Join in ... at Murray Bridge Garden and Floral Art Club

Peter Crowley invites you to connect with locals who love gardening and flowers.

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Peter Crowley counts himself lucky to be sitting at a table in his back garden, sipping a cuppa and munching on a piece of jubilee cake.

He has had his share of health challenges over the past few years, but in this place you can feel the tranquillity, wafting around somewhere beneath the old-fashioned washing line, around the bushes and the chooks.

The tropical plants beneath the verandah are Shaun Patrick’s project: a mango which fruited last year, a paw paw, pineapples, a banana palm chopped off at the base and re-growing.

The garden beyond is Peter’s happy place.

A few other people have had a hand in its emergence too, though, through the advice they have offered – members of the Murray Bridge Garden and Floral Art Club.

When did you first get into gardening, and get involved with the club?

I’ve been gardening all my life. I would have got that from my parents. When I was four years old, coming to Murray Bridge to visit my grandparents, Grandma and Grandpa Joe Vick, he pulled out of the garden a radish. Being a four-year-old I screwed my face up, he laughed – I can still hear him laughing – and he gave me a carrot instead. It was lovely. That’s my first memory of gardening. When I was six, in Melbourne, my grade one teacher was retiring. I grew her a box of, I think, lachenalias, a bulb. They were all in flower. So I’ve been gardening since I was six years old. Back in those days dad looked after outside, mum looked after inside ... By chance (more recently) I met Dawn Treloar, or Hoffman, the secretary (of the Murray Bridge Garden and Floral Art Club). Immediately, that was what I wanted ... The garden club is for people who like to get their hands dirty, roll up their sleeves and do some work.

What do you spend your time doing?

We meet once a month, on the first Wednesday, 7.30pm on the dot in the Seventh Day Adventist hall, on the corner of Myall Avenue and Standen Street. But a lot of people get there at seven o’clock ... We have guest speakers. Competitions (too). We go around (the room) and vote ourselves: fruit, vegetables, roses in different categories, big flowers, little flowers, cooking, eggs, craft. The competition is more a celebration of what you can grow, a bit of show and tell. It’s amazing what you can grow here in Murray Bridge considering how harsh the climate is: freezing or burning hot.

What do you get out of your involvement?

It has taken me 11 years to get a citrus to grow here. It can be hard in Murray Bridge. It depends where the limestone is. The internet is not going to tell you the nitty-gritty about Murray Bridge. When it’s face to face, that’s a really good advantage. Murray Bridge has a funny little climate here – it’s its own ecosystem ... I get out of it knowledge and a celebration of Murray Bridge. We also celebrate the physical and mental health (benefits) of gardening, how good it is for you. You’ve got to get up in the morning, you’ve got your chooks to feed, you get around your garden. That’s come to the fore, especially in COVID.

What is your fondest memory of your time with the garden and floral art club?

It’s over 100 years old, the club. Its centenary was one of the most amazing things I’ve been to in my life. Morning tea was an ocean of the most amazing home cooking. Even though it’s a garden club, it has craft, it has baking, preserves, jams – all that old-fashioned stuff ... My favourite memory is that spread. Classic South Australian old-style cooking. There’s some bloody good cooks in the garden club, I’ll tell you that. And you’re with people who love Murray Bridge, love their gardens, love their dogs, love their chooks, love their plants.

What is your goal with the club?

Stay alive. Having had stage four cancer and only been given a very short time to live, my goal is to stay alive and enjoy the moment. At the peak of my sickness, my sister lent me one of those old-fashioned cane hospital beds. I sat out here, where it’s usually sunny, and I’d go to sleep, I’d hear the canaries, the sparrows, the chooks. It was life.

Why should people join Murray Bridge Garden and Floral Art Club?

People at the garden and floral art club have dirt under their fingernails. Most of them are living on bigger plots in Murray Bridge, and a lot of them are still working. It’s very much a gardener’s club as opposed to a social club, and that really suits me. I’m looking for tips.

Correction: An earlier version of this post gave an incorrect surname for Mr Crowley’s grandfather.

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