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Case Study: Lenthall Care Home, Market Harborough


Care homes for elderly people often have a reputation for being places where residents sit in high backed chairs with their backs to the wall, staring into space and waiting for the relative excitement of the next meal. At Lenthall Care Home in Market Harborough, manager Doina Matei has very different ideas and has been working with David Palmer from the Anglican Diocese of Leicester, Sustainable Harborough and our Master Gardeners to create a garden that will encourage residents and their families to get outside in the fresh air and enjoy gardening.
A year after the initial planning meetings, the home’s central courtyard and lawn have been transformed. There are now sturdy raised beds and do-dig veg. beds on the lawn, which supply the kitchen with fresh green beans, potatoes, carrots, tomatoes and many other foods less familiar to the residents. The unproductive old apple trees are being renovated and new fruit trees and soft fruit bushes have been donated by Sustainable Harborough. A former ornamental bed of shrubs has been 20170906_151119replaced by a large pumpkin patch, opening the possibility of some intergenerational fun with the pumpkins, which are already glowing orange in the sunshine.
As we tour the garden a carer walks by, pushing a resident in a wheelchair and talking about the tomatoes. As ever, things are slow to change and there is much work to do to encourage more staff to bring the residents outside, but the initial work to create a productive and beautiful space in which they can sit or get involved is done. Residents who are unable to leave the central courtyard without a carer are becoming intrigued, peering through the gate and asking what is happening. Master Gardener Judy Rowley has offered to run some workshops for the staff to help them support the residents in getting actively involved with the garden.
20170906_151503The Friends of Lenthall have taken up the baton and developed the courtyard’s previously tired and run down beds into a series of sensory beds full of bright flowers, scented herbs and edibles like chard. On the central lawn, two young silkie chickens provide interest and the promise of eggs to come. Their fluffy feathers make them popular pets alongside a white rabbit and a couple of guinea-pigs.
We are joined by a young man who is a regular visitor, cutting the grass and tending the beds. He has learning disabilities, but chats enthusiastically about his gardening, bombarding us with questions and ideas and enthusiastically picking beans for the kitchen. He has brought a bag of apples that have fallen from a tree in his garden to add to the compost heap and enters into a spirited exchange about whether he should also tip in some old bread he has brought. He is keen to get busy and so I finish the visit by presenting Mark with a certificate for 100 hours of volunteering that he has contributed to the Master Gardeners programme and leave them to their gardening. I look forward to returning next season and seeing what else they can achieve.

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Reviving Shelthorpe Community Garden, Loughborough

Shelthorpe is a hidden gem of a community garden, tucked away at the end of a narrow cul-de-sac and surrounded on all sides by 1950s council houses.  The entrance is through a high wooden door that looks like an access to someone else’s garden, down a shady jitty, lined with high board fences, and through another door.  Beyond is secret garden, full of vegetables and mature fruit trees, a shed, greenhouse and polytunnel, bordered by thick bed of beautiful borage, alive with the sound of bees.
The land for this garden was given to the Shelthorpe Community Association by Charnwood Borough Council in 2008 and, like many community gardens, has had a varied history as regular growers come and go.  Children’s art around the fences is a testament to local schools’ involvement over the years and the site is well set out with facilities tEntrance to Shelthorpehat include raised pathways, water collection tanks and a compost toilet.  However, by 2014 numbers had dropped off and students from Radcliffe College answered an appeal for help in tidying the site up and keeping the ever encroaching weeds under control.  Sadly, local support was not sufficient to sustain their work, with only one local continuing to grow on the site and keep it secure in recent years.
In 2017, Leicestershire Master Gardeners were approached to find some support for the Community Association and bring the community back into the garden.  Master Gardener Dave Bull offered his help, and Master Gardener Helen Burgess joined Fearon Hall Garden Group’s Amanda Bolton in supporting a gardening group for people with learning difficulties.  They now grow here once a week as well as in the Fearon Hall garden.
Back in the spring, a group of young people from the Princes Trust carried out a major clear up of the site, covering heavily weeded areas with suppressant fabric and tarpaulin to block the light and starve the thick perennial weed roots beneath.  There are now full veg beds around the site and by next year this mulching will have cleared more areas for planting up.  Visitors are greeted by a thick rows of beans, rows of sprouts and cabbages, beetroot and sweetcorn.  In the greenhouse are cucumbers and tomatoes, chilies and peppers.
20170821_102530Fearon Hall Gardener Louise proudly shows us her patch, tying up vigorous tomatoes with help from Helen and showing us the rows of lettuce and radish she has grown.  Each row is neatly marked with a row of cockle shells collected on a beach trip and she chats animatedly about her plans to plant carrots next.  This is her space and like most gardeners, she loves showing it off to others.
At a table, Amanda sits with two other gardeners from the Fearon Hall group, teasing apart a tray of carrot seedlings and exploring the tiny roots.  Each one looks like a tiny cake decoration.  It’s not an orthodox way of planting carrots, but it seems to work and germinating carrot seed in Leicestershire clay is never an easy task.
Having weathered a bad patch, Shelthorpe Community Garden is now on the up again and is open for locals to join in with the growing on Mondays and Fridays, between 10am and 12 noon, with support from Amanda and our Master Gardeners.  It is a space in which to relax and enjoy the calming pleasures of getting your hands in the soil, to learn new skills and make new friends and to produce your own food in an area where many families struggle to meet the rising costs of fresh fruit and vegetables.

