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A Certificate II in Horticulture is a beautiful thing. Especially if you’re studying in the lovely seaside town of Ulladulla under the excellent tutelage of Malcolm, Graeme and Wendy. Add in a rambunctious group of classmates exuding endless enthusiasm, and you have yourself a tremendous combination. There’s Merino from Venezuela, Ross the van-dweller, Em the artist, Deb the nurse, Horace from out west (Bathurst), Lenny the fruit grower, Anna the horse whisperer, the kind Bec, savvy Sandra, wise Jenny, Jodi the charger and John the joker, not to mention countless others. It’s a mixture of all ages and experience levels with a shared fondness for all things green. Every Tuesday, we assemble in the shed and get down to business. There’s plenty of growing – from seed and cuttings (stem, leaf and root based); garden maintenance; soil analysis; seed collection and extraction; and soil and plant biochemistry for good measure. The grounds on campus are taking shape, with vegetable and flower beds, new propagation benches and a hothouse for growing from cuttings. We can now wield power tools as confidently (though perhaps not as competently) as shovels. And we’re only halfway through our first semester.

The team were recently privileged to be led on a private tour of the Eurobodalla Botanic Gardens by the knowledgable Ryan, manager of the regional Seed Bank initiative. The Seed Bank spans the entire Clyde, Deua and Tuross catchment regions and aims to preserve seeds of all the endemic flora in our region. The Botanic Gardens showcase some of the more stunning examples within their grounds. For instance, there’s the macrozamia communis, a cycad known locally as ‘Burrawang’, which has been around since the time of the dinosaurs. It creates enormous cones containing dozens of seeds, each individually encased in a bright red-orange fleshy covering. Closer to home, there’s the melaleuca hypericifolia (Ulladulla Beacon), a lovely dense groundcover that is endemic to the immediate Ulladulla region. Malcolm could tell you everything there is to know about that one, he’s our very own native plant guru. On the way home, we even managed an expedition to ‘Big Spotty’. This gum tree (corymbia maculata) is 60m tall and nearly 11m in circumference. It has stood for approximately 600 years in the rainforest near Termeil.

In between discussions of photosynthesis and transpiration losses, dodging bull ants, pH testing, taming circular saws and conquering odourous compost heaps, we’ve all privately come to the realisation that there’s really nothing better than losing yourself in a garden. It’s a form of meditation, of personal revelation. Every time you head outside in the crisp air, plunge your hands into the soil with the sun on your back and no knowledge whatsoever of the time, you enter that peculiar dimension.

‘To the mind that is still, the whole universe surrenders.’
– Lao Tzu

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