Hidden amongst the quiet suburban streets of Kew, behind an old block of flats, is a thriving garden that is bursting with life and colour. Affectionately known to locals as “Kew Gardens”, it is an inviting and tranquil space, filled with a diverse range of edible and ornamental plants. Its creator and resident, Kevin Perrett, who lives with a spinal cord injury, has optimised the garden for wheelchair accessibility.
Originally a recreation area for the building’s residents, the space had fallen into disrepair, becoming drab and unappealing. That is, until six years ago when Kevin decided to breathe new life into the space and create a community garden. With the help of some hardworking and knowledgable mates his vision came to life. The area has been rejuvenated and transformed into a place where residents and neighbours can share ideas and spend some time in nature.
“It’s a good way to get out into nature and keep active. Before this, it was all chip-bark and dirt. Not a very nice place to hang out. “
“There were a few teething problems, like making sure all the sleepers were level against the angled concrete edges and having to repave some pathways to stop my chair from getting bogged or sliding around, but it was all a lot of fun and overall, I’m pretty happy with the way it’s turned out.”
Kevin’s neighbour, Paul, often helps with the watering and plant suggestions. He says, “The garden is great because it brings the community together and makes people happy.”
Inspired by his friend Edwin, his sister and his grandmother who “was always pottering about in the back yard”, the garden is both a tribute to family and friends and another item on Kevin’s list of achievements, post-SCI. Kevin grew up in Shepparton and with the help of his grandmother and sister developed an interest in gardening at a young age. His life took an unexpected turn in the early 1990s, when he was involved in an accident which left him with a spinal cord injury. Never one to be slowed down by life’s challenges, Kevin went on to achieve sporting success by representing both Victoria and Australia in Wheelchair Rugby and winning the National 8 and 9 ball pool championships in 2004. He also plays a mean game of darts and has modified his game to include blow darts.
Kevin’s garden has been designed and redesigned over the years with wheelchair accessibility in mind. It includes paved pathways, timber decking and astro turf for ease of mobility. There are three elevated garden beds made out of railway sleepers and underground irrigation to keep pathways clear of pipes and hoses. There are also several safety features incorporated into the garden’s design. These include corner guards on each of the elevated garden beds and stone or timber edging around each of the ground level garden beds to prevent wheels from going off track and getting bogged.
For sustainability, Kevin has installed and maintains six compost bins and three worm farms. In the elevated garden beds, drip irrigation systems are used along with builder’s plastic to prevent water wastage.
Kevin shares his creation and the fruits and veggies of his and his friends’ labour with neighbours and friends. The garden is a source of community for residents, family and friends as well as an informal grocery store with a variety of produce that would put the big two supermarket chains to shame. Potatoes, silver beat, white and red onions and range of winter veggies are thriving in the garden. There are fruit salad trees from New South Wales, passion fruit and blackcurrant vines, blueberries, strawberries and a banana tree, too!
As well as sections of edible plants, there is a cactus patch and Dutch Christmas trees. There is a preexisting undercover BBQ area that Kevin says was in a “sorry state before the facelift”. For the warmer months, there is even a (secret!) secluded patio that Kevin enjoys retreating to with a VB stubby and his pet dog. It has an aviary, bird feeder, heater and tv access. The garden is complete with sculptural features made of bluestone, timber and volcanic rock from Colac.
Getting outside into nature can be challenging for people with spinal cord injuries. Most parks and gardens are not designed for wheelchairs, scooters or other mobility devices. Kevin’s “Kew Gardens” provides him and his community with an accessible space to enjoy the simple pleasures of nature along with fresh, local and sustainable food. Kevin’s garden reflects the satisfaction that can come from staying involved in hobbies and interests.
Also published here.