Moments of clarity in the garden.......

The world has gone somewhat crazy in the last few weeks. Between reports of just how urgent our response to climate change really needs to be from the IPCC to reports around social injustice and food access, along with the usual stresses and strain of life, my brain has been feeling just a bit addled and even I, with my focus on positive communication and action led change, have struggled to find my way through the melee of information coming at me. For me that silences me. Makes me question my own voice, what I am doing and how I am doing it. So when Fiskars asked me to join their “Grow with Fiskars” campaign - exploring how gardening impacts everyday life and mental wellbeing – I had a moment of clarity.

Well actually it was 2 moments!! The first was as I was sowing seeds for the Incredible Edible Bristol gardens early crops and to feed pollinators early next year. I felt myself slowing down, relaxing, my mind clearing out the voices and being present, in the moment. After 4 packets of Calendula, the same of broad beans and some sweet peas for my garden had been sown, I could feel myself looking around for something more, so started on putting bulbs into pots and revelling in the feel and smell of the compost, the promise of the bulbs that will flower in a few short months, and forgot about my phone, the news and the constant noise coming from outside sources. For an hour my garden was my whole world.

 

The second moment was during an Incredible Edible Bristol work party as we chatted, gardened and drank tea. It’s so important to us that our community gardeners, the exceptional people who come along out of love, kindness and a will to support change, enjoy their time with us. Time is all of our most precious resource and for people to choose to join us for garden sessions in their rare spare time is always humbling and we are always making sure they get as much from the work parties as the city does in their gardening. Most of those people are focussed on one, local space, but our city centre beds are visited more by a group who just want to be outside and doing something, and extraordinary conversations always take place. But this comment particularly stuck with me……..

“I just take from each work party, the joy of being at it and that’s all I want from it.” Being present, truly in the moment is so hard. Our phones bleeping and ringing, emails demanding a response, the latest must see TV series winking at us from the corner of our rooms. 24 hour news reporting and fighting though the media to see every angle before working out our own thoughts and opinions on whatever the crisis appears to be that day. The ongoing crisis of poor mental health, lack of access to nature, and nature disappearing before our eyes. Brexit, climate collapse, starvation, war…………..

 Overwhelmed? Step outside. Stand under a tree, shut your eyes and listen. Listen as the leaves rustle, the birds chirp, the wind blows. Allow yourself to feel the rain on your face, the sun on your back or the snow underfoot. Touch the bark of the tree, the leaves in the ground. Breathe.

 Not everyone has access to a garden, but everyone needs to find a space in nature, so do what you can. Grow some herbs on a window sill, buy houseplants, install a window box, find your local community garden or gardening group. Meet new people, learn new things, eat new foods and revel in the new life that comes from being a part of a space, a cog in the wheel. Make meaningful gardening a part of your life and allow yourself time to be in the present. You’ll be amazed at the difference it makes to your life!

For more information on Fiskars gardening products head to the website: https://www.fiskars.co.uk/products/Gardening

 

 Loppers, rose rake, bow saw and trowel all gifted from Fiskars.

Loppers, rose rake, bow saw and trowel all gifted from Fiskars.

Whatever the weather...........

There is no doubt the last few weeks have been a challenge. Here in Bristol we have regularly seen 30 degrees of heat and in the city, with added pollution and air quality issues there have been days when stifling is the only word to use to describe the heat.

 Dahlia Strawberry Bon Bon

Dahlia Strawberry Bon Bon

But are we surprised? Climate change is a real thing and we all know that we need to look at the way we garden, and the way we grow in order to ensure that our gardens are sustainable and manageable in whatever climate chaos might be on it's way. But what does that mean and are we as gardeners really changing the way we garden? Or are we hanging on to dreams of traditional cottage garden borders that are probably going to become nigh on impossible in the years to come.

Recently the lovely Peter Gibbs and a team from the RHS hosted an interesting evening in Bristol looking at how climate change is already affecting us. It was a fascinating insight into what could be to come. Already our active growing season has increased by 4 weeks since the mid 20th century and we all have seen and possibly commented on the relatively warm autumns and early winters we are having. Rarely do we see a frost now until mid November and in the city we rarely see a frost at all. The average yearly temperature in the UK has risen by 1 degree since the mid 20th century and is expected to rise another 5 degrees by 2080, meaning that temperatures such as those we have had this summer may very well be the norm. Terrifying or exciting, however you feel about these facts, that's exactly what they are. They are facts and we need to make sure that we adapt in our growing.

This is where I find permaculture principles really useful, although I do like to just call it common sense! Ensuring you store the maximum amount of water possible over the winter and early spring, that you use your grey water as and when possible and that you look after the soil in which you are growing, feeding it with great compost and manure, using good mulches to keep moisture in and really thinking about how you are setting up and managing your garden space, wherever that might be, is going to be vital as we move forwards. Choosing plants that will manage is also going to be a challenge, particularly if we end up as suggested with periods of very wet and periods of very dry, which inevitably will mean that dreams of Mediterranean type planting will be a thing of the past and we may need to look at the more hardy tropical types, and protecting much more against wet than we might traditionally do. That said this summer has seen passion fruit fruiting as early as July and outside and a hugely rich bounty from globe artichokes and the currants, gooseberries and strawberries, proving that sone crops will relish the heat and sunshine whilst some will struggle.

