Meet Avis Leeson, who believes gardening is the ultimate life lesson

Meet Avis Leeson, who believes gardening is the ultimate life lesson

What could be more important than teaching children where food comes from? Octogenarian Avis Leeson believes gardening is the ultimate life lesson and has shown thousands of schoolkids how to grow their own fruit and veges

She’s had six heart attacks, nine strokes and three bouts of blood poisoning, but health concerns aren’t what keep Avis Leeson up at night – it’s the worry of no longer being able to run her successful school gardening programme that sees her wander to the kitchen for a late-night shortbread. This is why the 87-year-old is now completing a manual to help schools around the country continue the food-growing scheme she started 10 years ago.

Concern about child poverty, coupled with her experience of surviving a dangerous bout of blood poisoning, prompted the Hamilton-based gardener to volunteer to teach kids about how fruit and veges are grown. “I was sort of born in the garden; my mum was a gardener,” Avis says.

She started by creating a vegetable garden with a class of new entrants at the Morrinsville primary school she attended as a child, and has since helped 400 schools and kindergartens set up vege gardens, as well as organised the planting of fruit trees in schools around the country – all with help from sponsors such as McGrath Nurseries and Yates.

Avis is now working with the Hamilton City Council and local schools to create community gardens where children and members of the public can grow food together to help “get our communities back together”. To tie in with National Gardening Week (a Yates community initiative running from 6-13 October), Avis shares her thoughts on gardening, resilience and accepting life’s ups and downs:

If you don’t teach kids where food comes from, you can’t blame them for not eating proper food. Millions of dollars have been wasted on research and trying to ban chips and drinks, whereas all they needed to do was find an alternative, such as growing food, and kids accept the alternative.

Sowing a seed
Would you believe that at a country school not one child had ever seen a seed? I said to them, “Where do the carrots come from?” and they had no idea. They didn’t know that vegetables grow in the ground.

Teach your children
There’s such a sense of satisfaction when you’re able to work with little people and give them a start in life on a sound diet that doesn’t cost the earth because you can grow it yourself. And it doesn’t have sprays and chemicals on it because you do it organically.

I started life a little bit behind the goalposts insomuch as I only have one artery, not two. The poor old ticker’s been working fairly heavily for a long time. It used to be a bit of a problem. The nurses would say, “Huh, she’s conked out again.” You’ve got to have resilience. It’s a matter of accepting life as it comes. I was very much blessed with a loving, caring family and a wonderful mum. She never mollycoddled me in any way. She just said, “You can cope, darling. You can cope.” And there was never any doubt that I could. I just had to. I suppose it’s put me in good stead.

For information on National Gardening Week, head to
To offer assistance to The Avis Leeson Fruit Tree Trust or to find out about implementing Avis’ school gardening programme, contact Avis on 021 192 9929 or [email protected]

Nadia Magazine

Nadia Magazine

NADIA celebrates living a ‘well-thy’ life. The magazine’s back-to-basics approach champions food, family, community, wellness, travel, entrepreneurship and what it means to be a New Zealander today.


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