Hay, Gardens, and Kindness
Last weekend Bear and I went to pick up a load of hay for our goats from people we’d never met before. Our friends, Joe and Shirley, who also raise goats, had told us we simply must visit a property they’d recently discovered, not just for the hay, but also for the stunning gardens and kind owners.
So on Saturday morning we hitched up the trailer and drove to Banyala Downs, a beautiful property that sits at the base of a hill and ambles its way up to the top.
Banyala Downs is owned by Doug and Avis Stehn who began building a home there 18 years ago. When they arrived there were two palms and a fig tree. That’s it. Nary a flower, hedge, or garden to be seen.
Since then, Doug and Avis have transformed this barren landscape into a lush oasis of shady nooks and exquisite vistas, making the most of the views around them.
Everywhere you look is something interesting, such as these incredible artichoke blossoms. I’ve eaten artichokes for years but have never seen artichoke flowers until I moved to Australia. They are marvelous! Huge, vivid, blooms that look like something out of a Dr. Seuss book.
The fruit trees and vineyards are outrageously good this year, each branch and vine dripping with delectable fruit.
Aren’t these grapes amazing?! It was so inspiring to see an established garden and catch a glimpse of what our place could look like in a few years. It renewed my vision for our property and set my imagination whirring about what we could do, plant, and build.
As Avis and I walked among the fruit trees, we stopped to pick sun-warmed peaches and apricots to eat along the way. Juicy, fragrant, and luscious, the perfect treat for a sultry Summer afternoon.
Once or twice a year Doug and Avis host an Open Garden Tour and invite the community in. All proceeds go directly to sponsoring the education of young people in Cambodia. In Avis’ words:
“Cambodia is a country that suffered incredibly after the Pol Pot era from 1975, when Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge tortured and murdered one quarter of the Cambodian population. They singled out the educated people and their families particularly to kill, so that is why it is so important to educate young Cambodians now so they can help their country to grow and get back on its feet.”
The day Pol Pot took over Cambodia was the day Doug and Avis’s eldest daughter was born. Avis was struck by how the same day could bring so much misery to one part of the world and so much happiness to theirs.
When their daughter grew up, she was a passionate humanitarian, and when she died in her mid-twenties, Doug and Avis decided to carry on her work by raising money each year to sponsor students in Cambodia.
It was such a pleasure to walk through the gardens at Banyala Downs, to see how Doug and Avis have created an outlet for their grief by making a place of beauty and respite that in turn transforms lives. I loved listening to stories of the young men and women who’ve been rescued from abject poverty, given an education, and prepared to change and rebuild their country after it was crushed and devastated by such a cruel regime.
I especially liked talking with Avis and seeing how content and happy she is to simply do what she can to make a difference. She doesn’t try to do everything, she just focuses on providing an education for 1, 2, 3+ people who can then change the lives of the people in their small circle, and on and on it goes. One kindness leading to another.
It was also good to know that it didn’t happen all at once. This beautiful place has taken nearly two decades to build and they’re still adding to it, changing this, enhancing that, knowing that every addition is building towards something bigger than pretty flowers and charming vegetables.
The day we went to meet Doug and Avis I was so very tired and run down. Recent situations had knocked me flat and I was discouraged, plain and simple.
But by the time we left, I felt so much better. We had such a fun time admiring two-day-old piglets, swapping recipes, pooling our knowledge to figure out the best way to build and use a smoker. They gave me great advice for how to help my garden survive the heat and drought, and filled my hands with fresh garlic and onions just picked from their veggie patch.
As we drove home, Bear and I chatted a mile a minute about everything we’d seen. The creativity of Doug and Avis had given our own a boost and we were full of ideas and plans.
Sometimes all a weary soul needs is time with kindred spirits.
This is Avis. 🙂 See that apron of hers? I’m going to be sporting a similar one soon. It’s her very clever way of protecting herself in case of snake bite while out gardening. In one pocket she has her mobile phone to ring for help and in the other a pressure bandage. Such a simple but smart idea for those of us whose gardens tend to be a haven for critters of all sorts.
Have you ever met strangers who made a rough day better? xo
(If you are interested in joining Doug and Avis in sponsoring Cambodian students, please let me know and I’ll put you in touch with them.)