Gardener of the year with plenty of street cred

shirley johnsonUniting Church member Shirley Johnson’s award-winning gardens may not quite stop traffic but they do slow it down.

Ms Johnson, who attends the Church of All Nations in Carlton, has been named Gardening Australia magazine’s Gardener of the Year. She also won the magazine’s community garden category for her efforts in making the traffic obstacles in her North Fitzroy street bloom with life.

“I’m still reeling I have to say, it’s such a surprise,” Ms Johnson said.

“I didn’t even entertain the idea that I could possibly have won the main prize until it was announced. I got such a shock.”

She was presented with her trophy, a golden spade, at a ceremony in Canberra during that city’s annual Floriade festival in October.

Among other prizes Ms Johnson has also won a trip for two to the Chelsea Flower Show in London next year.

When Ms Johnson retired from school teaching seven years ago she decided it was time to do something about the local chicanes – small bordered plots of earth with trees that cut into the road space to slow traffic – installed by the council about three years previously.

Ms Johnson decided to become a ‘guerrilla’ gardener – someone who gardens on land not their own.

“I just went and did it,” Ms Johnson said.

“The gardens were neglected. They looked terrible because they were weed infested, covered in rubbish. I spend a huge amount of time just picking up rubbish off the gardens.”

After starting with the bed on the street in front of her house she now has cultivated 10 gardens of varying sizes.

According to Ms Johnson they weren’t looking “too bad” at the moment.

“I’ve always got something flowering. Right now, I’ve got lovely cornflowers.” Ms Jonson said.
All the beds are within a short distance of her home because she has to carry water to the plants.

She spends some time maintaining them every day, mostly picking up rubbish thrown from cars, but when the weather is kind and the traffic not too heavy she gets down to some proper gardening.

“It’s just a passion and I love it,” she said.

She does this despite having been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis three years ago.

“I do what I can on the day, some days I am better than others,” Ms Johnson said.

“I find it incredibly therapeutic to get out and do gardening. It’s very life-affirming.”

It seems that others might be discovering the same thing.

Ms Johnson said that she had seen evidence that other guerrilla gardeners were now at work on the street.

“I actually think it has made other people realise that ‘I could do that too’,” she said.

“I think it has created this sense of community, that we can do things for the community.”

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