Shelthorpe is a wonderful community resource but a hidden gem, which can be a problem when trying to engage local people, the challenge now is that facing most community gardens, to reach out and draw in new growers, something that Leicestershire Master Gardeners are all too happy to help with.

If you’d like to get involved, contact Amanda at or pop in to say hello on a Monday or Friday.  You’ll be very welcome.


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Tammy’s Allotment

Tammy’s Allotment

One of the great privileges of coordinating a Master Gardeners programme lies in the opportunity to visit some of our supported growers and see at first hand the joy that learning to grow brings them.  Today I am being shown around a plot full of plump cabbages, lush herbs, strawberries and leeks that are beginning to go to seed.  The plot is part of a special allotment, run by the charity Enrych, to offer suitable space for gardeners with disabilities. A wooden plaque proudly proclaims this to be ‘Tammy’s Garden.’  Tammy comes to this site with a support worker every week and, with the support of Master Gardener Fiona MacDonald, has created a highly productive and beautiful space, which clearly gives her enormous pleasure and pride.  I visited her when the two were first introduced and Tammy has been keen for me to return so that she can show me how much she has learned.


Fiona tells me, rather ruefully, that Tammy’s cabbages came as seedlings from her own garden and are far healthier and larger than her own, growing in this sunny, open position.  Gardeners always sow too many seeds and this kind of generous sharing of excess is one of the most wonderful aspects of gardening.  In learning to grow with Fiona, Tammy now shares in this generous world; today she will take leeks and herbs home to her parents to make soup and she offers a share to us too.  She is also generous with her new knowledge, instructing her support worker in how to make mint or lemon balm tea and in so doing, changes the balance between them.  In this space it is Tammy who is in charge and confident, leading the group around.

Tammy also tells us that she is  losing weight as a result of eating so much of her own fruit and veg and getting regular outdoor exercise, in addition to her clubacise classes.  Unlike many people, she enjoys weeding; indeed it is clear that she just loves being here in this space.  Today, she and Fiona plant French and runner beans in pots as well as courgettes to replace earlier sowings that withered in the heat when she was unable to come.

20170602_143508When Fiona and Tammy first began, Tammy was brought to the site by the same driver every week, but sadly this person moved on and she has missed several sessions as a result.  However, today her support worker is so impressed with her achievements and her obvious pride in and love of what she does, that she promises Tammy that they will make a special effort to ensure that she has the driver she needs to bring her every week from now on.



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Warwick Flats Sheltered Housing Complex: Getting Back to Growing

Warwick Flats Sheltered Housing Complex: Getting Back to Growing

Warwick Flats is a sheltered housing complex for older people, run by the Nottingham Community Housing Association and located in the large Leicestershire village of Bottesford. It was a familiar site for Master Gardener Joyce Slater before she joined the Leicestershire Master Gardeners, as it was home to her mother-in-law for several years before she passed away. As a new recruit to the Leicestershire programme, Joyce was looking for new growers to support and immediately thought of these elderly residents, many of whom had been gardeners before giving up their homes and moving to their small warden supported flats. They had some communal areas that could be used for growing, including a sunny courtyard.

Getting Growing: the Challenge of Creating a Constituted Gardening Club

Joyce and the warden at that time, Alison, organised a residents’ meeting to float the idea of a weekly gardening club, which was attended by 20 of the 22 residents, with one remarking that he,’might as well get involved. I’m just sitting here waiting to die.’

In December 2015 they secured a grant for £1,400 from LCC SHIRE Grants after travelling to County Hall with Joyce for an evening meeting, at which they had to present their case. This was no easy accomplishment for a group with significant mobility issues.

The group required a great deal of support from Joyce to create the necessary constitution and bank account and this was complicated by their impaired mobility and location in a village with no access to the banks. There were also delays due to the Treasurer’s lack of acceptable identification, not having a driving license or passport, or ‘Not existing’ as his neighbours joked’. In the early stages the group became very frustrated at the slow progress of this side of their project. This was worsened by delays due to the need to comply with formal procedures surrounding the erection of the greenhouse. Changes within the housing association also lead to the loss of their dedicated warden and the arrival of a new warden shared across several sites, who has less understanding of gardening but is very supportive of the group.

Planning the Compost Area

Planning the Compost Area

However, Joyce reports that these challenges resulted in an unexpected benefit. The residents were motivated to organise meetings and write joint letters of complaint, giving them a reason to meet during the winter months when there was no growing to be done.

Once the money arrived, they purchased a greenhouse and water butts, as well as other equipment to make watering their plants less of a physical challenge. They were given several compost bins by the housing association as their composting reduced the site’s need for green waste bins. The greenhouse was finally erected in June 2015, until which time, the seedlings that they had planted were kept in Joyce’s own greenhouse.

The residents have a large common room, where they now meet for weekly gardening sessions with Joyce on a Wednesday, as well as a sunny courtyard full of flowers, with seating and a greenhouse, water butts and large planter troughs, which make reaching their crops possible. Behind the complex is another area with four compost bins and more troughs full of crops.


