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Tenant stories

Gardening

Community connections

Keeping connections during COVID-19

For Toowoomba public housing tenant, Nora, COVID-19 hasn’t changed things too much for her.

“I still go for a walk in the morning and say hello to the neighbours along the way and I still catch a bus into town to get my groceries or get a lift from the neighbours if they offer.”

“I haven’t been worried or upset about the restrictions. I love my home and I’ve made it a nice and comfortable place,” said Nora.

Jigsaws, cleaning, gardening and walking is how Nora has been spending her time during COVID-19.

“I’ve just started a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle filled with animals, birds and butterflies and I’m planning to get out in the garden and plant some new plants in Spring.”

“I have a little garden out the back and I like to spend time there and keep it looking nice,” said Nora.

One thing Nora has missed during COVID-19 is her volunteer work at YellowBridge charity shop in Toowoomba every Saturday morning.

“I have some wonderful friends I’ve met through the volunteer work. When I work there, I teach a young person with a disability how to use the cash register.”

“I love being with people and giving something, and if I get something back, it’s bonus. It’s all about giving, caring and sharing” said Nora.

Nora said she’s looking forward to getting back to her Saturday work when she can, but for now, she’s keeping her community connections with her neighbours, family and Housing Service Centre staff.

“My daughter will pop around to give me a lift to the shops if I need and the neighbours are lovely and will help out too.”

“I also had a visit from Simon from the Toowoomba Housing Service Centre recently and it’s always nice to see him,” said Nora.

Neighbours create caring community

Public housing tenants, Harold and Gloria are great neighbours. Find out how they have formed a caring community in their unit complex.

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No place like home when you have great neighbours

Public housing tenant, Michele loves living in her home. Find out how neighbours make a difference in her life.

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Barry’s green thumb brings joy

Public housing tenant, Barry has a green thumb and a garden full of surprises. What makes it so special? Check out his video.

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Mark’s home creates positive change and purpose

Mark sitting outside on the balcony of his unit with carer.

Moving to Mount Gravatt has helped go-getter and public housing tenant, Mark, realise his goals and given him a greater sense of purpose.

From his home, Mark is carving out the next exciting chapter in his life, studying at university, connecting with friends and turning his keen interest in computers into a business.

“I’m halfway through a Master of Cybersecurity Systems,” he says.

“I’d been wanting to go back to uni for a while and I built up the motivation and did it, and I’m really enjoying it.

“Moving to this place has allowed me to study again and has given me a purpose in life.”

Mark has a degenerative condition which means that he is no longer able to use his arms or legs and uses a wheelchair to mobilise.

“Living in Mount Gravatt means that it only takes about 10 minutes to get to uni now,” he says.

“My old place was just too far away. It would take me two and a half hours to travel to uni and my friends would complain about the distance.

“Moving to my home in Mount Gravatt has brought me many positive changes.”

Mark had previously lived in the area for 35 years.

“It’s good to be back – I feel at home and like the sense of community connection,” he says.

“And now my mates are always coming over!”

For Mark, his unit is more than just a place to relax.

“I like living here,” he says.

“I’m set up in the second bedroom with my computer so I can study, work on my computer business and even have clients visit.

“It’s also nice to be able to just go out on the balcony, and with the tree coverage it feels really private.

“The unit is in a pretty good location, here you’re close to the shops, so we can pop out for a coffee or even head to the pub for lunch.”

In Mount Gravatt, Mark is close to the services he needs – from doctors to his care company.

“Having my mates close by really helps too and I know I can always rely on them,” Mark says.

“I wouldn’t mind if there were a few extra coffee shops around though!” he smiles.

Design innovation supports independence

 Caption R-L: Susan, her neighbour, Bevan and her carer, Birthe .
Caption R-L: Susan, her neighbour, Bevan and her carer, Birthe

Public housing tenant, Susan found her independence the day she moved into her wheelchair accessible unit in Townsville. She moved from the family home almost 2 years ago, allowing her to make a home of her own, develop friendships within the community and with neighbours nearby.

Susan uses a wheelchair for mobility and receives assistance through the NDIS to support her independent living.

