Weekends with the Sunshine Gardening Society by Sophie Green

Reviewed by Wendy Lipke

Sophie Green is an Australian writer who compiles heart-warming stories about everyday people, usually women and highlights some of the thoughts they harbour which are rarely aired. ‘In a world where so many women’s lives are always on display – as they move from parents’ homes to marital homes, always serving, always observed’ (144) rarely are their personal needs considered. Sometimes they need to share with others in similar situations.

The author usually generates a social activity where like-minded women can come together and share aspects of their life away from family members, whether this is a choir, swimming group, a book club or as in this story a gardening society. In doing so, each of the women find companionship and a greater fulfillment in life.

The setting for Weekends with the Sunshine Gardening Society is the Sunshine Coast, specifically the area around Noosa. This book has a bright sunny cover emblazoned with native flowers. The book is divided into sixteen monthly segments between March 1987 to June 1988 and each title page displays the name and sketch of a native plant found in the area. Four women and their situations are highlighted and as each of them joins the voluntary gardening club, they unburden themselves to the other women and in so doing discover a deep and supporting friendship.

For 54-year-old Kate, who has transplanted herself from Melbourne and feels lost and lonely, she discovers that it is never too late to leave her husband, move cities, try a new activity, and make new friends. As well as joining the gardening group she also joins an art class, a swimming group and has become involved in protecting this beautiful area from developers.

Lorraine is struggling with living with her mother-in-law and two boys, one a teenager, and supporting her husband in his business. She is feeling the weight of parenthood, so just being outside in the glorious environment, helping others who cannot do their own gardening, is at the very least a wonderful distraction especially as she has been able to re-kindle her friendship with school-friend Cynthia. She tells her teenage son that through taking this time away from the family she is feeling useful, different and at the same time feeling good about helping others. While she is doing this she is not worrying about her own personal problems or irritations as she admits that being an adult is not always easy and she doesn’t always get it right.

Her friend Cynthia became a mum very early and felt she was not getting the support she needed from her partner, so she left with her daughter. However, she is now estranged from her daughter who had returned to live with her dad. Cynthia has come back here now that her daughter finds herself pregnant. Not having had a good relationship with her own mother she is finding it hard to reconnect with her daughter. Through her becoming involved with the gardening activities she learns more about her mother’s life and eventually becomes reconciled with her daughter.

The final woman, Elizabeth, is having difficulty recovering from the loss of her husband. She is discovering how tiring grief can be, how it wears you down so your rawest nerves and emotions are exposed to all. Yet the inclusive and warm friendship of the other gardeners have helped lift her up so she can finally find her way towards a happy future.

These are not the only women featured in the book. The two older long-term members of the gardening group are wonderful characters as are the grandmothers mentioned in the stories. The writing is interesting with wonderful and appropriate examples such as describing things that annoy us as weeds growing inside us (171). The author has also thrown in a few wonderful inspiring sayings such as’ regret is a road one should never travel down too long’ (162) and ‘opportunities need to be grasped when they present themselves to you’ (410).

The author leaves the reader with words which she says one of the women has come to understand. ‘The Sunshine Gardening Society and its activities are not grand events in the span of a life’, however ‘small acts, consistent attention, respect and care’ are rare and to be treasured. They may save plants, but they also save lives. Cynthia came to realise that her own life had ‘come back to her, one weed, one tree, one precious native bush at a time’ (424).

This is another inspiring story with words of wisdom about the benefits of reaching out and providing a sense of community to others.

Weekends with the Sunshine Gardening Society


by Sophie Green



$32.99; 432pp


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