Enjoying the Fruits of their Labours: ‘We Had Some Very Nice Tomatoes’

The residents have a common kitchen, as well as their own facilities, and are responsible for arranging their own meals. Most have microwave meals delivered, so the addition of fresh salads and fruit is particularly welcome. During this first year they grew lots of salad crops, lettuce, tomatoes and spring onions. They also grew green beans, peppers and chillies as well as strawberries and some flowers.

5832176555_f5034983f3_zTheir first target was to grow their own strawberry cream tea for the Wimbledon fortnight. They already had a series of outdoor raised trough beds, one of which they planted with strawberries, which produced a good sized bowlful in the first year. In June 2015 they enjoyed their strawberry tea very much in the complex’s large common room with 20 residents attending. There were not enough strawberries to feed everyone, so they bought in some more but looked forward to a larger crop in 2016.

In autumn 2015 they organised another social, enjoying home grown tomato soup from 2kg of their own tomatoes. This prompted lots of conversation about the good flavour and cooking methods used, of ways of making soups and how they might grow tomatoes for salads in hanging baskets in 2016, as well as growing them in the greenhouse.

You can meck a bit ‘o soup in a few minutes can’t you? I like a bit of onion soup I do.

I’ve got a recipe for the Boston Bean soup from Slimmin’ World that I’m in two minds of trying if I can get the bits together.

Planning for 2016

Planning for 2016


Encouraged by these early successes, and supported by Joyce, they began the 2016 growing season with a planning meeting. Fruit bushes in containers, dwarf raspberries and plums were popular choices as well as beetroot and courgettes. One gentleman reported having enjoyed eating the courgettes they grew in 2015, fried in butter. The conversation during this meeting, about increasing the volume of crops grown, showed that the consumption of home grown produce extended well beyond the group present at the meeting and that growing salads in particular gave them access to more fresh food than had been possible previously.

We had some very nice tomatoes, some lovely little peas in small little pods. They were delicious.

Lots and lots of little chillies

That was quite a lot considering how late we started wasn’t it?

The group has not tried growing anything new, preferring to grow what is familiar and they are particularly resistant to the idea of stripy tomatoes.


Overcoming the Challenges: ‘We Got there in the End’

One of the challenges that Joyce has faced has been the loss of key group members either through death or declining health. Many have significant mobility issues and there is a ‘parking area’ for walking frames next to the table where they meet.   The age and infirmity of these residents makes them more dependent on her for motivation and support than some of the other younger, more able groups that our Master Gardener volunteers support.

There is also a minor issue with the lack of able bodied people capable of doing the small amount of heavy digging and lifting of containers that is needed. However, one of the younger residents has launched into the growing with enormous enthusiasm, taking on many of these tasks, despite his own health problems, and benefiting enormously in the process. He has already started some tomato plants in his own area of the grounds, which he offered to the wider group, along with a range of seeds he had obtained through a former employer. The growing is keeping him active and outside on a regular basis. The greenhouse and planters also provide a reason for other residents to walk outside into the courtyard to enjoy some company or activity in pleasant surroundings.

This group differs from our other project, in which we support novice growers, in that several of the key contributors have a long history of gardening, which ended when they moved to the complex. The project has enabled them to resume this activity and share it with their neighbours. Their shared reminiscences about their experience of gardening with their grandparents echo the accounts of children we speak to today, whose experience of growing is often from time spent with their grandparents.

Me Grandparents used to put the kidney beans on the frames and then they used to put the sweet peas underneath so they combined the two

Valuing these older people’s lifetime of gardening knowledge and helping them to pass it on is just one of the wonderful aspects of this project and is something we also engage in with schools who run Food For Life’s Grandparent Gardening Days to continue this long tradition of intergenerational learning.

Joyce reports that another of the challenges of this project has been the shift from residents being used to growing in their own space for themselves to participating in a community garden. During the planning meeting, a resident came in to complain that people who had not contributed to the growing had been picking the crops. The consensus among the gardeners present was that this is not a problem as the crops are intentionally grown for everyone. After explaining this to him, they decided that their response to this should be to grow sufficient crops to meet the demand. This contrasts with some other projects where participants have been frustrated that local people have been reluctant to pick the crops available.

Despite, indeed because of, the many challenges that Joyce and her group of gardeners have faced, they can be very proud of their achievements and we hope that the fun and enjoyment they have had in coming together to produce delicious crops will inspire others to follow their example. As one resident summarises it.

Well it were a bit of a learning curve wan’t it last year? We got there in the end.

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3 Close Tenants, Loughborough: We’re Starting to Bloom Now. So We Are. We’re Starting to Bloom

3 Close Tenants, Loughborough: We’re Starting to Bloom Now. So We Are. We’re Starting to Bloom

As I turn the corner into Orwell Close, Loughborough, the community centre, run by the 3 Close Tenants’ Residents’ Association, is a beacon of bright colour and appetising smells. Begonias, geraniums, bacon, and coffee mix in a warm welcome. I am here with a group of representatives from North West Leicestershire and Oadby and Wigston, who are keen to learn from these Loughborough housing association residents how they transformed their estate, locally known as ‘Colditz’, into a buzzing, gardening community.

The small converted flat is full of locals and a pair of PCSOs join us for a cup of tea.  They help to tackle the table loaded with sandwiches, crisps, quiches and goodies, prepared for our visit. Outside, a group of community payback ‘lads’, as they are known here, are busy tidying up the planters and trees and raking the leaves.

