BALNARRING’S Wattle Court residents are mourning the loss of much-loved neighbour Helen, one of the earliest recipients of a COVID-inspired community food garden that provided meals for elderly neighbours in the street.
Founded by Greg Merlo and his wife Anna, the community food garden was forced to close last year by Mornington Peninsula Shire Council red tape, but the passing of his friend and neighbour has reminded Mr Merlo of the importance of friendship and community.
Before the garden had to be removed from public land at the end of Wattle Court, Greg and Anna Merlo twice a week cooked up pasta for up to 10 of their mainly elderly neighbours from the Wattle Court garden’s harvest.
“It was something that drew the community together,” Mr Merlo said, who before his retirement was principal of Westpark Primary School, Hastings.
At the time the garden came to an end, the shire’s community safety and compliance manager Shannon Maynard acknowledged the Merlos grew the fruit and vegetables with the “best intentions” but that “concerns … had been raised by several nearby residents” and the location was seen as being inappropriate.
Mr Merlo has written the following tribute to Helen – whose last name he never knew – to remind people that looking after neighbours and community is what matters most:
“Helen, a kind caring person who lived alone, she was in her late 80s, and was from a wonderful large family who always called in. She was loved by her neighbours.
Helen loved figs, so I planted a fig tree on her verge.
During COVID 2020 Helen received at least one cooked meal a week from our garden produce. She was also provided with veggies as needed.
Helen enjoyed figs from her tree for five years. She was always delighted and appreciative of meals and fresh veggies. It was our pleasure to receive Helen’s thanks.
Helen passed away last week. Wattle Court is sad. We will miss Helen’s kindness and care for community. She was chief organiser for our court Christmas barbecue.
My first thought was our garden is not important. We have lost a loved neighbour. We won’t have Helen back.
But no, garden is important. Our community can take some comfort in the thought our garden provided Helen with some “sunshine” in these difficult COVID times.
But this garden wasn’t about tomatoes, broccoli, cucumbers or zucchini.
It was a place that brought people together.
Our garden created community.
It’s time our shire encouraged, promoted and devised ways for gardens like ours to flourish. It’s called making community.”