Growing Community Connections: Grow Forrest Hill

Every time you book a garden visit or workshop through Secret Gardens, 10% of your booking fee is donated to a charity involved with promoting gardening or conservation. One such charity is Grow Forrest Hill, a vibrant and inspiring community garden in Auckland, set up by Secret Gardens Hosts Dave and Phoebe from Ngā Kaupeka. Here Phoebe shares the Grow Forrest Hill story…

Grow Forrest Hill officially launched in February 2022, however the heart and soul of the community garden really started several years earlier, during lockdown. We had long held the desire to help create the kind of friendly neighbourhood we wanted our kids to grow up in,  and lockdown provided the kind of conditions to really do something about it.  

As the quote goes, we decided to ‘start where you are, use what you have, do what you can’. With a tray-full of lettuce seedlings ready to be pricked out and some pallet wood from the side of the road, we built a ‘free seedling’ stand and positioned it on our driveway. Within days it became a wee hub where people would stop and chat (socially distanced of course!)  sharing their appreciation for the free seedlings, and soon ours were joined by others offerings of surplus homegrown fruit and veg, plants and cuttings. 

Phoebe and Dave's free seedling and produce stand became a focal point for neighbours during lockdown

From there, it took on a life of its own. We took the opportunity to include a flyer sharing the vision of the community garden in the park across the road and by the end of lock down we had close to 50 people keen to keep up to date with progress. Fast forward several years of lengthy application process, the establishment of a charitable trust and a whole load of fundraising, and we finally had a garden sporting the first three raised beds. These days, with the support of local businesses, our local board and wonderful supporters like Secret Gardens, Grow Forrest Hill is a flourishing place with 11 raised beds, a Winter Gardenz glasshouse and storage sheds, with expansion plans for a teaching space and orchard are afoot! 

Our weekly Sunday working bees host a diverse group of between 10-20 people of all different ages and cultures. But we have much in common – we all want to get to know our neighbours, to learn about growing great food and to enjoy spending an afternoon in a beautiful space together around a productive purpose. The delicious afternoon tea of home baking is always a bonus.

Working bee topics for learning and doing include – composting, worm farming, seed sowing and plant propagation, as well as harvesting and cooking together the produce we have grown. The ethos of the garden is to create a sense of belonging around a common place and purpose, and gardening is such a great way to do that – it’s the great leveller, no matter whether your a kindy kid or a CEO, when we’re in the garden planting side by side, we share the experience together and connections and kindness naturally grow.

 Alongside our weekly working bees, we host seasonal festivals which draw a greater number of our neighbours to come and share in what we’re doing. Our Spring Festival features our Heirloom Tomato Seedling Sale, in Summer it’s a Picnic in the Park, the Autumn Festival celebrates the harvest and seed saving / swapping and winter’s festival has a Matariki focus. We have been blown away by the level of enthusiasm from the community attending these festivals with great numbers coming along to support these fundraising endeavours, enjoying the stalls, food and giant bubbles on offer! 

Grow Forrest Hill
Grow Forrest Hill

Another one of the key aspects of what we do is our community composting hub, where neighbours can drop their food scraps to us to process in our commercial grade (rodent proof) compost bins. From there it is turned and aerated during our weekly working bees and over the course of 16 weeks, it becomes black gold to be returned to our gardens to grow beautiful nutrient dense organic produce. 


In these increasingly turbulent times we are living in, dealing with climate change and associated issues of flooding, food security, climate anxiety etc, it is wonderful to have a place to come, to get your hands in the dirt alongside others and feel like there’s a way you can make a tangible difference. Being kids of the 80’s, the Cheers theme song comes to mind – “Cause sometimes you wanna go where everyone knows your name, and they’re always glad you came!” And taking a bag of fresh greens home for the week means we’re always glad we came too! 

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