This project has its origins in these residents’ frustration at levels of anti-social behaviour and a depressing, litter-strewn environment, which made their estate notorious in the area. The Residents’ Association, led by Chair Josie Falconer, approached Glebe House for some help to erect planters to make the area look better cared for. The group’s initial growing of ornamentals had a marked impact and in 2014 they were award winners in Loughborough in Bloom.  However, the ‘Garden Gang’ as they christened themselves, struggled to maintain their project, as age caught up with many of its members, who were mainly pensioners.

Following a community cookery event, run with the support of Love Food Hate Waste, their difficulties were brought to the attention of the newly formed Leicestershire Master Gardeners, a volunteer gardening mentorship programme run by the national charity Garden Organic and funded by Leicestershire County Council Public Health. Master Gardener Helen Burgess offered to support the group and help them to learn how to grow edible as well as ornamental plants and so draw in some more young gardeners from the estate.

40. Three Close Cert of Dist'n

RHS It’s Your Neighbourhood, Level 5, ‘Outstanding’

Together, they have flourished and in 2015 won an RHS ‘It’s Your Neighbourhood’ Award graded 5 – outstanding, with special mention being made of the raised beds full of food and engagement with residents of all ages. Josie and her ‘Right Hand Man’, Sue, describe Helen as a part of the community and ‘part of the family’ now.




I was against doing a kitchen garden because I knew it was going to be a problem for us, but having Helen here to give us that guidance, we know we can take it on now.

I think we’re a lot more confident now because we know there’s somebody there now we can fall back, we can say ‘Helen, what would you advise there? ‘

we’re gonna do the flowers because we like them, but (now) we’re more interested in growing stuff we eat ourselves.

Beside the front door, a small table holds their community fruit and veg stall. Most of the crops have been eaten before they made it this far, but their harvest is growing year by year, especially since nine new planters were installed last year with part of a £2,400 grant from the LCC SHIRE Community Grant scheme.

To begin with there wasn’t that much that we could put on sale but Helen brings a bit and then we bring our bit and we put them on here

Maggie’s had her potatoes from here and the onions and things and scallions … for a small charge. So we haven’t made any money on it.

20160921_100815 - Copy

3 Close version of a farm shop


Their small version of a farm shop doesn’t just offer fruit and veg from their kitchen garden, but local honey, jam and chutney. Last summer they made £50 from pies and jam made with the cherries already growing around the estate.



We’ve got no end of cherry trees here and nobody ever gets up to harvest them but we made cherry jam … and now people on the estate are doing it. Evie, she got up one before her back went. She got loads down. She made £50 on cherry pies and sold them for the funds.

With Helen’s help, they have also learned to propagate their own ornamentals, taking cuttings of geraniums to stock their flower beds rather than buying all their plants each year.

It’s not just learning to produce free plants that has helped them to reduce their costs. A large compost area with a leaf mold bin enables them to produce their own growing medium too.

Helen, showing off the compost bay to the visitors

Helen, showing off the compost bay to the visitors







We dig it into the planters. But we never saved our leaves before Helen came and we do have a lotta leaves.

They explain that the composting also means that the Housing Association’s waste disposal costs have reduced.


3 Close raised beds

Netting the Cabbages

The local residents are not just benefiting from fresh food grown by a small number of people; they are being drawn in and are benefiting from getting involved in many ways. As with any community event, free food is a great incentive.





We have a plantin’ day in May. Everyone that’s involved over the year we invite over and we have a nice hog roast, but we do it in the oven, you know and everyone comes along and gives a helping hand and then there’s about forty or fifty come to that. And then at the end of the season we have another big day when we have a cob meal, you know, a hot cob and the police come, but we have the housing officers come as well.

Some of the younger residents do the heavier work but other less able people are also deeply involved as Sue herself demonstrates:

If I can’t actually bend to do it, I have a little stool and I sit down on that and I just work my way round, move round, do another bit.

Others benefit from being involved by offering less physical forms of support and guidance:

To begin with, two or three years ago, Diane could help us. Now she can’t do anything, she’s too poorly. She can’t even do the kitchen garden. She says she’s in charge of the kitchen garden but it gives her an interest. She’s not frightened to tell ‘em off you see (laughs). I’d be a bit more discrete but she won’t.

For others, the involvement of their children offers a welcome respite:

We’ve got two single dads, you know, one’s lost his … the mother died, the others’ partner’s left him. I had a word, ‘If we can get a little planter, would Lily like to come down and be with us? ‘Because he knows us, she doesn’t have to have her Daddy there,’ just come down with us’.

20160921_105445 - Copy

Inspiring Visitors From Oadby & Wigston and North West Leicestershire


It’s not just the residents who are being drawn in. The probationers, who have come in for a cup of tea and a sandwich, began by painting planters and raking leaves. Before long they were building a compost heap and asking to get involved in the planting and some are now getting the confidence to teach each other.



They do all the critical hard work. They do the proper digging. But they do like to do a bit of planting, because it’s nice for them to plant as well. I mean we had one young woman here, who was with the probationers; she’d never done gardening before. When we planted the pots over there she loved it. She said ‘I never known’, she said ‘I love to see the plants. Don’t they look lovely?’ She’s kept it up now.    The lads weren’t doing it right; she says ‘Oh, no, no, that isn’t right.