Her mother, Lynne says that moving to the unit has made a big difference in Susan’s life.

“The unit is wonderful. Susan continues to flourish and expand her social networks now she has her own home,”says Lynne.

Susan’s unit is designed to the Livable Housing Design Guidelines Platinum Level standard which means it has wider doorways and hallways, extra clearance space, level access in the bathroom and no step down onto the balcony. Susan is happy she can move about her home with ease.

“The design features make it easy to live in my home without falling and the bedrooms are really spacious”, says Susan.

The unit complex has 8 Platinum Level units and 8 Gold Level units.

Overall, Susan says the move to her home has been a wonderful experience.

“My ragdoll rescue cat, Molly loves living in this unit as do I.”

“The location is great, it’s got a large shopping centre close by, there’s a bus stop right in front of the units and the Riverway is across the road, where lots of festivals and events happen” says Susan.

“My neighbours and I go across to some of the festivals and I help Bevan, one of my neighbours, water the gardens within the complex and take out the bins on bin day.”

“One of the best things about having my own home has been the friendships I’ve developed with neighbours and people I’ve met at my local gym.”

“I have friends I can call on if I get worried, if I need support or want some company”, Susan says.

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Growing up in the garden

Ella with her mum Sarah, and her sisters kneeling by their vegie patch.

Young Ella’s favourite plant is parsley. Along with their mum Sarah, Ella and her sisters have been growing the humble herb in their vegie patch.

The Toowoomba family love spending time in the garden together, exploring and tending to their plants.

Their garden is full of treasures—a white-flowered climber given to them by their Nanna, a good supply of strawberries and blueberries, the aroma of lavender and little Isabella’s friends—the snails!

The radish and cucumbers that have recently sprouted came from My Home Awards seed packs.

“We’ve also produced peas, tomato, eggplants and carrots to use in our cooking,” Sarah said.

“I often put the Nasturtium flowers in a salad. But the only vegie the girls really like to eat is corn,” Sarah laughed.

Learning about growing and cooking vegetables at home has also helped Christina at school.

“I received an A in Home Economics,” Christina proudly revealed.

The family have entered their garden in the My Home Awards and hope to continue to nurture their plants for several years yet.

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Disaster produces creative gardening ideas

Cherrie in her garden holding her small dog

When Townsville public housing tenant, Cherrie, saw the inside of her home ankle-deep in water during the flood event earlier this year, she was devastated.

“It came so quickly; the SES and the army came to help but it was too late. The only things we saved were some dog toys and the clothes on our back,” Cherrie said.

Nothing much survived in Cherrie’s garden, except some ferns which have now been replanted in her front garden, using the sandbags that were left over after the flood event.

“I decided to reuse the sandbags in my garden because I didn’t know what to do with them and I didn’t want to just throw them out.”

“I replanted my ferns and added other plants and got cuttings from my mum and dad.”

“I used to kill plants, but my mum and dad have taught me a lot over the years,” said Cherrie.

Cherrie said she enjoys the department’s My Home Awards because she really enjoys gardening and the awards ceremonies provide an opportunity to get out and to talk to other tenants.

“My garden means everything to me and it’s one of the best things about where I live.”

“I suffer bipolar so gardening gives me something to do and gets me outside,” she said.

“Another great thing about where I live is some of my neighbours. We’ll have chats, everyone likes to talk, and I sometimes cook meals for an elderly neighbour to make sure they are OK,” said Cherrie.

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Making lemonade out of lemons

Perita standing by a lemon tree in her garden

Perlita’s lemonade recipe is simple—squeeze some homegrown lemons, add sugar and plenty of ice, and just keeping stirring!

Perlita and her husband George have lovingly cared for their lemon trees for several years.

“My husband is a bit fragile now, but he’s the boss in the garden; he encourages and guides me, and he’s always saying ‘you can do it’,” Perlita said.

George’s encouragement has paid off. The couple now have a beautiful garden that would be the envy of many.

“It has a very comfortable feel and it makes people happy. The mowing is also great exercise for me!” Perlita said.

