In lots of ways, today’s young gardeners are starting out doing similar things to their parents’ generation. As a keen beginner in my late teens and early twenties, I would dig up the lawns of rented flats to plant vege gardens (not always a roaring success) and seek out low cost plants to decorate dowdy indoor rooms. We too were driven by an innate love of nature and the desire to grow our own food. But today’s twenty-somethings are gardening in a vastly different, rapidly changing world. Somehow gardening, while as much fun as it’s ever been, has taken on a whole new level of significance for young gardeners.
Eden Saccente found gardening as a career option almost by accident, while taking a break from her nursing studies. As part of the team at Palmers Garden Centre in central Wellington, and gardening for her private garden clients on her days off, she’s discovered something she not only loves doing but is a perfect fit with the way she wants to exist in the world.
For Eden, the most rewarding thing about gardening is the connection between nature and health. She is inspired and delighted to be sharing a home with two like-minded young adults, her flatmates Liv and Alvin. “It’s so cool to live with talented and creative people who care about the earth and good health as much as I do. I love their drive for creating and experimenting with nature’s delights. They make beautiful preserves, sauerkraut, kombucha and infused oils. Once Liv went foraging around Mt Victoria and picked kawakawa berries which she dipped in chocolate to make a delicious peppery dessert.”
Of all the lovely gardens she has worked in, Eden is especially fond of the one she shares with Liv and Alvin. They’d got started growing vegetables before Eden moved in, constructing a glasshouse from old windows after discovering that the leafy salad greens they wanted to grow were particularly vulnerable to harsh Wellington winds.
“Our goal is to grow the food we want to eat, in the way we want to grow it. To know exactly that what we’re eating is fresh and organic from garden to table. What could be better!” enthuses Eden. She has noticed too that gardening not only provides healthy food to eat but contributes hugely to a positive sense of wellbeing. “Having the ability to create a garden in your own backyard is so gratifying and grounding. I feel rejuvenated every time I'm working in a garden! I think taking care of plants makes you feel good - feeding, watering and making sure they’re not sick.”
The light filled central Wellington flat is a haven for horticultural treasures. Colourful and quirky plant containers filled with succulents and leafy tropicals of all shapes and sizes are displayed in every room. Eden propagates many of her plants and often brings home baby houseplants to nurture into big ones.
She’s not surprised that indoor plants are having a renaissance in popularity saying, “Plants add so much to a space. I believe that the colour green makes you happy! But they don’t just make you feel good because they look good, they actually clean the air by taking in bad toxins and releasing fresh air into a room. Plants have so many benefits for health. Imagine a world without plants! People need plants to survive.”
Eden says her interest in gardening was first sparked in childhood. “Growing up in the country and seeing my parents transform bare paddocks into a beautiful oasis for our family made me appreciate nature and being outdoors. I remember picking chillies with my dad so we could dry them. These days I love to dry my own herbs for making teas with, and to preserve fruit and vegetables. Just because they’re seasonal doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy them all year round.”
For Eden, cooking and gardening go hand in hand. It’s something she has picked up from her mother, who she credits as being the one who most inspires her. “Mum has always been a gardener. She is also the most amazing cook and I think a lot of that comes from her appreciation of how plants and animals coexist and how-to best care for them so we can get the tastiest and most nutritious foods!”
Like most people her age Eden often uses social media as a source of inspiration, but non-digital sources are just as important to her, as evidenced by a fast growing collection of botanical and organic gardening books. She also learns a lot from her garden centre customers. Her chats with these fellow gardeners is one of the things she enjoys most about her work at Palmers.
She also credits her recent employer and mentor Dave, a professional gardener who introduced her to gardening as a vocation. “Dave is very supportive and has taught me lots about botany and horticulture over the past few years.” Eden now has the confidence to have a few clients of her own and enjoys the real sense of ownership she is allowed in the gardens she looks after. She feels very lucky to have had this opportunity saying, “To be able to take care of someone else’s garden has been a huge step forward for me.”
Meanwhile she’s gathering inspiration for her future dream garden. “It will have lots of things to eat amongst other beautiful things. I love flowers, firstly for pollination and nectar and just because they’re so beautiful!” Her’s would be a garden of abundance, bursting at the seams with a huge variety of useful and beautiful plants, and a haven for wildlife. She is developing a strong preference for New Zealand native plants. “The gardens I work in have loads of natives. I love it that they are so hardy and versatile while looking so beautiful.” A few of her favourite natives are kowhai, rengarenga, and nikau palms because of their beauty and the birdlife they support. “Birds and insects roaming free helps the garden to thrive,” she adds.
As someone who cares deeply about soil health and biodiversity, Eden feels strongly that spraying for pest control has to be a last resort. She believes food should be grown in harmony with nature and is studying the practical principles of permaculture. She’s a huge fan of composting. “Today we have things like bokashi bins so we can ferment our food scraps to speed up the composting process. If people have no space in their garden, I encourage them to find a local community garden, because they can never have enough compost!”
Caring for soil and nature can come with its challenges. “Sometimes it feels like that caring has to come second to aesthetics and convenience for a garden owner” she illustrates, “but I have learned that sometimes a tree needs to go in order for other plants to thrive.” Learning from others is what gives her the desire to keep growing plants and she is keen to pass on what she has learned to other help other young gardeners succeed. She believes anyone has the ability to grow food for themselves.
“I love that with gardening anything is possible, there are no boundaries. When you make a mistake, you move on and try something new. It’s exciting to realise the connection between the care you give to the garden and how each plant responds. Every plant is different, just like us.”
Eden grows many of her plants from seed in recycled containers.
Eden with flatmates Alvin and Liv and the glasshouse they made from repurposed windows
Treasured plants share the view of Mount Victoria