A resident’s own little paradise garden

All around the estate, small pocket gardens are springing up, bright splashes of colour, decorated with personalised plaques, gnomes and wind chimes. People are taking a real pride in their surroundings and woe betide anyone who is seen dropping litter now.

They’re much more aware, because people can do gardening, if anyone’s throwing cigarette ends out … ‘Litter. We’re not having our gardens littered up! We’ve worked on ‘em’. ’

Josie’s hairdresser joked.

I think we should do a collection for your plants Josie because it makes the access to our own homes so much pleasanter

There is an enormous sense of pride and achievement in this community and their successes have not gone unnoticed by the outside world. During their judging for the ‘It’s Your Neighbourhood Award, Josie heard a judge comment ‘I know this estate. You wouldn’t believe it’s the same estate’.



Sue sums up this transformation of the people as well as the neighbourhood

We’re starting to bloom now. So we are. We’re starting to Bloom.


3 Close Summer Harvest 2016

3 Close Summer Harvest 2016


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Case Study: Waterloo Farm Cottage Garden, Great Oxendon, Harborough

Case Study: Waterloo Farm Cottage Garden, Great Oxendon, Harborough

The Waterloo Farm Cottage Garden is a collaborative project, providing space to grow together for the residents of the Market Harborough area.  It was set up in 2014/15 by Sustainable Harborough[1], in partnership with Waterloo Cottage Farm[2] in Great Oxendon, 3 miles south of Market Harborough.   When the Leicestershire Master Gardeners programme began in June 2014, the garden was still an idea in the planning stages, but with the hard work and dedication of four local gardening enthusiasts, who quickly volunteered for the Master Gardeners programme, it soon began to take shape.  Bev, Mark , Ruth and Judy have put hours of their time and passion for growing into what was a muddy corner of a field, accessed through a swamp full of very interested pigs.  Master Gardener Alex Hopkinson joined the team in 2015 and then secured a job with Sustainable Harborough, so is now responsible for the project in that capacity, as well as being a Master Gardener volunteer.

The pigs are now securely fenced away from beds full of flourishing crops and a small orchard around a natural pond.  The first year was been taken up with setting out the site and controlling the weeds, but has also produced significant crops and a lot of learning.  One of the regular growers on the site paints a picture of the challenge that they all took on:

When I arrived it was all trying to control the nettles and all the areas where we wanted to get sort of more planting and the beds working. There was a point when I thought the community garden was growing nettles, as a complete novice.

They now have several beds, including a highly productive ‘lasagna bed’ created on top of the turf to cut down on the need for digging.  This followed a ‘no-dig’ presentation by horticulturalist Charles Dowding[3] at the Garden Organic Masters Conference  at Ryton Gardens in September 2015. The group are now planning for ‘barrow beds’- long raised beds, and are starting to think about crop rotation.

Mark demonstrating fruit tree pruning

Mark demonstrating fruit tree pruning

They have successfully erected a polytunnel, which took them a week, and have planted an orchard.  Mark has run a pruning master class there, following his attendance at a pruning in-service day with the Master Gardeners in January 2016.  They have also run a composting master class, which was well attended by local people.  There is a bee hive and they have recently moved it, having learned the hard way that it is not a good idea to site it where the bees’ flight path out of the hive crosses the gateway.

As a project initiated by Sustainable Harborough, there is a strong emphasis on helping people to live more sustainably and to think about their impact on the environment.  There is an ethos of shared working and learning together and the idea is that volunteers can eat anything grown in the garden.  The work and cropping is all done in common.  Their explanation is, ‘If you can figure it out you can eat it’.  At the start it was agreed with the farm that the surplus crops will go to the farm shop.  The garden didn’t produce enough last year for this, but this year they will focus on things that work and that people like to eat.  They have also learned a lot that will enable them to grow more successfully.  For example, to recognise when crops are ready and to protect them from pests.

we all had our heads in our hands because all the sweetcorn had been eaten by the mice before anybody realised there was sweetcorn to be had.

Despite this disappointment, producing edible sweetcorn was a significant achievement in what was an unusually dark and cold year.  They also produced a large crop of ‘fantastic’ potatoes.  This June, they report that they have made their first contributions to the farm shop, another major achievement.

Having focused on the structure of the garden, and finding that some crops were not picked and used, they now are thinking about their communications and the need to anticipate when crops will be ready so they can let people know when to come to pick them.  They are also considering what to grow that people will want to buy or eat.

We had loads of fruit but mostly straight off and in your mouth, although I had it on breakfast for a week or two … Leek and potato soup was a good one, then roast vegetables with the butternut squash.  We’ve got a spinach mountain building up.  Nobody seems to want to eat spinach.

Around a dozen people are involved in total and their ages vary from early twenties upwards.  They have a regular day to meet but, once they have had an initial induction to the site and its rules, people also come at other times to work alone.  One of their growers comments:

you don’t realise how many people come as they are not always there at the same time’.

This communal approach gives a great sense of shared achievement, even when growers are coming to the site at different times and don’t necessarily meet each other frequently.

The butternut squash was great and that, for me was a revelation because I’d never had them I think, let alone grown them … and they’re really lovely… I didn’t plant them so I didn’t have that ownership, but somebody put them there and watered them.

For this grower, the shared experience of growing has given him the interest and confidence to begin developing his own garden, with encouragement from his partner who enjoys the results.