As always it will be about experimentation and finding what works in your corner of the world, whether that is as a part of a community or in your own garden or on your own allotment. But what I personally think is important is that we have this conversation and share what works and what doesn't work with others, be that through blogs, vlogs, social media posts or just open and honest conversations with other gardeners. And why? Well there are still nay sayers. There are still people who genuinely believe this is not happening and that they can ignore it, and as the responsible, ecological gardeners that so many of us are, we need to change that rhetoric and ensure people know that although it may not feel like there has been much change, over the last 20-30 years the shift has been significant. As gardeners we can lead that conversation and support others to learn more, so let's make sure we do that, in a positive and upbeat but definite way!!

Below I have popped a link the the RHS Gardening in a Changing World report which is well worth a read. It's also worth keeping an eye on the Royal Meteorological Society website as they often hold events around this subject. And I am looking forward to looking at how we can all support each other and learn from each other about this subject as we move on in to an uncertain future, in our wonderful gardening community.

https://www.rhs.org.uk/science/gardening-in-a-changing-world/climate-change

 An immensely dry Bearpit Garden.....

An immensely dry Bearpit Garden.....

Community v. corporate.........

Urban spaces are hard fought with gardens and horticulture seemingly quite understandably coming low down on the list of priorities, in comparison to land needed for housing, our ever increasing needs for roads and transport links along with all the infrastructure our cities need as they expand. But as our cities grow so, obviously, does the number of people in those cities, all using that infrastructure, as well as schools, doctors, hospitals and the huge quantity of other services we take for granted in our towns and cities. But what else we take for granted is the corporate bodies that live within our cities, that we are often nervous of and who often have their own agendas that might not support the community of the city in the way they claim they do. Well known coffee shops opening in areas of independent businesses, big restaurant chains buying up tiny city wide chains and being completely silent about it, and large organisations buying pieces of land to build offices on, are all instances here in Bristol of quiet corporate take over. Bear with me here by the way. This isn't about corporate bashing but about the human choice we have as communities to demand change in our own environments.

So what about community space. What does that look like? Who is responsible for it and how does that work is an oft asked questions and one that has a million, approximately, answers. Community asset transfers when the community takes control of the whole space, whatever that might look like, is one example and The Old Library in Bristol's Eastville area is a great example of how that has worked. But land leasing is often common, where a council will lease an area to a community group for a set length of time for set activities is another way and there are, of course, a myriad more.

What has this got to do with community horticulture I hear you ask? Well these community spaces are often leased to community groups for growing or gardening, and at Incredible Edible Bristol we support 43 such spaces, but the one I want to focus on today is the Bearpit. Those of you who have followed me from Physic Blogger days will remember previous blogs about this space, as will anyone who follows me on social media, but for new readers, the Bearpit is a sunken roundabout in the centre of Bristol, next to the bus station and directly on the route into the city centre from the M32. It is a space where community has tried, and had some success, albeit that tentative and hard one, in creating a community hub, based around independent food businesses, urban community horticulture and urban art. The space is a difficult one, filled with anti social issues due in part to it's closeness to Bristol's shelters and drug and alcohol addiction centres, but also one with a mixed and confused set of messaging appearing. 

There is a belief that the Bearpit's issues are down to homelessness but that is rarely the case. There may be people sleeping there occasionally, but the violence and anti social behaviour we see down there when we are working, the drug deals, the fights and the erratic behaviour, are not a result of homelessness, but a result of addiction, mental health issues and abuse. They are issues which for a city centre space are unacceptable. Watching as an 8 or 9 year old lad looks on as his father sticks a hypodermic filled with heroin into his arm is not, and never will be acceptable. Watching girls being pimped for drugs is never acceptable. Sexual predators and aggressive beggars should not be allowed in any space where the public is expected to be. Violence, of any kind, has no place in our cities and yet again and again we not only witness this behaviour, but we are also dumbfounded when we hear people doubting that it is happening. Accusing people of "ethnic cleansing" in the space. Of eradicating a community where that community is more of a hierarchy of abuse and human destruction. No one is being cleansed from the space. Everyone is welcome but surely within a city centre space, a space that should be accessible for the 455,000 people who call Bristol their home, it's not unfair to expect this behaviour to be challenged and stopped?