The couple are entrants in the House Garden category of the Toowoomba My Home Awards.

“My family are so excited that we won the house garden category.” Perlita laughed.

Landscape view of Perlita's outside garden

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Garden produces great veggies

Alan holding a vegetable in his outside garden.

When you ask experienced vegetable gardener Alan what his planting advice is, he says with a smile “talk to them nicely”.

Alan grew up on a farm in Toowoomba with 11 brothers and sisters. With that many mouths to feed, his mum became an expert in growing vegetables.

“Mum had a 12-month supply of potatoes. I learned a lot from her about gardening,” Alan said.

Alan now lives next door to his childhood home.

“Back then, it was farmland. There were dairy cows on this block. I used to take them down the road before school so they could have some water, and then I’d bring them back up after school,” Alan said.

Alan now spends most of his time in his garden, which is filled with an assortment of vegetables, some quite unusual.

“I had a New Guinea bean growing at one stage. They grow very long if you leave them, and I remember once walking up the road carrying a bean, and my neighbour saw it and said, ‘that’s not a bean, it’s a baseball bat’,” Alan laughed.

Alan’s most challenging vegetable to grow is the little-known cucamelon.

“It’s a Mexican gherkin. I didn’t like that one very much,” Alan said.

“For the past few years, I’ve also been growing the chia plant.”

At first glance, Alan’s chia plant does not look particularly appealing, but it produces an edible seed that is known for its nutrients.

“You just rub your fingers on the dried flower head and all of the seeds fall off, ready to eat,” Alan said.

Alan also produces his own mulch and worm castings.

“I find gardening very relaxing, and it means I’m doing something useful and productive with my time,” Alan said.

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Going green in the garden

Elias standing in her kitchen smiling.

For Townsville public housing tenant, Elias, home is much more than just a place, it’s a feeling.

“My home means security to me, somewhere to relax and a place where I can feel comfortable,” said Elias.

“I’ve been homeless before, so I appreciate my home and I think it is wonderful. It’s just the right size and all my housework is done in less than half an hour.”

Having lived in Townsville for many years, Elias says the community and the neighbours are great too.

“My neighbours are fabulous, and this is a great neighbourhood to live in. I love to talk to my neighbours because they are all different and they are all individuals.”

Elias also loves gardening and keeps a balcony garden filled with herbs and vegetables, planted in containers that have been reused. Recycling and reusing are the key themes for the garden.

“I like to recycle and reuse in garden, it’s good for the environment and saves money too.”

“One of my favourite plants I grow is okra. I just love it. If you chop it up and fry it in a pan with some oil, onion, garlic, ginger, and add salt, it’s to die for.”

“You can grow okra from the pod, even when the pods are small, just get the seeds out the middle and you can plant those,” Elias said.

Elias’ tip for budding gardeners who want to grow their own food is to reuse some of the scraps from their fruit and vegetables.

“Start seedlings off in cotton wool with toothpicks and with large seeds like avocado seeds, sit the base in a wad of cotton wool and you can start your own garden.”

“Nothing beats feeling the dirt on your hands,” Elias said.

Growing a family of gardeners

man-standing-next-to-tree-in-garden

For Logan public housing tenant, Peter, gardening is more than just an enjoyable pastime, it’s his passion.

“The reason I love gardening is that it keeps me fit with a good amount of exercise and it gives me sanity,” says Peter.

Peter has been gardening for many years and now this passion spans three generations of his family, with his mum and daughter also tending their gardens.

“My mum is an avid gardener like I am, and now I’ve got my daughter into gardening. I love discussing gardening, sharing tips and seeing what others are doing,” Peter says.

Peter’s garden includes beautiful flowers as well as edible plants such as mangoes and strawberries.

“The thing I like most about my home is that I’ve got room to grow mangoes and other plants.

I really appreciate that I have a home to be able to do this because not everyone has a roof over their head.

By taking pride in my home, keeping my home neat and tidy and making my garden look good, it’s my way of saying thanks to the department for providing me a home,” says Peter.

Peter has entered the My Home Awards since 2002 and has entered other competitions run by the Logan City Council for many years too.

