Positive volunteering at Compton Verney!!

 Compton Verney

Compton Verney

 A great team of volunteers supporting the gardens at Compton Verney, and the team!

A great team of volunteers supporting the gardens at Compton Verney, and the team!

All too often I hear sad tales of volunteers feeling undervalued and not gaining much from their experience so I was thrilled when Gary Webb, head of landscapes and gardens at the great Compton Verney, offered to write a piece on the importance of volunteers at the garden, and how they are truly appreciated and included in the ongoing work in the gardens. 

 

 

Compton Verney is a very diverse and creative venue that operates as an art gallery and museum, and my role as Head of Landscape and Gardens is to lead the team who not only care for the grounds, but who champion it, enrich it and more. It is of course a large landscape, and you’d be forgiven for thinking there’s a large team who care for it; in fact there is presently only three staff members, only two having permanent established posts.

With much of the machinery and ‘kit’ that you’d expect to find at a venue of this sort, that small staff group can be really effective. The focus however has to be on key points like site cleanliness, safety and general presentation - getting creative with such a venue can be extremely time consuming and demands time that sometimes just isn’t available.

The secret weapon therefore is the team of volunteers that have accumulated over the last nine years or so; they turn up week in, week out throughout much of the year to invest their valuable time in support of Compton Verney. It is a small volunteer team by some standards, but it allows us to retain a personal approach with flexibility for all concerned.

As you can imagine, harnessing the volunteer effort requires a degree of input, but the gain is a significantly boosted output from the team as a whole. As an example, in the last few years we have added and maintained an allotment or potager garden; a labyrinth; bee hives; we actively maintain a bird hide; are building moth and bird records; and have turned out demonstrations for a range of event days plus walks and talks. All of this has been achieved through the time, energy and enthusiasm given by our grounds volunteers.

Becoming part of the grounds team, for a volunteer, could be seen to segregate someone from the main property team, so all of the following points are important: travel expenses, discounts and access to exhibitions, and invites to staff meetings and social gatherings – the team Christmas gatherings are legendary! 

Within the grounds team however, and after nearly twenty years of volunteer management experience in garden situations; I understand that it’s the personal touch that can make all the difference. Don’t get me wrong, in a very busy working situation I do drop the ball often, but I understand that it’s the time spent on talking to my team, on social gatherings, on creating a warm and friendly hub in the grounds tea room, and in being genuinely thankful for every little contribution; is the difference between a team that sticks together, and one that drifts apart

One of the many things that makes me genuinely smile is when I see a grounds volunteer on a none-work day, walking through the park. Not because they have come in to help in some activity, but because they are most often showing a guest the place they hold dear, the place where their contribution matters; they are sharing the love. It makes me proud to know that somehow, what we’re achieving above the practical activity of presenting an attractive and valuable landscape is the creation and nurturing of a community, and one I’m hugely proud to be a part of.

 

Gary Webb

Head of Landscape & Gardens, Compton Verney

August 2018

 Gary Webb

Gary Webb

From Swindon to Seattle-creating connections through community gardening

From Swindon to Seattle and P-Patches to Parking Strips: creating connections through community gardening

So the aim of this blog was and is that if gives folk an opportunity to write something about people, gardens, community and gardening in whatever form that might take and here is the first of those guest blogs. Kathryn Hay is a disrupter, a fierce friend and a member of Incredible Edible Swindon and Swindon's Secret Garden. A community gardener, an activist and a person to whom kindness and people care are as important as the gardens she works in and the earth care she provides. I was super envious when she flew off to the States and I am thrilled to be able to publish this snapshot into an exciting and inspiring journey that focuses on how we are all the same, despite where we live. My particular take from this is that it's amazing to see people growing for food banks and I wonder how we could support a UK allotment glut towards people in crisis?

 Seattle's P-Patches

Seattle's P-Patches

 

If it wasn’t for the community gardens in Swindon I might never have visited Seattle. That might sound strange but bear with me. Last October I packed my bags for a two week trip to the States with my friend Hannah, the first part of which took us to Seattle to see Maggie, a friend from Swindon and who now lived in this fabulous city. Hannah and I met a few years ago working on an Incredible Edible Swindon garden and Maggie and I worked together on the Secret Garden, a community garden tucked away in a quiet corner of Queen’s Park in Swindon. Such are the friendships you develop through community gardening that one day you may just find yourself travelling half way across the world…

 

As with almost every holiday these days, I was looking forward to visiting some community gardens. And, as with almost every holiday, my research began a day or two before setting off. Thankfully Maggie made it easier by sending through a list of gardens to consider. Perusing the list, I was keen to visit one of Alleycat Acres’ urban farms and eager to learn more about the concept of Seattle’s P-Patches. A plan was coming together, but we needed some more details so Maggie rang the Garden Hotline. Seriously, Seattle has a Garden Hotline! I was starting to love this city already, and not just because I was eating fresh doughnuts at the Farmers’ Market within three hours of landing.

