Saturday, 11 March 2017

Here we go around the Mulberry Bush.....#greeninggreybritain

Well that was a somewhat chaotic, exciting and life affirming week, mostly spent working in and on Incredible Edible Bristol gardens across the city. I'm going to tell you a bit about one of our biggest, ongoing projects and how we're powering forwards. 
There is a huge amount of work going on in our Bearpit garden. This garden is in a sunken roundabout in the centre of the centre of Bristol. For several years a group of great folk have been working to change the space from lost to loved, introducing cafes, artwork and play spaces to the space, and we are now creating a garden. 
As if being in a sunken roundabout isn't enough, the space also has some severe social issues. Historically it has been a place where addiction and homelessness have been apparent with large groups often coming together down there. At no point is the aim to alienate this community from the Bearpit, but more to make it feel like a safer, more inclusive space for the rest of the city's population. Introducing cafes, spaces for events, table tennis and skate boarding facilities to the area has made it more of a destination than a thoroughfare. It's become a great place to meet, drink tea and relax.
The aim of the garden is to create an oasis of calm in the city centre, regardless of the fact there are buses, cars and ambulances travelling around the roundabout at eye level in the garden! Rosemary and Lavender make low lying hedges, artichokes wave gently in the breeze, whilst subtlety edible herbaceous borders surround 3 large fruit trees including Bristol's newest Mulberry. Rather than going round the Bearpit, we're now going round the mulberry bush!!
There has been a whole lot of controversy around this garden. Many have asked why bother? Many have said what a waste of money it is, as it's inevitable that it will be trashed. There has been some substantial social media abuse. 
Gut reaction has always driven me in these city centre designs, and  the Bearpit has been no different. Whilst all the doubters and haters have been busy we, with our amazing volunteers, have quietly planted the trees, shrubs, perennials and 1500 bulbs. We've put in beautiful seats with planters attached. We've stripped walls of ivy and replaced them with beautiful climbers, and we've created a small nursery area where we are growing for all 37 gardens that we support. We've made a central composting area and one of our great supporters is managing it and introducing a wormery to the space. And slowly an area that a year ago was sad, covered in black plastic and derelict, is beginning to bloom. And all the time the original community, those with hideous issues that have been brought about by family breakdown, mental health issues, addiction, and abuse, are becoming fierce protectors of the garden.
When we first began I was asked, "are you making us a garden?" to which the reply was yes, we're making a garden for everyone. Since that first day I have wondered regularly at the facts that whilst all around the garden gets tagged, the garden itself is never touched. There has been no vandalism, no plant loss, however convinced people were that it "wouldn't last a day". And we find the entire community in the garden, sitting on the seats, relaxing as the world goes by.
For me this is just another example of how powerful people are when they just get on with it. Everyone, including me, who has worked on this garden has done so voluntarily, including some great groups of corporate volunteers who always make a huge impact in a day. We've worked in pouring rain, in blistering heat and everything in between, and a community of community gardeners has joined the community of users of the Bearpit. 
Often people ask me why I do this. What would make me work voluntarily for probably 80% of the week? And this is the answer. Working with people, individuals or communities, supporting them to make physical change in their own areas, supporting them to create beautiful, productive gardens in lost and unloved spaces, is an honour. And seeing those people bloom as they make that change is beyond an honour. Supporting good horticulture and upskilling people to learn more about gardens and plants is an honour. And creating change in a city centre, with gardens popping up all over, ensuring good design, appropriate planting and good horticultural practice is not just an honour but also an insight into how the city could look if horticulture was taken seriously. An honour.
The way the Bearpit garden is moving forwards shows it becoming a micro park. A calming area. Somewhere that will soak up water when it rains, buffer noise in the space in which it sits, works to cool the city. But most importantly it's a space for people, made by people, in order to make change, both social and physical. 
This is what I see as 'Greening Grey Britain'. People getting up and doing it!! People making the change they want to see......
Why not join the revolution? 

Saturday, 4 March 2017


There are moments when a reality check is needed and often that's quite hard to find, so when Michelle came up with the idea of a new tag, for one weekend only, that showed an honest sight of garden bloggers gardens in March, I thought it would be a great idea!!
The last year has been really difficult for my garden journey, not just because I'm constantly running around like a headless chicken, but because Mr V's back injury has meant he has been unable to help since last spring. Just cutting the lawn saw him having to lie down for the rest of the day. The last cut just never happened. 
Usually over Christmas I have a good catch up in the garden, but this year I was in full nursing mode, and there was no time for anything other than pain management.
Of course I'm not the only one who feels like they are behind in getting their garden sorted, their allotment mulched, but pop over to social media and there are pictures a plenty of gardens bursting with buds, tidy and prepared for the onset of spring. And 90% of the time that's what we all want to see. However, just occasionally it's good to see a more reality based picture isn't it?
The final straw for me was that I came home from a great RHS conference yesterday to find my little greenhouse had fallen over in the wind, leaving plants all over the place, many trashed, and compost everywhere. Mr V had tried to manage it but his back had prevented him so a chunk of yesterday was spent dealing with that whilst growling and shedding the occasional quite angry tear. 
So this is a very honest photo of me in my garden, warts and all.....