“I like to show people my garden,” he says.

Peter has plenty of tips for anyone just getting started in their garden.

“Using sugarcane mulch is good for plants as it helps absorb the water, keeps it moist and works as a fertiliser. It will lift your plants and make them look great.

Succulents are also good because they are easy to look after. With people suffering in droughts, we should all look to head towards a succulent garden to become more water-wise.”

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Gardening brings community for Greg

Woman in garden with her dog

Some people garden for fun, for exercise or to keep their surroundings neat and tidy. For Greg, gardening has meant so much more.

For years, public housing tenant Greg, has nurtured his magnificent garden at his home in Morayfield, a haven of birdlife, flowers, vegetables and garden projects which he has created with his support workers Sally and Lilly.

Greg suffered a major head injury in a car accident many years ago, but this hasn’t stopped him from living a full life in his community.

Gardening has been a part of Greg’s life since he was young, growing up on a farm. Since then he has worked and volunteered as a landscaper in many organisations.

When Greg realised that a gardening club for people with a disability didn’t exist, Greg and his support worker Lilly decided to start their own. The gardening club has been running at the Caboolture Special School for almost 2 years, and through this, Greg has inspired and educated many young students

It was important for Greg to have a place where you weren’t judged, and he has created this through the garden club. Every fortnight students gather at the school to create gardening projects together and create community. Through the process he has inspired many young people with a disability and helped them realise that anything is possible.

Greg says the best thing about gardening is planting seeds and watching the plants grow.

“I like to give back to nature and my community,” says Greg.

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Housing help brings freedom and flowers

Woman in garden with her dog

When Jo was living in a nursing home because of an Airforce accident, she was just living. But 18 years ago, when she moved into her home in Ipswich, she made a life, and this brought her freedom and flowers.

One of Jo’s favourite places in her home is her garden. Filled with beautiful and multi-coloured roses, it is easy to see that this space brings her a lot of joy.

“I love roses”, said Jo. “When I was growing up we were not allowed to plant roses and now that I’m in my own place, I can plant whatever flowers I like.”

“When I was in a nursing home, I couldn’t have a garden and I couldn’t have my dogs with me, so when I got into this home, it changed my life.”.

“This place has brought me freedom and my garden brings me so much peace and enjoyment”, said Jo.

With the help of the department’s occupational therapists, Jo was able to have her home modified to suit her needs, with lower benchtops, lower oven, a pulley system and a higher toilet to accommodate her wheelchair.

Jo moves around her home with ease but loves spending a lot of time in her garden, especially in the lead up to the My Home Awards. Jo enjoys the competition, not just for the pleasure of gardening, but for the social interaction at the awards ceremony.

“The My Home Awards are great, they give you a chance to get out, talk to fellow tenants and see what other people are doing in their gardens, the ceremony is really lovely”, Jo said.

Jo is looking forward to this year’s My Home Awards and will be on track with the supervision from her two German Shepherds, ICE and Finn.

“These two keep me company and love being outdoors while I’m in the garden. I’m really looking forward to this year’s My Home Awards”, said Jo.

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Cultivating community connections

Mui and her garden

For West End resident, Mui, gardening hasn’t just produced fruit and vegetables, it has also provided great friendships and a strong connection to her community.

Mui has lived in her public housing unit in West End for 32 years and says that the garden she tends is one of the best things about living there.

“I love nurturing my garden and seeing it flourish. Even though I don’t own my home, my kids have grown up here and I have some great neighbours, so it feels like my home.”

Mui grows all kinds of produce in the communal garden including her favourites, soursop and guava. It was through her love of gardening, that Mui formed a strong friendship with local café owners, Zoey and Thao, and Daryl, a regular customer at the local café.

“We are like her adopted daughters.”

“Mui is very kind and sometimes she will leave bananas and other produce at the back of the café for us,” said Zoey.

Mui also gives her neighbours fruit and vegetables and other homemade products and has developed a connection with them too.

“My neighbours and I help each other out and I give them produce from the garden, that’s one of the great things about living in this community” said Mui.

