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Tāmaki Makaurau’s 16-year-old Holly Bagwell has created a regenerative garden at her highschool. She shares what that process looks like and its benefits with Womenclan.

Tell us about the process of creating a regenerative garden, where did you start? 

You don’t need to know how to garden to start a garden, the internet is home to heaps of resources to help you along the way. I’ve found that the essentials to starting off a regenerative garden are a compost bin, a collection of tools, good soil, and some seeds. We had to raise money for the things we couldn’t get donated or second hand (like wood for the beds) but overall, when I made the garden, it wasn’t that expensive, all it took was a little creativity. Asking around on local Facebook pages for tools and compost to start us off saved us money and helped us to connect with our community. It does take a bit of asking around, but you would be surprised how many people are willing to jump on board and give you a hand. 

What are regenerative gardening’s key benefits?

Regenerative gardening takes nature's tools and harnesses them to: increase biodiversity and wellbeing, produce nutrient dense food, sequester carbon, support healthy soils, and help pollinators. One of the key components behind this is photosynthesis which is the process where plants turn sunlight and sugars into energy. With photosynthesis, in the evening plants flush sugars down through their roots to feed micro-organisms, then in the morning, the plants absorb sugars from the micro-organisms. The plants and microbes work together creating this cycle of nutrition resulting in more nutrient dense food. 

Another key component is composting. Food waste is composted, storing that carbon in the soil, that compost can then be used to grow plants which turns carbon into sugars during photosynthesis, eventually all that carbon will be used to produce vegetables. Basically, it’s turning carbon into food. Regenerative Gardening also uses a principle called polycropping where you plant many plants close to each other all in one space.  Plants love to talk to each other through their roots. So, with all the plants in one space, they communicate through their roots and share their nutrients, which ultimately help them to grow! What might be waste for one plant turns out to be exactly what another plant needs.

Have you always had an interest in gardening?

Being outdoors and creating projects have always been my happy place. A few years ago, I felt lost and was trying to find my purpose. I read about ‘Ikigai’ the Japanese word which translates to your purpose and reason to jump out of bed in the morning. From there, I started exploring what I loved, what the world needs, what I am good at, and what I could someday be paid for. Through this, I discovered that I could make a positive impact by doing what I have always loved to do, which is spending time in nature working on projects. Gardening is so special because you get to see a little seed turn into a vegetable. You get to fully experience nature’s magic in action.

What have been your biggest learning curves in creating the garden?

I’ve found that to make a dream a reality takes hard work and persistence. Although it may not look like much from the outside, there is so much hard work and a whole network of people who have helped create the garden space. It’s like a plant. From the surface, all you can see is the beautiful leaves and stems. However, beneath the surface are its roots which is like all the hard work and growth which goes on out of sight. 

There is also a whole support network of other plants, bacteria and fungi alongside that root network which help the plant to reach its full potential. All the work which no one saw I had to be persistent, continuing and learning from all the challenges because good things take time. There were so many moments when something didn’t work. But I have learned that when you put yourself out there, you must be willing to fail, and when you do fail it’s a moment to take a step back and have a good laugh, learn what you need to learn and move on. All those fall backs make the end goal something to be even more proud of. You can’t rush something you want to last forever.

What are the most positive, surprising impacts you’ve seen?

I think one of the most surprising things is the potential of a garden to bring a whole group of people together. Some of my happiest times at school have been out in the garden just pottering around with our environment group ‘Ecolution’. People begin to come out of their shells, suddenly everyone's talking and working together, there are so many smiles. Seeing this just makes me smile.

You’re currently looking into the cultivation and carbon cycle through the story of Rongo-ma-tāne the Atua (god) of food. Can you tell us about this?

The carbon cycle is the process in which carbon continually travels from the atmosphere to the earth  and back to the atmosphere. The process of the carbon cycle can be brought to life through the Māori creation story. 

In the creation story, the children of Papatūānuku, the earth mother, and Ranginui, the sky father,  wished to separate their parents and bring light to the world. However, one brother Tāwhirimātea, the  Atua (God) of weather, strongly disagreed with this. He believed that his parents should stay together.  So, he became angry, deciding to leave his brothers and rise upwards to be with the sky father. His rising  up to Ranginui can be seen as the rising of carbon molecules from Papatūānuku, the earth, to Ranginui,  the atmosphere.


Once in the sky, he decided to take revenge on his brothers by attacking them. When  he came for down for Rongo-ma-tāne, the Atua of cultivated food and peace, Rongo-ma-ne took  shelter in the soil within his mother. Since the food Rongo-ma-tāne was producing needed carbon for  photosynthesis, Rongo-ma-tāne began to draw down the excess carbon of Tāwhirimātea through his  plants and turn that carbon into food. By storing the excess carbon in the soil, he was able to cultivate a  peaceful balance between the levels of carbon in the atmosphere and the soil.  

The way we manage land and burn fossil fuels today means that we are taking the carbon from  Papatūānuku and putting excess carbon into Tāwhirimātea, disrupting the balance. This imbalance is  angering Tāwhirimātea, causing climate change and extreme weather events. Through gardening in a  regenerative way, we can work with Rongo-ma-tāne drawing carbon back down in the soil and restoring  the balance in our land.


You also have been working towards sharing yoga with teens. What are the benefits of a practice for young people, and are there benefits that cross over with gardening? 

 There are so many benefits that I could dive into, but the one that stands out most for me is courage. Stepping onto the mat and practicing yoga for any length of time gives us a moment to notice our thoughts, the internal dialogue that's constantly going on like a talk show in our minds.  When we practice yoga, we are given the time to take a step back from our to-do lists or anything that is going on in our life and reconnect to ourselves. Reconnecting to ourselves provides an opportunity to see what it is we truly want and listen to that voice without judgement.


When we are compassionate to ourselves, we become more confident in ourselves, we begin to do things that we want to do, not what others expect us to do. We realize what it is that we truly want. Life is short and I think if you can discover what you love to do from a young age and start doing the things you are passionate about then you can end up in some unexpected and amazing places. A few years ago I never would have thought that I was going to become a yoga teacher or make a garden, but I listened to that inner voice and I had the courage to be myself.

 I think that's where yoga and the environment cross over. If we are kinder to ourselves, then we are better able to look after the world around us. It's like you need to fill your own cup up before you can fill up someone else's cup or even like on the plane where you need to put your oxygen mask on before helping others. You need to know how to look after yourself to look after the world. Once you know who you truly are and you're kinder to yourself that's when the magic starts to happen.

 Find Holly: @holly.gaucam0le

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