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Cultivate News

Vale Jeanette Penklis

 | Published on 5/21/2019

A Tribute by Toni Salter to Cultivate Member and past Committee Member Jeanette who sadly passed away on 16th May, 2019.

Jan Penklis

While it was only six years ago that I first met Jeanette, I feel like I have known her for much longer. This particular feeling isn't unique, as most people who knew her felt the same because of of the impact she had on us all. She became a friend to many and was much more than just a work colleague or associate.

It was at a Nursery and Garden Industry expo where Jeanette was representing the Australian Institute of Horticulture (AIH) as their Committee Secretary (for the second time), that I was able to put the face to the name. She had just returned to the executive position after winning her first battle with lung cancer. She was a true fighter and she would not let any illness impede her. I had been a National Councillor and was then a Regional Convener for Sydney so Jeanette and I had many opportunities to co-ordinate AIH proceedings together.

During this time it was easy to see the incredible amount of work Jeanette would voluntarily undertake to improve working standards and build an industry body for AIH. She worked tirelessly for what she really believed in and supported it wholeheartedly. She drew alongside colleagues to inspire them to come along with her and together improve horticulture for anyone involved in it.

It was clear that Jeanette could offer much for Cultivate NSW at that time, when our Society was struggling with few members and an uncertain future. Jeanette had spent many years working with the indigenous community in horticulture yet hadn’t made the connection with Horticultural Therapy. It wasn’t until she came to a Cultivate meeting in 2014 that she realised that she had actually been practising Therapeutic Horticulture all along. She understood the transformative nature of working with plants for the Indigenous communities she had led and taught.

So with a little coercing, Jeanette joined the Cultivate NSW Committee as Secretary and Treasurer in 2014. Through her efforts and insight, Cultivate NSW evolved into a more professional body with a wider reach due to Jeanette’s wide range of industry connections. Jeanette was a colleague of Nan Barber, our founding member and first Cultivate NSW President, and was well aware of the work that Nan had pioneered in the establishment of the Horticultural Therapy Society of NSW some 30 years ago.

Therapeutic Horticulture really resonated with Jeanette because she was always a fighter for the underdog in most situations, giving a voice for those who didn’t have one, or an opportunity for those who struggled. This was clearly seen by the friendship and respect she earned from her students. Jeanette was a gifted teacher in TAFE NSW, winning the NSW Minister for Education and Training & Australian College of Educators Quality Teaching Award 2003, recognising her unique efforts and talent. Jeanette taught in maximum security Correctional Centres training both male and female inmates, adult and juvenile, the majority of whom were Indigenous. She also incorporated horticulture in a Lifestyle program to assist women to heal and get themselves ready to leave correctional centres. While many of her students had a range of issues including drug abuse, learning difficulties, behavioural issues, lifestyle and health issues, inadequate literacy and numeracy skills, Jeanette was able to see improvements in their health and well-being through the gardening activities they undertook during her courses.

Her combined passions for teaching and horticulture helped bring about the first accredited skill set in Therapeutic Horticulture which ran through the TAFE NSW Padstow campus. Many students have been inspired through this short course and now work in a variety of TH related fields.

Jeanette was a firm supporter of a number of not-for-profit organisations, immersing herself on a range of Boards helping with governance and finances. She was described by one as a “transformative force” at Street Growth. Her impact was first felt with free TAFE outreach horticulture training she provided to individuals experiencing disadvantage attending the garden. For many of them, this was their first tertiary qualification and the positive effect that achievement had was profound. The skills learned have been of continued benefit, with the quality of produce grown by Street Growth attendees improving remarkably. Perhaps one of the most notable instances where this can be seen is in the Terrariums made by the group; which are now of such quality that members of the wider community pay to attend workshops on how to create them. For Jeanette, Street Growth is poignant in many ways, and perhaps brings some things full circle, as she attended the church in which the garden is located as a child.

Jeanette was a warm hearted and passionate advocate for Therapeutic Horticulture who will be dearly missed by the whole community. Farewell dear friend.


Jan's family has requested that in lieu of flowers, please consider donating to Street Growth - a cause close to her heart. You can learn more about Street Growth including how to donate via their website.

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