Daryl, a regular at the café and a good friend of Mui’s, helps her garden grow by providing coffee grounds that he collects from coffee shops in the local area.

“Mui has an amazing garden and I provide coffee grounds to help her keep her garden looking great,” said Daryl.

In addition to the coffee grounds and the love and care she provides to her garden, Mui says that the secret to her thriving garden is putting chicken manure for the first layer, food scraps for the second layer and then grass clippings for the final layer to prevent any smell.

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Lyn’s life-changing volunteering experience

Meet Lyn, a public housing tenant and volunteer who is making a big difference in her community.

Lyn volunteers one day a week at the Riding for Disabled centre on the Gold Coast where she teaches children how to ride horses.

Lyn became a volunteer after a bout of depression and says volunteering helped her through a really difficult time.

“I was isolated, I didn’t get out and visit friends much,” Lyn says. “A friend suggested I help out at the riding school, and I loved it.”

“Being there made me feel needed and lifted me out of the depression because I was fulfilling a role. If I didn’t do that I would be sitting at home whereas going there, I’ve got friends, the kids, the horses.”

Not only has volunteering helped Lyn, but her work also helps others.

“Being with the horses and helping the kids was amazing because you see the changes that happen. Some of these kids say their first words when they’re on a horse. It’s such a buzz.”

Lyn says that anyone can volunteer, and you don’t need specific skills or abilities.

“You make lots of friends, and you learn a lot. Volunteering is the best thing that has ever happened to me.”

Find out about volunteer opportunities in your area by visiting the Volunteering Queensland website.

Find out more about TenantConnect.

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Age is no barrier for new neighbours

Neighbours, Josh and Debbie

Josh and Debbie met in their social housing complex in Toowoomba and have become firm friends, despite their age difference.

They are a great source of support for each with Debbie appreciating the fact she can rely on Josh when she needs help.

Debbie said that she has some health problems and that she can always count on Josh when she needs help.

“Josh is a good kid. He helps get my medication, rings and checks that I’m okay and makes me meals from time to time. My favourite meal is his curried sausages,” Debbie said.

Josh feels the same about Debbie, describing her as his “adopted Mum”.

“I didn’t really have a mother figure in my life, but since meeting Debbie, that has changed,” Josh said.

“She is a great person to talk to and gives me really good advice.”

With Neighbour Day on Sunday 31 March, both Josh and Debbie understand the value of having a good neighbour.

“A good neighbour is respectful and caring and willing to lend a hand if they can see someone needs help,” said Debbie.

“I know one of my other neighbours has been struggling recently and doesn’t have much money, so I check in on him and make sure he has enough groceries for the week.”

“I like helping people and it’s a nice thing to do,” said Josh.

“I check on the neighbours to make sure they are okay and help out if they need it.”

Josh and Debbie regularly catch up for cuppas and share laughs together. They also have a lot in common like having pet birds.

Debbie’s parrot “Squeak” and Josh’s cockatiel “Lily” have also become friends.

“Our birds love talking to each other when they are outside and have become great friends too,” said Debbie.

Find out about other tips on being a good neighbour at the Neighbour Day website.

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Noel's work opportunities are blooming

Noel working with flowers

Noel’s life has changed a lot in the last few years.

A long-term resident of a public housing complex at Kingston, Noel was at a loose end at home with not much to do and hadn’t earned an income in years.

Noel was supported through the Spark program, a job readiness initiative for public housing tenants in Logan, funded by the department. Through Spark, Noel was supported to get his Cert III in Driving Ops and passed his Medium Rigid Truck Driving Test.

When we last checked in Noel was volunteering at a local recycling plant.

Since then Noel has found part time work with a local flower warehouse where he packs, stores and cares for flowers for purchase by wholesale customers.

He says he enjoys his new job and has a renewed sense of purpose by being employed and earning money.

“It’s a really interesting job. I see a lot of people coming through the warehouse,” he says.

Noel bought a bicycle and rides to and from work. His ultimate goal is to get a job as a truck driver using his new qualifications and experience.

New neighbours become good friends

Neighbours chatting

Six months ago, Julie and Lyn didn’t live near each other or know each other. But after meeting at Bilin Place, a new social housing complex in Beenleigh, the two have forged a strong friendship.

