Kneeling in the dirt, hands clasped around the plants he’s just pulled up by the roots, James asks the people next to him: “Are these weeds?”
That question keeps coming as 20 singles mingle on a small farm in Melbourne’s inner north. Dressed in their gardening best, they’re there to speed date – and weed.
Run by Ceres, a non-profit network of community gardens and urban farms, weed dating could be Melbourne’s most wholesome matchmaking event. It is inclusive of all genders and sexualities and welcomes those looking for mates as well as dates.
This Saturday, the group is male-light and someone jokes that James has the pick of the bunch.
Tamara, who has travelled across town for the event, worries that with so many women in the group, her friendliness may accidentally come off too keen.
“I am a chatty Cathy, so people could be thinking ‘yeah she’s in’,” she says.
“It’s good, but it’s also hard to know who’s straight and who’s not … It’s not a very good ratio.”
For others, like Kelly, not knowing anyone’s gender or sexuality is part of the appeal. “I am bi-queer, so I’ll just take anyone,” she says. Everyone laughs.
Becca, one of the farmhands, is playing Cupid. After a farm tour, she gets everyone into the dirt. Every 15 minutes or so people rotate – giving them the opportunity to weed across the row from someone new. Knees grubby, hands busy, singles flirt about worms, swap tips on composting, and – because it’s Melbourne – talk about coffee.
The event isn’t just for green thumbs but Heide, a single mum of two, knows what she’s doing. She tells James that no, unfortunately, it’s not a weed in his hand but a bit of battered native saltbush. The plant next to it shouldn’t be there, though. Everyone digs in.
It has been a few years since Heide last tried dating.
“I hate the apps,” she says. “I go on them for a week and then I go nah, this is bullshit and go back off them.”
She isn’t in a hurry to meet anyone and, like many, thinks online dating encourages a culture where “someone better” is just another swipe away.
“I get such little time to myself, so the thought of actually going and taking a chance on a date and sacrificing my time to myself is actually really tricky,” she says.
The weeder next to her admits a crush on a keen gardener inspired her to sign up. She was hoping to meet someone like him. Someone else jokes they’ve all accidentally volunteered for free manual labour.
On the other side of the row is Jess, a confessed “terrible gardener”. She is sick of how much modern-day dating revolves around drinking.
“I love a drink,” she says. “But I appreciate being able to meet other people and seeing if they can socialise without it.
“I think there is also a values aspect for me, rather than about the gardening. I feel like if someone is turning up to this, there’ll be some crossover of things we care about.”
Running since 2019, Melbourne’s lockdown got in the way of Ceres’s regular match-making but at least one big love has blossomed from the events.
Brigid, 29, and Cal, 35, both weed dated in December 2020. They now live together in a sharehouse and spend their time gardening in their own patch.
“When we tell people, we usually have to clarify we were weeding the garden and not smoking,” Cal says.
“When I first noticed Brigid, I heard her say her name and I was like, ‘Oh, I love the way this person sounds’ even before I had really looked at her.”
The spark came during a break from their labours. “We were all talking about our favourite vegetables and we both said parsnip.”
After bonding over their mutual love of the root vegetable, the pair went back into the field for some one-on-one weeding. “On the day I was incredibly hungover,” Brigid admits. “I very nearly didn’t go, and I never even took the sunglasses off.”
Like many who try weed dating, she was over the apps, wanted to meet someone with the same values and felt as if she had nothing to lose.
“We still love gardening together a lot,” she says. “We’ll maybe be having a beer while we’re mulching the veggie patch and we’ll have a chat about how we first met,” she says.
“We always talk about how we found each other digging in the dirt and we’re still doing it today.”