural heroes, who generously share their gardening skills with their local communities. Each regional winner takes home a $1000 package of gardening products.

The NZ Gardener 2010 Gardener of the Year runner-up is Auckland finalist Joe Iosefo. An Otara resident and sickness beneficiary, Joe has helped dozens of local kids set up vege patches in their homes; kids who have, in turn, taught their parents. The gardens have become a source of pride for this community, which now has less graffiti and vandalism as a result.

“A lot of Joe’s neighbours don’t have any gardening tools,” says Jo. “So he goes house to house with his own to help tend the gardens. It’s an example of how gardening helps build our communities.”

The second runner-up is Taranaki regional finalist, Patea woman Harriet Rei. Harriet’s been growing food for her extended family for more than 50 years. She plants according to a traditional Maori approach, using the cycles of the moon to dictate what’s sown and harvested. Her success has inspired her community, and she’s set up garden beds at Patea school and plans to do the same at her local marae.

Read more about NZ Gardener 2010 Gardener of the Year Alan ‘Jonesy’ Jones in the December issue of NZ Gardener, on sale now.


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