Browsing through the handmade treasures of a country market, you can easily sense when you are buying love. Vendors spruik a cornucopia of local goods all created with care, from hand-knitted beanies, to the fresh-baked delicacies.
As you amble among the stalls of South Australia’s south coast markets, you might unwittingly buy a little pot of love in the form of a pot plant, nurtured with love in the beautiful Port Elliot gardens of local green thumb Paul Sabel. In buying one of his plants, flower bouquets or cartons of eggs, you are passing this love to some of the most needy people both here in Australia and in some of the poorest countries around the world.
Unbeknown to Paul, his market profits, faithfully sent off in a monthly cheque to Australian Lutheran World Service (ALWS), have been adding up. More than 15 years of dedicated market sales have added up to more than $350,000 of love in the form of donations.
‘I had never ever added it up, but it shows just how people can contribute’, says Paul.
And contribute he has. Since retirement in 1999, Paul has spent most weekends at country markets, south of Adelaide, including Goolwa, Port Elliot, Victor Harbor and Willunga. He also ventures further afield to the Adelaide Hills town of Hahndorf (at a market on the local St Michael’s Lutheran Church grounds) and Kadina, on the Yorke Peninsula.
Paul and his wife of 53 years, Annette, have nurtured a wide range of prize-winning plants and flowers on their 1 ½ acre retirement haven in Port Elliot. For years their pelargoniums, geraniums, orchids, sweet peas, pansies, roses and cyclamens have attracted prizes from the local Port Elliot show, as well as awards from the South Australian Geranium and Pelargonium Society.
For Paul, his horticultural enterprise has been quite a departure from a career in education which included a three-year term as school principal at Hope Vale in northern Queensland, 11 years as principal of St John’s Lutheran School, Highgate, South Australia, and three years as principal of Holy Trinity Lutheran School, Horsham, Victoria.
It was while living in Horsham, on the cusp of retirement, that his local Lutheran pastor Glen Schultz asked Paul what he would do in retirement. ‘He said you need to retire to something’, Paul recalls. ‘He said: “You grow a lot of plants so why don’t you do something in that line?”.’
Paul, who was growing begonias at the time, soon added some bedraggled pelargoniums which he bought and revived from a Mornington Peninsula nursery’s closing down sale. He was underway.
On retiring to Port Elliot, the back-breaking work of building his new garden began. Battling heavy clay soils, Paul and Annette developed the entire block until it was transformed into a garden which has attracted garden clubs and tours by the busload.
He had heard of the fabulous work of the ALWS through his brother-in-law, the late former ALWS Executive Secretary Sid Bartsch, so he began selling his plants at the local Port Elliot market to raise funds for the Lutheran Church of Australia’s overseas aid and resettlement agency.
‘ALWS supports people who often have very little hope’, Paul says. ‘In our country, if people have a disaster, there are places and people that can help. But in these countries, there are often no places people can get help. With ALWS, we know the money gets there.
‘You just do the best you can with all that you’ve got.’
Doing his best means watering and tending to his garden and chickens, sun up to sun down. It has been a partnership with Annette, who also joined him at markets until limited by ill health.
‘We have received many blessings from it. Apart from the exercise and being active all the time, we have gotten a lot of pleasure from it’, he says.
These days his mate Rex Zacher helps on market days, loading up Paul’s van and trailer with 60 plus boxes of pot plants, eggs, cut flowers and sometimes fruit from his orchard.
‘Rex is 84 and I’m 77 so we’re getting up in years, but that’s in God’s hands’, Paul says.
The father of four and grandfather of eight is reluctant to boast about the extent of support that he has provided to the ALWS through the proceeds. ‘It’s all about helping others and inspiring others to do the same’, he says.
And an inspiration he has been, receiving cuttings and plants from members at his Victor Harbor congregation and pots through a collection bin at Port Elliot’s Mitre 10 store.
Why does he do it? ‘I love the garden … and it has a real purpose, it gives me something to get up to do every day. You have got to like what you do and it could be anything. Whether craft, or even repairing things, it could raise money.
‘We are all God’s creatures and we all need to be looking after our fellow man as best we can.’
Helen Beringen is a Townsville-based communications advisor who has been richly blessed through a career as a wordsmith. She is inspired by the many GREYT people who serve tirelessly and modestly in our community. She hopes by sharing stories of how God shines his light through them, others will be inspired to share his light in the world.
This ‘Going GREYt!’ feature story comes from The Lutheran April 2017. Visit the website to find out more about The Lutheran or to subscribe.