Today the local university had a community open day. This was not the hard sell aimed at attracting the cream of the Year 13 crop but rather an invitation to local families to come and explore the campus.
We spent a lot of time in the Engineering department looking over all sorts of earthquake research and then a pleasant hour in the HIT Lab manipulating robots and making 3-D comics. There was a lot of fun trying to walk on water in the Chemistry department and some curly brain teasers in the Maths department. We listened to some talented musicians performing in the sun and we attended a lecture on the chemicals in baked beans and toothpaste. Ex-students were everywhere and it was lovely to be able to admire their forays into the world of academic research. Bouncy castles, a petting zoo with rare breeds of farm animals and a gourmet sausage sizzle rounded out the entertainment.
By 2pm we were all toured out so we began a slow wander back to the car. An intriguing mosaic pointed the way to a community garden so we decided to make a quick detour. Which turned out not to be a quick detour at all.
We meandered down a river path planted with native tussock and gradually the tall concrete university towers disappeared behind a curtain of weeping willow and there in front of us was a lush green garden paradise.
A profusion of tangly kitchen herbs, baths of lettuces, buzzy-bee covered broad beans, the beginnings of potato tyre stacks, delicate spring rhubarb, beds of leeks and onions, spinach and rocket and colourful Swiss chard, peas and early beans winding their way up teepees and tiny tips of asparagus peeping through the soil. We were enchanted.
There was a planting table with packets of both saved and heritage seeds. Henry spent some time wandering between the beds with his hands behind his back, perusing the crops, weighing up vegetable varieties before he was ready to choose his 10 seeds. Come this summer we’ll be dining on Bob’s curly winding beans and Black Beauty zucchini with Queensland Blue pumpkins to look forward to in the autumn.
But it was down the back that the real magic was happening. A table was set with platters of roasted garden vegetables, bowls of fresh tomato spreading sauce, mushrooms and olives and onions, snipped spring herbs and the most wonderful pesto made from everything green and leafy in the garden.
Everyone rolled out a lump of puffy pizza dough, spread it with the delicious tomato sauce and scattered their favourite toppings over a handful of grated cheese. And then if you thought we’d reached magic saturation, you’d be wrong. Because the most wonderful thing of all:
A wood-fired pizza oven! A handbuilt cob! Cooking our pizza dough to delicious smoky crispness in five minutes – which was just long enough for the toppings to sizzle and the cheese to melt.
Despite all the whizz-bangs and the flashy technology and the amazing research projects and the high energy demonstrations, the Okeover Community Garden was hands-down our favourite place on the whole campus. Just walking through the gate I felt myself let go of a breath I didn’t even know I was holding. It was an unexpected sanctuary in a high-pressure world, a quietly humming place of peace, a haven for stressed-out souls. A truly enchanted garden.