I’ve just planted some fruit trees in my garden.  I’ve never had fruit trees before, so the pruning master class was perfect.  But also, we’ve decided this year to grow some fruit and veg.  Goodness knows where or how, because I don’t want to lose half the lawn, but I’ve said just ‘let’s go for it.’ So we will be growing some stuff and I would never have done that if I hadn’t been up at Waterloo Community Garden.  It gives you a little bit of confidence and encourages you, and also she says to me ‘How come you’re doing all that out there?    Why aren’t you doing it in our garden?’  So there’s a little bit of pressure there.

The Waterloo Garden is not only benefiting those who grow on the site; the cascade dimension of the Master Gardeners programme is very apparent in this supported grower’s enthusiastic observations of the impact of food growing on a neighbour’s son:

I was encouraging my mate to do it as well.  He’s getting his kids to getting planting in the garden.  His little lad is really chuffed because he’d seen the carrots come up so he’d been pushing them back in so they could grow again!    It was really good and he’s saying ‘I don’t understand what’s going on.  I’m sure there were carrots there!’ But at least he’s had the experience.  They love it, they love it.

The infectious joy of growing can be seen here at two removes from the community garden it started in.

Buzzing Border 2016Despite the challenges of its location, our Master Gardeners at Waterloo Cottage Farm Community Garden have been highly successful during the first growing season and have been an important part of both creating a new growing space and reaching out to local people about the benefits of growing.  They are also helping the project to move forward and become more sustainable by reviewing the challenges the growers and organisers have faced and planning to address them.  They are using the networks that are available to them through Master Gardeners to make contacts with other community growing projects, in Harborough, elsewhere in Leicestershire and beyond.  In May 2015 Mark and Bev presented their experiences of and thoughts on the project to their fellow Master Gardeners at a Master Gardeners community growing in-service day.  Through this they were able to learn from others’ experiences as well as inspiring and teaching them.  The day was instrumental in bringing Alex into the programme as a volunteer as well as in inspiring Judy to organise a joint Master Gardener/Council trip to Incredible Edible Todmorden, which has triggered two new projects in the town, Incredible Edible Harborough and Grow and Pick.   We are looking forward to seeing what they achieve next!

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‘Sharing the Bug': Widening Horizons With A Gardening Mentor

‘Sharing the Bug': Widening Horizons With A Gardening Mentor

Roy and June live near the end of a quiet Leicestershire cul-de-sac with views across the garden fences to newly ploughed fields.  Their small garden is a mass of colour, packed with flowers, ornamental plants and a healthy, productive plum tree.  It has always been a very pleasant place to sit for a couple who enjoyed an active, outdoors and sporting life together, as well as ornamental gardening. Roy, a retired social work manager, took a daily run through the fields, enjoying the changing face of nature day-by-day, whilst June loved the riot of colour which is their garden.

Recently, June suffered a major stroke leaving her profoundly disabled with limited mobility, limited speech and dependent upon tube feeding. Roy says, “This is a life changer”. Despite this, June is able to sit in her reclining chair, view and enjoy the garden and communicate with Roy through subtle gestures. This is at great effort on June’s part, but a testament to the care she has received. Every day sees progress in June’s recovery but Roy is most keen to add that, “June hears and understands everything you say”.

Early in spring 2015, Roy attended a Carers’ Fair run by Leicestershire Carers’ Centre.  His eye was caught by a group of volunteers offering to share their love of growing food, the Leicestershire Master Gardeners.  “I wasn’t looking for help with the garden”, says Roy, “but we got talking about how growing carrots in tubs confuses carrot root flies because they won’t fly above ground level.  I was intrigued.”

Roy left his details and was put in touch with Adam, a volunteer with the Master Gardener programme, who showed him how he and June could use their garden to grow food as well as flowers.  Over the past few months Adam has become a friend as well as a gardening mentor.

Every morning and evening, June’s carers help her to the French windows, where she watches her garden change through the seasons.  Today a Fuchsia magellenica is dripping scarlet blossom and giant sunflower heads droop, heavy with seeds that will bring the birds to her window in winter.  She can see the lush salads  and golden cucumber flower trumpets in the raised bed that Roy and has installed on the patio, beans drooping from their vines and sweetcorn tassels dangling behind.  June can share a bumper crop of cucumbers with her carers and smell a dish of tomatoes that Roy has brought into the kitchen.

Today, Adam, Roy and I sit either side of June, discussing their creation of the raised beds and their plans to grow carrots in wooden veg boxes next year.  June smiles at the word ‘carrot’ and she shares a moment of laughter with Roy, remembering the distorted and comical roots that he pulled earlier in the summer.  June’s eyes move between us as we speak and she manages to frame the word ‘carrots’, with a twinkle.

June is not simply a spectator to this new interest of Roy’s.  In the spring he bought a wide plastic potting tray with a rim and balanced it on her knee, covering the carpet with a tarpaulin.  With Roy guiding her hand, June set the seeds and together they watched their seedlings emerge.  With Adam’s guidance, Roy planted them in raised beds near the windows, where June now watches their progress, day-by-day and she has been able to enjoy the taste of fresh food from her garden.  “June can’t eat anything green”, explains Roy, ‘Too much vitamin K from green vegetables interferes with her medication”. Because June’s swallowing reflex is impaired anything with pips or seeds may be difficult to swallow. But as Roy says, “Given suitable preparation, there are still many fresh vegetables that June can eat.  Roy explains, “It’s about quality of life, isn’t it?”

