For 24 years, he couldn’t access his own garden. Lockdown changed that – Stuff.co.nz

for-24-years,-he-couldn’t-access-his-own-garden-lockdown-changed-that-–-stuffco.nz

When all is said and done, I’d like to add that camDown and I am certain your family would feel the same.
Dion SeelingFor 24 years, he couldn’t access his own garden. Lockdown changed that.Dion Seeling has owned the Tauranga home he is living in for 25 years, but for the first 24 of those, he never went into the garden. “I wasn’t a gardener because of the access issues,” says the wheelchair user. “I had never been in the garden until this was done.” He is referring to the bespoke collection of square and rectangular raised garden beds, on the north side of his section, connected by a specially constructed boardwalk. CLAIRE MOSSONG/NZ GARDENER/StuffDion Seeling’s vege garden measures slightly more than 30 square metres. He designed it himself over level 4 lockdown last year. In the background are his father, Cass, and wife, Merle. The main ramp, which borders the fence, measures about 1.1m wide – roomy enough for Dion (Ngāi Tamarāwaho, Ngāti Ranginui) to comfortably manoeuvre his wheelchair. The raised bed opposite the fence runs along a low retaining wall; it is necessarily narrow to stay within Dion’s arm reach from his wheelchair. A tidy series of wider beds – the widest measures some 1.2m across – juts into the middle of the boardwalk, where Dion can easily access them on at least two sides. READ MORE: How many vegetables can you grow in one square metre? Yes that is a farm in the middle of Auckland Love fresh mushrooms? It's amazingly easy to grow your own His reach is extended, he adds happily, by the use of his new favourite gardening tool, the Niwashi Long Handle, which was a gift from his wife Merle. Talking about his garden, Dion exudes all the giddy pride, joy and delight familiar to vege growers after a successful season: The tomatoes were amazing; the rockmelons were bursting with flavour (Dion prefers veges, only growing fruit – including passionfruit, feijoas and various citrus – for Merle and their daughter Bailey “who only comes down here to get fruit for her breakfast,” he rues); and the green beans were a revelation. CLAIRE MOSSONG/NZ GARDENER/StuffCass Seeling pitched in to help build his son’s vege garden and was, at 73 years old, the “oldest apprentice ever”, jokes Dion. “We never even liked green beans before, but then I grew them over summer, and now we love them. We had them steamed and in stir-fries… delicious,” he says. Not everything went according to plan though. Merle recounts how fortunate they were to have taken photographs of the first few kūmara tubers they dug up because “after those, we lifted nothing but tiny, scrawny little finger-sized bitty ones!” The couple have a good chuckle over the memory. “We had a right old sulk about those kūmara,” Merle laughs. CLAIRE MOSSONG/NZ GARDENER/StuffDion designed the various vege beds and connecting ramp according to precise specifications in height and width so he can fully access the space and use his growing arsenal of gardening tools from his wheelchair. Dion has not decided if he will plant kūmara again but for now, during my visit a week and a half after the winter solstice, the same beds are lushly populated by leafy Asian greens, brassicas, silverbeet and all the other staple veges of the Kiwi backyard garden. What’s his secret to this winter abundance, I ask. “When I take something out, I just pop something else right in there,” he says. At some point, he had “popped in” broad beans – which he had never eaten before. “I’m still waiting for the harvest, but the bees sure love the flowers, don’t they?”CLAIRE MOSSONG/NZ GARDENER/StuffHe also designed the 3mm laser-cut corten steel sign to commemorate his favourite native tree. His enthusiasm is understandable. This is a well thought out garden, designed by someone who loves gardening, is eager to get on with it, and understands the specific needs of the gardener – namely Dion himself. A self-taught graphic designer and artist, he had sketched out the design over 2020’s level 4 lockdown. “Well, we had a budget for a kitchen renovation, but we couldn’t find builders and then the whole country shut down,” says Dion. “So I started designing the garden, partly to give myself something to do. That was good fun. I really enjoyed lockdown.” Dion’s main aim was to build vege beds that would capture as much sun as possible – this is why the main ramp is constructed within the shadowline of his fence, leaving the more sunny side for the vegetables. At the same time, the size, shape and number of beds that could be accommodated had to be balanced against the size and width of the branching ramps in a way that would preserve manoeuvrability for his wheelchair within the space. CLAIRE MOSSONG/NZ GARDENER/StuffCass helps harvest the kūmara while Dion checks on the brassicas and other summer veges he had planted. The building work was staggered, progressing as New Zealand moved down each lockdown level: first, socially distanced landscapers came in to clear and measure the space; then they delivered on materials and construction, and Dion’s dad Cass, was on hand to help (at 73, he was “their oldest apprentice ever,” Dion jokes); and finally, as Kiwis celebrated reaching Level 1, Dion’s whānau (cousins, nephews and his 26-year-old son Braydon) stepped up, moving wheelbarrow loads of soil and potting mix to fill