Julie and Lyn both downsized from three-bedroom houses to one-bedroom units, offering them the opportunity to get to know their neighbours.

“Lyn and I got on right from the start,” Julie said.

“When I was living in a house, I was cut off from neighbours, but now that I live in a unit complex, I’ve met other tenants and made friends, so we can help each other out.”

“Lyn is a great friend, she makes me laugh and she’s down to earth,” Julie said.

With Neighbour Day on Sunday 31 March, Lyn believes a good neighbour is someone friendly you can call on for help.

“Julie and I met in the lifts, soon after moving in, and just began talking. We got on very well,” said Lyn.

“She is a lovely lady and has offered me containers for the freezer and other pantry items to help me since moving in.”

“We have lots of fun together and share lots of laughs,” said Lyn.

The theme for this year’s Neighbours Day is Loneliness – what neighbours can do to create connections.

Julie and Lyn have both found the benefit of creating these connections, enjoying cuppas, chats and going to the shops together.

“This isn’t just a complex but a community,” Julie said.

“Get to know your neighbours and do little acts of kindness for them if they need some help.”

“We know some of our neighbours have been unwell, so we check in on them to make sure they are fine, and they really appreciate it,” said Lyn.

Julie and Lyn are both enjoying their move to the new complex and the opportunities for new friendships it has bought them.

Find out about other tips on being a good neighbour at the Neighbour Day website.

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Women connecting with each other

The Upper Ross Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women’s Group is running a successful scrapbooking project for local women living in public housing.

The women’s group brings together local women to talk, share and socialise with each other. Participants face many common challenges including loneliness, financial stress and being affected by anti-social behaviour.

As part of TenantConnect, the department funded the Upper Ross Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women’s Group to deliver the scrapbooking project.

Through the project, women in the group gather together and create stories using words and pictures.

To mark the theme of this year’s NAIDOC Week 2018 celebrations, Because of Her, We Can! group members celebrated the contributions of Indigenous women by creating scrapbooks about their own personal journeys and those of the women who inspire them.

A short video will also be produced, featuring the women’s group to capture their oral stories. This video is being made with Community Gro, a not-for-profit organisation based in Townsville.

Spark Program – supporting tenants on a pathway to employment

In partnership with local community provider YFS Ltd, the Logan Housing Service Centre is supporting tenants to overcome barriers and work towards training and employment goals. Noel is a participant of the Spark program that helps public housing tenants realise their work and life aspirations.

Noel has been supported to get his Cert III in Driving Ops and has passed his Medium Rigid Truck Driving Test – an important achievement that has opened Noel’s eyes to the opportunities available to him in his local community.

Once a tenant who rarely ventured out of his house, Noel now has a new lease on life. Armed with his new qualification, Noel has been volunteering at local recycling plant Substation 33 and has been actively looking for work in the local area.

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At home in the garden

At her Wynnum home, Georgie Suttie has created a sanctuary of tropical plants and birdsong.

Over the years, Georgie has lovingly shaped her garden into a shady oasis of elk horns, ferns, bromeliads and her beloved grevilleas. Her garden is a labour of love which has brought her recognition and accolades in many categories of the department’s My Home Awards. Georgie has been entering the Awards since 1995. She has received commendations in categories including Practical Garden, Communal Garden, Environmentally-friendly Garden and New Garden.

Her front garden is a retreat for local magpies and lorikeets, which she happily feeds every afternoon. Grevilleas - which she planted specifically to attract the birds – take pride of place. Georgie has lived in her home for 37 years and during this time has made significant changes to the garden. Over the years she has landscaped the entire garden herself, digging, creating paths and laying rockery.

“I couldn’t have anyone help me because they wouldn’t do it the right way,” Georgie laughs.

Recently Georgie celebrated her 70th birthday so does less heavy lifting these days, but is still very active in the garden. It’s clear that Georgie’s garden brings her a lot of joy, and it’s a hobby she will continue for years to come.

“It gets me out of bed in the mornings. I just love it.”

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