Thursday was a big day for the Leicestershire Master Gardeners, when we got to show off our volunteers and their supported growers to our new Head of Organic Horticulture, Chris Collins, and they got to meet a former Blue Peter gardener, Head Gardener at Westminster Abbey and all round gardening celebrity.
When he joined Garden Organic back in June 2016, Chris heard much about our volunteers’ achievements in getting Leicestershire growing and asked us to arrange a tour of some of the projects they are supporting, so that he could meet them in person. It was no mean feat to find a day that suited so many people, but luck was on our side, and the best day for everyone happened to coincide with a volunteer celebration event being run by the Waste Team at Leicestershire County Council and to which we were invited in the evening.
The day started at 10am in Loughborough, with the 3 Close Tenants ‘Garden Gang’ and as ever we were welcomed like old friends with mugs of tea and much laughter. Chair of the group, Josie Falconer, led us around this housing association estate, which has been transformed from a ‘problem area’ formerly known as Colditz, to a thriving community with its own kitchen garden, providing fresh fruit and veg for sale in the community flat. All around the estate we saw small gardens created by the residents, who take enormous pride in their home. Chris was shown the giant compost area, created by the probationers who come to the site once a week, as well as numerous raised beds still containing crops like kale and garlic, despite it being the depths of winter. We saw the cherry trees that residents have been harvesting to make jams and pies and the first flush of pink as their rhubarb emerges under someone’s living room window. The Leicestershire Annie Elizabeth apple, planted in 2015, has been transferred from a pot to the ground and is flourishing, promising even more opportunities for pie sales in the future.
Our full account of the 3 Close Tenants’ successes can be found by clicking here.
All too soon, we were on the road again, Chris talking animatedly about all he had seen, and headed for the Boulter Crescent Community Flat in Wigston. Here we met our Oadby & Wigston Master Gardeners, who have been a vital part of the creation of the new Incredible Edible Oadby & Wigston project (IEO&W). We were also joined by community inclusion officer Jane Morris, who powered the early creation of community growing spaces at Elizabeth Court and Boulter Crescent, and Dave Cliffe from Voluntary Action Leicestershire who has been central in establishing IEO&W. Boulter Crescent lunch club organisers Sheena and Pauline had prepared a delicious stew for us all, after which, Chris gave some impromptu advice for the residents on developing their growing space and promised to come back in the summer to see how they get on.
There was too little time for conversation about growing plans for the Kennedy House migrants’ hostel, the railway station and South Leicestershire College’s involvement in IEO&W before we were off again -to see the various sites around Wigston that already have food gardens. We saw upcycled tree planters provided by the Oadby & Wigston Borough Council, containing rosemary, kale, chard and thyme, the new beds behind the Wigston library, proudly tended by the staff, and local residents, and a brand new set of raised beds at Bennett Way council estate. Here, Chris gave more advice to a resident who leaned out of his kitchen window to ask what they could do about the local cats’ interest in their new beds (netting being the key at this time of year and then enough planting to cover the bare earth once the spring arrives).
Once again it was time to hop in the car, this time for the drive down to Great Oxendon in Harborough, where the Master Gardeners supporting the Waterloo Cottage Farm Community Garden were waiting for us. We were met by farm owner, Kirsty Clarke, who charmed Chris with her week old litter of piglets and young, hand-reared highland cow. It was a somewhat muddy walk across the farm to the garden site, where Master Gardeners Alex, Judy and Mark, joined by Master Composter Judy, showed us this wonderful garden with its neat veg beds, polytunnel and young orchard.
This project is a joint collaboration between the farm and Sustainable Harborough and you can find out more by clicking here.
Judy and Mark were presented with certificates by Chris, recognising the many hours they have put into the project. Having established this site in a little over 2 years, they now have their sights set on supporting a new project in Market Harborough too, creating a community garden on a care home site and supporting staff to grow with residents. They also plan to establish some intergenerational contact by bringing in local residents to grow on the site with the residents.
After a lengthy interview with the Harborough Mail and a photo shoot, the light was fading and so we obediently followed Kirsty into her downstairs wet-room to sluice off the mud from our wellies before the drive to County Hall for our evening volunteer celebration with the Master Composters, Love Food Hate Waste and Real Nappy Advisers. A quick change was in order, to avoid the embarrassment of appearing in mud spattered jeans in the Councillors’ lounge.
The County Hall celebration was the perfect way to round off a wonderful day of showcasing our volunteers’ achievements and treating them to a buffet and awards ceremony as more certificates were presented. WE were particularly proud that we have had to create a new series of certificates for 60+ hours and 100+ hours and that four of our volunteers have now clocked up more than 200 hours. It was a long and happy day and a much needed tonic amongst all the current economic and political gloom: a real reminder of all the unsung heroes quietly working away to improve their own small part of the world and share their knowledge, skills and passion for growing with others. Well done to everyone and here’s looking forward to a re-run in the summer!