Roy 2June nods in agreement and that reminds Roy that she has eaten fresh produce from the garden including tomatoes, sweetcorn, cucumber and strawberries. Not only that, but June has had an active part in deciding which food plants should be grown and the colour and planting scheme for their beautiful and wildlife friendly garden. Even before vegetable growing their garden had a compost heap wildlife pond and herb patch.

As Master Gardeners we often encourage people to have a go at growing food with the lure of a scented carrot pulled fresh from the ground, or a richly flavoured tomato contrasting with the watery supermarket offerings.  Roy and June, add a whole new perspective to this joy. Roy planted four varieties of tomato outdoors: Costolluto, Yellow Pear (A Ryton variety), Black Krim and Roma. Fresh sweetcorn, French beans, cucumbers, beetroot and broad beans have been in abundance this season.

For Roy and June, the new friendship with Adam has widened their horizons and brought new interests.  “There’s only a few hours a day when I can do all the things I need to do”, explains Roy. “but gardening fits easily into the daily pattern of June’s care routines.” In gardening and growing food, Roy says he finds therapy, not just for June but also for himself. “It’s therapeutic, it helps me and I can do it whilst looking after June.”

Adam mentions that many growers, especially seasoned ones are always good to have a chat with. Roy reveals that he has visited a local allotment whilst carers stayed with June for a few hours. “I went down to the allotments to see what they were growing.” he remembers.  “Someone came over to find out what I was doing there and I ended up having a cup of tea in a shed.  It’s amazing how much you can learn from some of these people who’ve been growing for years.”

He nods across June to Adam.  “I have lots of gardening books, but speaking with Adam resonates so much better.  Now I can ask Adam here all sorts of general questions.  He explained to me that I shouldn’t water my carrots too much but that my runner beans needed loads of water and it worked.  Did you know that if there’s a kernel missing on your sweetcorn, it means that one of those tassels wasn’t pollinated?  I never knew that.  He showed me how to pull the cob off the plant properly too.”

Adam laughs, remembering the first time he harvested sweetcorn himself and ended up with a whole plant in his hands.  “It took me years to grow a really good carrot too”, he remembers, “They always forked because I gave them too rich a soil”.   Roy is clearly surprised by this, but the easy chat and sharing of failures as well as successes is a marker of the special nature of this form of volunteering.

Adam is a mentor, not a guru.  He is thrilled by the way that Roy  listens carefully and acts on all the advice he is given, but this is not a relationship of Master and apprentice but a developing friendship between people who ‘have the bug’. Adam has explained how both Roy and June have taken all the advice, implemented it and in the space of one season, weather permitting, grown several food crops, perfectly.  For Adam the biggest challenge has been working with a carer and someone who is cared for. “I’ve had no experience of working with carers or disabled people before”, says Adam. “I’m used to working with able bodied, young people on field trips and trying to motivate them, usually at the tip of my Army boot up a mountain, he laughs”.

Sometimes Adam brings his partner Sheila to visit, who is also a social work manager. She and Roy have had long conversations that have nothing to do with growing. Adam says that when “those two gab on about social work” he’ll just talk to June about gardening. “It’s good for all of us, since we can find common things to speak about, not just gardening”. Last time they brought their cat along too.  Adam admits to being “bonkers” but with a highly socialised and travelling cat, seeing June pet the cat and have some more tactile stimulation is good.

Roy tells us that after the Carers’ Fair, June enjoyed a bread making day. “It was good for her hands”, he mimes squeezing and molding the dough, “it was extremely good therapy and we learnt a lot, but gardening? This is for me”. Roy and June enjoy the fruit and veg that he has learned to grow, but it is clear that his new friendship with Adam has brought much more than the satisfaction of eating his own crops.  It has brought mental and physical stimulation not just to Roy and June but also to Adam. For Adam, it is the beginning of learning how to work with not just the cared for, but also the carers.

The “official” Master Gardeners “contract” is for one years supported growing. That time will be up soon. The beauty is, that Adam and Sheila will be able to support Roy and June through their next year and their journey into growing in the future. Given time, Adam has every confidence that Roy will end up as a seasoned vegetable gardener, with plenty of advice and experience to offer. But as Adam says, “There’s still so much more we can all continually learn about gardening and growing”.  Finally, as we chat about the impact of the raised beds in an ornamental flower garden, Roy happily concludes that they complimented, rather than detracted from the garden balance.




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Home Educated Children’s Gardening Club: Loughborough

In autumn 2014, members of the Transition Loughborough group, meeting at the LAGS garden on the university campus, decided to start up a new childrens’ gardening club for home educated children.   The aim was to offer an opportunity for these children to learn about growing their own food, but also to come together socially; an important consideration for children who don’t have the access to wide peer groups experienced by children in schools.

