Bandyup Women’s Prison Recreation Gardens Officer Kate can’t believe her luck. As a devoted conservation and environmental scientist, she goes to work in a 100ha setting of buildings surrounded by lush gardens and has a team of up to 20 workers who she personally doesn’t have to pay.
The fact that the gardens are behind the high fences of a prison and the workers are prisoners doesn’t faze her.
“It’s rewarding work,” Kate said. “The women are really keen and they enjoy learning new things. Some of them are completing TAFE certificates in horticulture and construction which benefit projects that we are undertaking around the prison and may help them gain employment once they’re released.
“Being a VSO is an awesome opportunity to do something you love and help other people to love it too,” Kate said. “A garden is a happy place and it not only offers prisoners time to reflect and to have the satisfaction of a good day’s work, but it’s also a place where they can develop useful skills and get in a workout.”
Kate said she had never been in a prison before winning her current role – but that being out in the garden meant even some of the prisoners could forget where they were, at least while they were working.
“We have a boom box and we sing along and dance while we work,” she said.
Under supervision and guidance by Kate and her fellow gardens instructors the garden party prisoners do all the mowing, edging, weeding, hedging and garden upkeep around the prison but have also worked on some creative projects, including a sensory garden in Crisis Care, a memorial garden for prisoners who have passed away and a memorial garden dedicated to staff who have passed away, which is also used during events such as ANZAC Day. These spaces offer a quiet haven for both prisoners and officers to just be, reflect and remember.
The gardens prisoners have also built raised garden beds outside the kitchen where they grow herbs and vegetables conveniently located to be used by the kitchen, as well as some bush tucker plants and a bay tree.
They are also rehabilitating a vegetable patch which had been infested by nematodes.
“We planted a crop of mustard as a green manure which was then dug into the soil to act as a biofumigant,” Kate said. “And then a beneficial flower mix, predominantly marigolds, was planted to help rebalance the soil. To determine if our green manure was a success we currently have some test plots of different vegetables and herbs such as tomatoes, spring onions, eggplants, beans, parsley and basil– as well as lots of bees, other insects and frogs.
“We have a greenhouse where we grow plants and the women learn different methods of propagation, from collecting seeds from plants around the prison and appropriate preparations, storage and planting of the seed as well as propagation from cuttings”
The garden prisoners have taken initiative to reduce the waste of the prison by introducing composting measures. “We have a compost heap and some of the women were astonished to see the dark compost that emerges from the grass clippings and kitchen waste and asked ‘why doesn’t everyone do that’? The compost is used in and around the prison giving back to the gardens”
“It’s great to see the prisoners mastering new skills for a new life on the outside.”