Hidden away in a little pocket of Papamoa suburbia is a rich green gem. ‘The Rock’ is a community garden that focuses on feeding local and at-risk families with sustainably produced fruit and vegetables.
Lying on two acres of council drainage reserve nestled behind Hartford Avenue, The Rock is home to a hot house, two beehives, two fruit tree orchards, seven large compost heaps, a well-stocked tool shed, two storage containers, a butterfly grove, and much more.
The purpose of the gardens is to bring community together, provide sustainability and food resiliency education, and teach people how to grow food in their own backyards. The Rock operates on a ‘take what you need’ philosophy and also supplies the local Foodbank with fresh produce.
The gardens are run entirely by volunteers and managed by The Rock Papamoa Charitable Trust.
According to the Secretary Treasurer of the trust, Chris Brown, the name The Rock comes from the Trust “wanting to create a ‘rock’ for the community: a grounded place where people could come and connect with the land and their community. A rock that endures - and people could draw strength from its permanence.”
The Rock was founded by Owen Takuira-Ngaropo, whose property neighboured the reserve. Seeing the unused land, he decided to approach the council about creating a community garden that could feed disadvantaged families.
Through hard work and the support of a few local businesses, the drainage reserve was transformed into a positive, productive piece of land. In 2014, Owen was recognised for his mahi by being named the Tui Gardener of the Year.
Despite its initial success, Chris explains that The Rock has faced some challenges over the years. Eventually, Owen and some of the other neighbours moved away, and the area began changing. Volunteer numbers dwindled and the gardens’ progress started to lose momentum.
“The whole project almost imploded.”
Chris came on board the trust two years ago and with the help of Rex Cotter, the Garden Coordinator, they managed to turn things around, injecting new energy into the project.
Rex is ‘the man on the ground’ at The Rock. He fixes things, builds raised planters and other structures, knows exactly what needs doing in the gardens, and coordinates all the workers. Chris explains that “without Rex, the place would go backwards.” A local unsung hero, Rex is also the president of Grey Power Papamoa and a volunteer firefighter.
A challenge the project has faced is its lack of electricity, so in December 2021 The Rock Papamoa Charitable Trust sought $4,745 of funding from TECT to support the costs of installing a power supply.
Chris says the power supply will have a significant impact on the daily running and upkeep of the gardens.
“It’s a major for us. When we have an open day, we have no power, so there are a lot of things we can’t do. We can’t run any big machinery, like a chipper or anything like that to do the mulch”
“Without power, we also can’t run any irrigation. Once the power’s in, we’ll get an irrigation contractor to design an area-wide irrigation system with the right pressure, valves we can turn on and off, etc. It will make a huge difference.”
Currently, each section of the garden is watered by hand with a hose – a time-consuming process.
The trust has also been donated a water bore from Papamoa Water Bores, which will allow the gardens to flourish during the summer months of water restrictions.
TECT trustee Peter Blackwell says the funding will allow The Rock to better meet the needs of the community.
“The power supply will enable an automatic irrigation system to be installed, which will save Rex and volunteers a huge amount of time; time which can then be spent more productively further developing the gardens.
“The gardens do more than just supply food for whānau and individuals – they serve as a peaceful space for people to connect with nature and with others in their community, and nurture skills and education in sustainable living. TECT whole-heartedly supports an initiative that is driven by the community for the community.”
Looking ahead, Chris has some exciting ideas in the pipeline for The Rock.
“We’d like to install an eco-toilet, build a greenhouse for the butterflies, create a bird corridor by planting more kōwhai trees, and create a mobility area with planters at the right height for people in wheelchairs to access easily.”
Chris is particularly excited about continuing to develop the butterfly grove. After native nettle shoots were donated by Te Puna Quarry, The Rock has been able to create the perfect habitat for New Zealand’s native red and yellow admiral butterflies, who like to lay their eggs on the leaves of the nettle bush.
While the ball is indeed rolling again, Chris says “the main battle is to get volunteers.” There is no shortage of work or tools, and people don’t need to have gardening experience – there is something for everyone.
If you are keen to get involved, you can contact Rex, or go along to one of the garden’s open days, held at 10am on the second Sunday of every month. Check out their Facebook page for more details.
Unfortunately, The Rock’s founder, Owen, passed away in 2021, but his legacy lives on in the taonga he created for his community.