New activities sprouting at Northbank Community Garden

Northbank Community Garden committee members Pete Bufo (president), Dan Hartney (treasurer), Karim Salem and Monique Lander

Northbank Community Garden committee members Pete Bufo (president), Dan Hartney (treasurer), Karim Salem and Monique Lander

They started calling her the Garden Pixie because she was there so much, pumping out music and working so hard to realise a dream.

In December, Monique Lander stopped in Bellingen while heading somewhere else, became enraptured and decided to stay.

One thing she fell in love with was Northbank Community Garden and soon she was up there at all hours labouring to clear weeds and establish an area dedicated to medicinal plants.

An integrated health practitioner with degrees in physiotherapy and medical nutrition, she wanted to offer a way of dealing with common ailments that didn't involve expensive drugs or expensive dietary supplements.

"My vision was to create a sustainable, free, perma-farmacy," Monique said. "That's a name I came up with. So using permaculture to create pharmacy."

She began by categorising the conditions to be treated and matching each to three or four plants with the strongest medicinal connection.

"For example, for acne I had aloe vera, chillies and alehoof," Monique said. "The aloe you would use topically, the chillies you would use as an infusion or put it into a food, and the alehoof you would put in a tea to help with the immune system."

Over months, she cleared a massively overgrown patch of about 50 square metres by hand, sourced and bought dozens of plants using her own money, and placed them lovingly in the ground.

She wrote usage instructions and had a propagation scheme in mind so people could set up what they needed at home.

"So if you have an ongoing condition, say asthma, you've got chamomile, ginkgo, dandelion and comfrey, you steep them all in a pot for ten minutes and have three to four times a day.

"People could leave a donation and take seedlings home and have a sustainable workable pharmacy in their own back garden for their condition."

That was my vision. But now I start again.

Monique Lander

"That was my vision. But now I start again."

Unfortunately, a couple who wanted to use the community garden to grow vegetables uprooted all of Monique's plants and cleared the area back to bare earth.

She said it wasn't malicious; they didn't speak English well and simply hadn't understood what they'd been told about which spaces were available and which were not.

Monique in the patch that was weeded back to bare earth, with the pile of discarded plants on the right

Monique in the patch that was weeded back to bare earth, with the pile of discarded plants on the right

"Everything was labelled and to me it was very obvious, although I was using chickweed as a groundcover and they could have mistaken it for a weed."

Monique was devastated, and she wept particularly for the valerian.

"She was the mother of the garden and the comfrey was the father. I used to sit in the mulberry tree and play them music. No one had ever been able to grow valerian here before."

But the setback hasn't dampened her enthusiasm for either the perma-farmacy or the community garden in general.

"I joined the committee because I was so passionate about the garden. I want to bring people back and I want it to be loved as much as I love it."

Now installed as the marketing and events coordinator, Monique is planning an open mic poetry night for September, as the weather warms up and the dusky evenings start to lengthen.

"And we want to do a birdwatching event. There's about 23 bird species now living here. And we're doing working bees."

Pete Bufo hard at work

Pete Bufo hard at work

From mid-August, Monique will be running a 10-week program teaching young people the basics of permaculture and perma-farmacy, which will be held Wednesdays after school.

The inadvertently cleared area will become the Youth Plot and she'll set up her own perma-farmacy next to it.

Monique said she's been heartened by how people rallied to help after the weeding disaster.

"Since people saw my post online, so much kindness has come out. People saying they've got plants they'd like to donate. To gift to the cause. It's beautiful."