 

The Garden Hotline is one of the many brilliant ways that the organisation Tilth Alliance supports the gardeners and farmers of Seattle and surrounding areas. The service is available six days a week and they will literally take any question related to gardening and horticulture. It’s a bit like having a live Gardeners’ Question Time panel at the end of the phone whenever you need it! Imagine that, Bob Flowerdew at your beck and call! Education forms a large part of what they do at Tilth Alliance, training people of all ages in sustainable growing techniques as well as cooking and nutrition. Their aim is to build a fair and sustainable food system and their approach is holistic, connecting people with the land, their community and also markets.

 

Keen to know more about the work of the Tilth Alliance, we visited their Good Shepherd Center site. First established in 1978, it’s from here that they run many of their classes and where they have created a Community Learning Garden. We took some time to explore the garden which demonstrated permaculture techniques and was full of organic fruit and vegetables and various ornamentals, some of which were drought- and disease-resistant. I was fascinated by their rain garden in particular which is essentially designed to prevent water pollution and flooding; quite a sensible idea in such a rainy city. Emerging from the learning garden we found ourselves amongst some P-Patches. Now these I loved!

 

P-Patches are essentially small allotments which are tended by individuals or groups and the whole site is open to the public. The name ‘P-Patch’ comes from Picardo’s Farm, which was the very first site to be given over to these mini-allotments in 1973. Each P-Patch site will generally have some communal areas which everyone helps to maintain and many P-Patch gardeners grow both for themselves and for the foodbank or local feeding programmes. We visited three P-Patch sites altogether, including Picardo’s Farm and Interbay, and the sense of community was strong. Interbay had a beautiful communal building where shared meals and other activities were held and on all sites I got the sense that working smaller plots would, in many ways, bring people closer together.

 Picardo's Farm

Picardo's Farm

 

Another organisation connecting people through growing is Alleycat Acres. We visited their urban farm located at (streets) 24th & Main during their weekly gardening session and received a warm welcome from coordinator, Selina. The ethos of Alleycat Acres is really similar to that of Incredible Edible, where unused public spaces are used to grow food by, and for the community. Here, they were growing on the parking strips, which is the land between the footpath and the kerb, something you’ll see residents doing throughout Seattle in fact. Most of the materials and plants were donated and they had grand plans to extend the garden around the block so that the housing estate was almost surrounded by free food for all. Selina reflected the same kinds of challenges that we experience in our community gardening projects in the UK, such as limited resources and fluctuating volunteer numbers, which in some ways was quite reassuring.

 Alleycat Acres

Alleycat Acres

 

By the time it came to leave Seattle I had fallen a little bit in love with it. The long tradition of community gardens in Seattle gave me hope for seeing the practice even further entrenched in the culture of our cities and towns here in the UK and I believe this has to happen as one aspect of building a sustainable and equitable food system. Seattle seemed streets ahead in other aspects, too, however. The education programmes offered though Tilth Alliance were nothing short of impressive and thanks to the hard work of amazing people like Chris Curtis, whom I was also lucky enough to meet, there are now 10 Farmers’ Markets held over 5 days every week serving the city’s population of 700, 000 people. Even the fresh produce I saw in big supermarkets all seemed to come from within Washington state.

 One of the amazing Farmers Markets

One of the amazing Farmers Markets

 

But while I visited Seattle because of my community garden connections in Swindon, it was amazing to be able to build that network a little further and make some Seattle-based connections. It was inspiring and uplifting to meet people doing the same work and with the same beliefs in building community, empowering others and kindness. Who knows, maybe Swindon and Seattle aren’t so different after all….?!

 Amazing pollinator garden planted and maintained by Incredible Edible Swindon

Amazing pollinator garden planted and maintained by Incredible Edible Swindon

 The very lovely Kathryn!!

The very lovely Kathryn!!

You will find Kathryn on both Twitter @kathrynhay and on Instagram again @kathrynhay, where she posts wonderful photos of gardens and travels!!

 

 

 

 

The Festival of Urban Landscapes!!

The inaugural Festival of Urban Landscapes will take place in July, at the home and garden of John Little, my dear pal and generally inspiring guy!! If you don't know about John and his work you can find out more at 

The Festival will take place over two days, with some incredible speakers, as well as lots of food, fun, music and discussion about all things urban landscape design. Fergus Garrett, Arit Anderson, John himself, Dusty Gedge, Laura Gatti, Gary Grant, Ed Snodgrass and Wendy Allen, Richard Scott and little old me, will be talking about what we do, and why we do it, with me leading on activism and what that means in the urban realm and inner cities.

It's going to be an amazing weekend, and I suspect long lasting friendships will be made and important collaborations will be begun. Plus you will have the opportunity to wander around John's inspiring 4 acre wildlife garden, getting inspiration from seeing what can be done in practice as well as talking about theories, strategies and practice!

So why not join us? The link to book is......https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/festival-of-urban-landscapes-for-nature-and-people-tickets-45622976551