Beautiful things often emerge in times of hardship. When there are terrible wars, writers pen great poems; when there are crises, everyday people perform acts of kindness; and when there are pandemics — it seems — we grow gardens.
One of these gardens belongs to Elna Abdul and Yan Mohamed. It’s three years old this summer and, according to Yan, it’s a COVID garden.
When the pandemic hit, the backyard was bare: just lawn and a couple of trees. With work-from-home orders in place, Yan and Elna set about creating something special.
“We did all the mulch and cardboard ourselves, in summer. It was good exercise,” Elna says, showing me how they beat back the lawn with heavy layers of cardboard, mulch and soil, creating weed-free beds that are now filled with homegrown veggies.
Three years, a handful of lockdowns and a lot of effort later, woodchip paths wind through beds of broccoli, cauliflower, cape gooseberries, salad greens and broad beans.
There are raised beds, too, filled with asparagus, garlic, pak choy, and alpine strawberries (teeny red strawberries that fruit prolifically and, I’m told, have a ‘‘bubblegummish” flavour). Peas and loofah plants climb up metal archways made from sheep fencing which friends found online and, through sheer force of will, the two bent into shape by hand.
Not only did Yan and Elna start their garden during the pandemic, they also started an Instagram account to document their progress — you can find them at @ourpatch avenue. And what they discovered was a thriving community of gardeners keen to help each other learn and grow. When social distancing meant they couldn’t get advice from garden centres, Yan and Elna sought help online. “You can’t go to Bunnings or a nursery to ask questions,” Elna says. “So you ask your virtual friends.”
As the world reopened, these virtual connections became friendships. And, as their garden grew, Yan and Elna began to share their produce with friends, neighbours and wildlife. “We have birds nesting on the grape vines in spring: they love coming here,” Yan says.
Despite creating something so beautiful amid the chaos of the 2020s, Yan and Elna are humble about their garden and the work that went into it saying: “We believe you grow with your garden, so it’s not an instant thing, it’s something you progress though — slowly, consistently,” Yan says.
After all, when times are tough, we often discover what really brings us joy. And it’s not fancy cars or fanfare.
Yan and Elna’s Instagram bio sums it up perfectly: it’s “just two friends growing our own food on the Perth coast”.