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Vote now: Youth Unit volunteer up for Gardener of the Year

16 November 2021
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Voting has opened for 2021 Ryman Healthcare NZ Gardener of the Year and gardener volunteer Bronwyn Adams-Hooper is among the five finalists for this prestigious award.

For over three years, Bronwyn has been a Howard League volunteer at the Christchurch Men’s Prison Youth Unit.

You can watch a Stuff article video of Bronwyn talking about her work in the prison garden and vote for her.

Bronwyn spends her Wednesday afternoon mentoring and teaching the young men in the Youth Unit about gardening; how to get the most from the plants and the soil, and the joys, challenges, rewards and pride that comes from a well-tended and loved garden. The gardeners continue with their allocated responsibilities and gardening tasks over the week.

For many of the young gardeners, gardening has been a complete revelation; that beetroot comes without a can, that there is a vegetable called asparagus that when fresh from the garden tastes like peas, that carrots can be simply grown from such a tiny seed and many other extraordinary revelations. The produce is often eaten fresh from the garden, or used in cooking classes in the new youth unit kitchen where gardeners are learning to cook the food they have grown. The gardeners have also had success in a local A&P Show, taking out prizes for their vegetables and roses.

“Gardening is a great activity for the young men,” she says. “Gardening is great for the mind, body and soul. It is remarkably physical but also peaceful.”

“For many of the youth, this is the first time they have ever tried to grow something and they learn the care and attention - and patience -  that it takes to care for a seed to grow and produce food. There is a huge sense of achievement when this happens. The soft skills they are learning will help them in every day life. The practical and work aptitude skills they are developing can lead to employment or help to feed their families.”

Gardening has become an especially popular constructive activity in the Unit with youth saying they also use the garden and gardening activity as a downtime. Many of the young men in the Youth Unit have mental health concerns and have had chaotic and often violent lives. They say they use the garden as a time out, a place to reflect on their programmes or other things happening around them. It is a peaceful environment to sit or actively relax and work through their emotions, a place where they can find calmness in a sometimes chaotic environment.

At least three of Bronwyn’s garden youth team have gone on to pursue horticultural interests on release and many others have expressed their plans to continue growing food in the future.

Nominations for the 2021 Ryman Healthcare Gardener of the Year poured in from across the country, and finalists are featured in the November issue of the magazine. In addition to the accolade of NZ Gardener of the Year, the winner receives a $1,000 Palmers Gift Card and Bronwyn already has plans for how this can be used to support her work in the prison and for the community garden.

Listen to an RNZ story on Bronwyn’s volunteering at CMP.

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Gardening is great for the mind, body and soul. It is remarkably physical but also peaceful.