the beds. CLAIRE MOSSONG/NZ GARDENER/StuffCass helps harvest the kūmara while Dion checks on the brassicas and other summer veges he had planted. Over summer, he also grew basil, tomatoes, chillies and capsicum, celery, kamokamo, cucumbers, green beans, peas, rock melon, watermelon and various herbs as well as flowers to attract bees and other pollinators. The first seedling – a pak choi – was planted in the dark, as soon as they were done. Obviously, it was a moment that had been a long time coming. “I just couldn’t wait. I was too keen.” Filling up the beds cost exactly $968. “The soil came in a big truckload from Daltons, they dumped it at the end of the garden, and the family spent three hours going back and forth, filling up the beds,” he recalls. That, plus the money spent on buying seedlings, seeds, tools and such means that “we’re not in the black anytime soon.” By conventional measures, it will certainly take time to recoup their capital investment, but the Seeling whānau know this cold hard calculation of the dollar terms does not account for the non-monetary benefits they now enjoy. Yes, there are the usual advantages vege gardeners already know about – delicious and fresh homegrown food, convenience at your doorstep, the joy of feeding loved ones with the results of one’s own labour – but for Dion, the freedom of access to a productive area of his own property that had previously been off limits provides a level of satisfaction that is beyond measure.CLAIRE MOSSONG/NZ GARDENER/StuffSeeling family members come into the garden to harvest fruit and veges as they need them. When it comes to cost, “I sow a packet of seed, after my first six plants, I’m winning,” says Dion. He grows annuals and some perennials that the family enjoys eating, and even those they have never tried. “I want to try growing everything.” Dion, aged 44, broke his neck playing rugby when he was 18. As part of his rehabilitation, he taught himself to draw using pencil and paper – “just to get good at using my hands again,” he explains. Eventually, he gained enough strength and dexterity to move on to using paintbrush on canvas – part rehab and part creative expression. When computers came along, and the technology and software improved enough to accommodate his vision, he used those tools to teach himself graphic design, eventually gaining a diploma in art as well as a diploma in business. These days, he applies the same skills and passion for independent learning to his gardening. “It’s amazing what you can learn from YouTube and other gardeners.” CLAIRE MOSSONG/NZ GARDENER/StuffSeeling family members come into the garden to harvest fruit and veges as they need them. When it comes to cost, “I sow a packet of seed, after my first six plants, I’m winning,” says Dion. He grows annuals and some perennials that the family enjoys eating, and even those they have never tried. “I want to try growing everything.” Dion is not exactly a novice gardener though. His dad Cass, like many Kiwis of his generation, had a vege garden and small orchard in his quarter-acre section. “I remember always having to go into the garden to pick veges for dinner, or coming home after school and having to weed or turn the soil when Dad told us to. It was more of a chore then, and a lot of my gardening then was from just having to do it and get on with it.” These days, no garden chore is too onerous. “I like being out here, even for the smallest thing… I don’t mind holding the hose for an hour, slowly watering.” He is already thinking of the planting season ahead, having learned much from his first season. “I didn’t get good capsicums or eggplants, so I’m going to try again. I loved tomatoes and cucumbers because they’re so easy. I had determinate toms that went completely berserk, so I’m sticking to those; their size is perfect – they’re bushy and not too tall or too short for me to reach. I loved growing kamokamo but didn’t do too well with courgettes.” Not everything will be repeated though. “No celery again because we don’t like the taste of it raw. It’s good to use as a base for soups, but we had 12 plants! Nobody needs that many, but we had them because Bailey had said she’d juice them. Well, she failed us in the end. She didn’t juice a single one.”CLAIRE MOSSONG/NZ GARDENER/StuffSeeling family members come into the garden to harvest fruit and veges as they need them. When it comes to cost, “I sow a packet of seed, after my first six plants, I’m winning,” says Dion. He grows annuals and some perennials that the family enjoys eating, and even those they have never tried. “I want to try growing everything.” Dion is a no-dig gardener, keeping his soil and plants happy with castings from two worm bins. “I don’t mind spraying to keep pests off, though right now I’m using an organic spray.” He reckons he spends “at least” half an hour to an hour in the garden every day – this is a severe underestimation, according to Merle. “He spends hours and hours there! We went away for a few days once and as soon as we got home, he went straight into the garden.” Well, the brassicas needed tending, Dion explains (in a defensive tone, I might add, that I have heard many gardeners employ when justifiably accused of some form of plant obsession or addiction). It is heartwarming to hear their loving, familiar banter. After all, the Seelings have waited 25 years to have this garden to laugh about.
Did you know that camDown is easy to use, easy to maintain?