Master Gardener Helen Burgess offered to support this group which includes children from 18 months to 7 years of age and meets once a month.  The children have enjoyed a wide range of activities, from growing bean sprouts in jars to planting potatoes in blue IKEA bags.  they come from a wide range of cultural backgrounds including Chinese and Argentinian families, and their parents, who join them for these sessions, are not always English speakers.  As with the other growing groups on this campus community garden site, gardening provides a common language, which helps people from different cultures to connect and enjoy time together.  As one parent commented

“You don’t need to speak English to garden”

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Growing Together: Warwick Flats Sheltered Housing, Bottesford

In autumn 2014, Master Gardener Joyce Slater approached her local sheltered housing complex, Warwick Flats in Bottesford, with an offer of support to develop part of their site into a food growing garden.  This complex enables those who are elderly, frail, vulnerable, disabled or have health issues to live independently in a supported environment. The majority of residents are in receipt of Housing Benefit and many have carers. The current residents range in age from 57 – 93,  but they are mainly over 75 years of age.  Some had been growing a few pots of edible crops, but Joyce proposed a larger scale, communal garden which everyone could contribute to.

An initial meeting for residents, organised by the warden, produced an extraordinary turnout of 18 residents from 22 flats; almost all those who were physically able to attend.  Joyce describes a ‘noisy and argumentative’ meeting as residents discussed what they wanted from the project, but her offer was something that definitely struck a chord.  One resident responded,

‘I’m just sitting here waiting to die so count me in.”

Some expressed the view that they cannot grow now, due to their health or mobility problems but that they would enjoy sitting in a place where others are pottering in a garden. A comment was made that,

“if you sit out in a garden that looks nice it makes you feel better”.

Another resident commented that it would encourage those who perhaps do not leave their flats to join in with other social activities.

Joyce found that many of the residents had left behind much loved gardens  when they moved into the flats, and thought that they wouldn’t be able to garden again.  For some, this raised concerns around the prospect of sharing a communal growing space, but the proposal was generally welcomed with open arms and this group of older gardeners, both seasoned growers and novices, had very clear ideas of what they wanted.  Top of the list was a greenhouse where they could ‘potter’ and grow salads all year round to supplement the microwave meals that most of them rely upon.  They also decided that having raised beds would make their crops more accessible and that they would need equipment to enable them to lift water to the plants.  An awning was also proposed, to give shade in summer for people with skin made vulnerable by medication, and shelter from wind and rain winter.

With a great deal of support from Joyce,as the application had to made online and there was no broadband connection available, they put together an application to the LCC‘s Shire Grant scheme, which was very well received.  One supporter of the scheme wrote in the funding site’s comments boxes,

“Having seen how much pleasure my grandparents got from simply being able to view plants from the window of warwick flats I know that if such a scheme had been available at the time they were there then I’m sure it would have kept them moving and active much longer. It would have given them a focus which would have no doubt made the transition from their own home with a garden to the flats a little easier and will ensure keen gardeners don’t loose their passion when they need the increased support the flats give.”

The application was made to the ‘Getting active in the community’ stream of funding and required this group of determined pensioners to become even more active, travelling to County Hall in Glenfield one cold December evening to make a 120 second presentation to a room full of other applicants, supporting their case.  Not an easy task for a group of people with significant health and mobility problems.  To their great credit, they were successful in securing £1500.00 for their garden.

The next few months saw Joyce and the Warwick Flats residents battling against the odds to translate this funding into a useable greenhouse.  First their warden was made redundant and then they struggled to open a bank account to receive the money.  Their rural location, far from most bank branches, and the complexity of anti-money laundering hurdles posed serious obstacles.  Eventually they succeeed and ordered their greenhouse, only to  face the challenges of erecting it within the safety regulations of their housing association.  The group has also had to cope with the deaths of some residents who were keen supporters and the need to recruit new members in their place.  By late May, Joyce’s own greenhouse was full of plants that they had sown, ready to take to Warwick Flats but there was nowhere to plant them as the greenhouse frame stood unglazed.

Despite all the frustrations of this project, Joyce smiles as she describes their efforts together, focusing on how the challenges have energised and brought together this group of residents into a real community, working together to get the job done.  People who had previously been ‘sitting at home, waiting to  die’ are now engaged in regular and animated residents’ meetings, composing letters of complaint and demanding that  the greenhouse they have worked so hard to secure be made ready for them to get out and grow in.  watch this space to see how they grow in the coming months.


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From ‘Colditz’ to Community: 3 Close Tenants’ Association, Loughborough

The 3 Close  Tenants’ Association in Loughborough had been growing successfully on their housing association estate in Loughborough for some time before they got in touch with Leicestershire Master Gardeners for some support.  Indeed they were award winners with Loughborough in Bloom.  A group of twelve keen gardeners had originally decided to do something about the poor reputation their neighbourhood, known by some in Loughborough as ‘Colditz’, carried and, with help fromGlebe House, began growing beautiful displays in planters around their estate.  However, like many community growing groups they were finding it harder to sustain their group over time and particularly to draw in new growers.

Master Gardener Helen Burgess volunteered to support this highly motivated group of neighbours and has encouraged them to branch out into more edible crops, including strawberries, raspberries, cauliflowers, carrots, beetroot, potatoes, donated by Transition Loughborough and a local Leicestershire apple, ‘Annie Elizabeth‘.  The latter followed a meeting with Alison and Nigel Deacon from the Leicestershire Heritage Apple Project

Helen has helped to reinvigorate this group of dedicated growers and to make edible crops part of the everyday environment for all the local residents.

3 Close Tenants, Loughborough ready to plant a Leicestershire  'Annie Elizabeth' apple with Master Gardener Helen


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