And yet in this space we have made a garden. Filled with herbs, fruit, edible flowers and shrubs, it is a riot of colour and well managed wildness in the centre of the city. It's a place of calm where anyone can come and sit, relax and unwind, with no judgment. After a difficult few months in the space, with Bristol city Council having taken control of the space again, we are about to reappear properly in the space, and the work on the garden will continue as we see the businesses reopen and we all work towards a better place. A place that the city can be proud of. A green entrance to our city, filled with independent businesses, innovation, jobs and learning, all based around food and growing. If you'd like to see more about this project you'll find it at https://www.thecirclebristol.org 

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But more importantly shall we look at an alternative which no one seems to be discussing. A city centre space, next to a bus station, and at the entrance to the city itself is surely a space being watched by the large corporate organisations that have taken over on our high streets, pushed retail into out of town retail parks and who are changing the face of shopping country wide. Even here in Bristol with our independent shops and cafes, the retail giants are taking over, demanding city centre space and jostling for trade. The regular coffee chains, restaurants and clothing stores are everywhere and the Bearpit is overlooked by them. The fact that this space is difficult wouldn't bother them-they would find a solution in some way, and revel in the knowledge that 20,000 people walk through that space somedays on transit through the city. Isn't it time we understood that if we want a space to be independent, to be part of the independent city we all want to see, that accusing small, independent businesses of being greedy, of being corporate, of "social cleansing" is just a divide and conquer strategy that is set to continue to do harm to the space, rather than allowing it to move on in support of the cities One City Plan?

People will disagree with me. Recently there was a piece written by politicians from a party I once supported, saying the fight for the Bearpit is like the fight for the Commons. Whilst in some cases I would agree with that, inclusivity and safety have to be a part of any Commons conversation and they seem to refuse to engage that. And by safety and inclusivity again we go back to the concept of a space where 455,000 Bristolians would feel welcome and by welcome we have to address safety surely? 

Am I rambling? I suspect so. But there is so much to write and so many nuances. In reality, we will just continue to ensure we make a garden in the Bearpit that is inclusive, calm, and safe for the whole city to enjoy, whether a human, an insect or part of our rich flora. An where everyone is welcome.........

 

 

 

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The Community Garden

This change has been a long time coming, and it all began with a conversation with the editor of a well know gardening magazine who told me the brief from above was that the magazine in question had to be about plants, propagation and gardens and couldn't focus on people, making it extremely difficult, however keen he personally was, to work on anything about people or communities in gardens. Needless to say I was somewhat surprised but it set me about asking some questions, and this website is the beginning to the final answer.

My main question to myself was why do I garden, and although I love the beauty of plants and the joy of seeing things bloom in my garden, the reality really is that for me my garden, along with all the gardens I create, either with communities or in my design work, are for people and made with their input. They are spaces I want people to love, to cherish and to adore, but they are also spaces that are made for people. In a private garden my first question is always about family use, football and washing lines and in a community it is always what does the community need from this space other than a garden? They are gardens made to support and enrich lives and that people want to bring other people to and make them a part of. They are workable, can take some abuse and most importantly are loved. And in that I think my job, wherever I am and whoever i am working with, is all about supporting people's confidence in a garden, whether that's a first time gardener needing help with design, a group coming along to learn through a workshop, or someone coming through a mental health crisis who has been sent to garden for therapy. With community comes confidence and seeing someone bloom in a garden is the most powerful thing and one that I am lucky enough to see on a daily basis.

Within communities gardens support people. From people struggling with mental health, homelessness, confidence issues and more, to children learning to joys of being outside, to people working through the final days of life, a garden is a place to just be. To potter. To wonder in the immense power that nature has to lift our spirits and mend our souls. A place where people can be at peace with themselves and with each other. 

But there are other gardening communities. There is the becoming ever more powerful online community of gardeners, garden blogger and vloggers, rocking our worlds with some incredible content. From Facebook to Twitter and Instagram the online world is filled with hashtags that send you to folks all across the world gardening in many different ways but all enthusiastic and driven to share their stories. There are societies and clubs, some large and some tiny, but all doing amazing work to bring people and plants together and often doing important work that often goes unseen. The list is endless, but part of the joy of this will be being able to amplify those stories, tell people's tales and celebrate the amazing work going on across the gardening world, focusing as much on the people as the plants!

So how will this work? Well there are effectively three blogs here. My usual ramblings will be at The Community Garden, but there is also The Community Gardener blog, where I will tell stories of amazing communities, wherever and whatever they might look like, revelling in the joy of seeing people outside, to in, loving whatever it is they are doing and sharing that with others. If you'd like me to tell your tale then just get in touch and please do not be shy!! Also there others will have to possibility of telling their stories in their own words, so if you'd like to do that, get in touch too!!

And finally there is the Practical Community Garden where I'll be sharing tips and practical information to support gardeners everywhere. We'll talk about the weather, gardening for wildlife, pests and diseases amongst other things, and also suggest great books, magazines, radio and TV shows alongside a myriad of other things that will support your garden.

Finally be patient!! In typical Sara style, I am just doing this myself! No one has put a huge sum of money behind it, or is sponsoring me in any way, and as you'll all know I am fairly busy, with all the things I do every day, which you can see if you pop onto the Working with Sara page!! But I am excited to really have a space to look at community and gardens in and I really hope you will enjoy it as much as I do.........

 

 

 

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