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Welcome to Our Newest Recruits

It was a weekend of sunshine and showers for our latest induction course in the wonderful setting of Leicester Botanical Gardens.  On Saturday, as the rain poured down, our six new volunteers explored the new role that they have taken on and got to know each other, amidst much laughter and sharing of gardening experiences.  There were lots of ideas for activities to get new growers inspired and we enjoyed the company of our first canine Master Gardener, Daisy, who is a service dog.

By Sunday, these enthusiastic volunteers had already found their first new growers to support and the sun shone as we explored the basics of organic growing, learned how to assess a site when planning a garden and visited the greenhouses with Garden Organics expert on exotics, Anton Rosenfeld.  We were also joined by Oadby & Wigston Master Gardener, Radha, who shared her experiences as a volunteer over the past year and the confidence she has developed in supporting students at both Manor High School and South Leicestershire College.

Our new recruits went home full of ideas and enthusiasm, ready to share their love of growing with their local communities and we look forward to sharing their achievements with you over the coming months.

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It was a pleasure to represent Master Gardeners to help support a ‘seed planting workshop’ for students with learning difficulties from South Leicestershire College in Wigston, Leicestershire this week. There were four students, each with a coach to help with their learning needs. The students, with sparkling eyes reflecting their interest and beaming smiles showing their enthusiasm, planted close to one hundred pots with seeds, including mixed herbs, basil, lavender, rosemary, nasturtiums and veggies like peppers and tomatoes.
Once the plants are ready, we aim to move them to various community garden spaces already identified such as those located at Wigston station and at Bassett Street.
Each student participated in the full range of activities in seed planting:
• Categorising the seed packets into types
• Checking packet for details on ‘when to sow’ ‘where to sow’ and ‘how to sow’
• Filling the pots with multipurpose compost,
• Sowing the seeds, creating labels for each plant and then gently watering them before placing them under cover for nature to take its course.
The students were focused throughout and even helped to tidy up at the end, before Susan, their teacher, announced that all this hard work called for a well- deserved ‘tea break’. Jessie from TCV and Pat from the Pride of the borough, who are more experienced in supporting community projects, commented on how inspired they were by the commitment displayed by the students. It was nice to be shown the students’ social space before we said goodbye to them.
I am already looking forward to being with the students again on the 6th of March, when we aim to get the raised beds ready at the South Wigston Station, to see how we can sustain their interest and love for gardening.

S Leics College potato head IMG_0586

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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. 

Boulter Crescent Wigston 01small

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).


For more about our Oadby & Wigston activities click here, here and here.

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!

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Living With Dementia and Windowsill Salads

Living With Dementia and Windowsill Salads

This morning, the Leicestershire Master Gardeners visited the Melton Mowbray Memory Café, to run a hands-on gardening workshop for people living with Alzheimers and for their carers.  This was one of a series of such visits around the county to memory cafes run by the Alzheimers Society and, as ever, was a joy to attend with much laughter, mess and reminiscence about gardening and food.  Master Gardener Marian Curry and I arrived laden with compost and potted herbs and were warmly welcomed with tea and biscuits.

Early conversations about learning to grow mundane spuds and turnips during the war quickly moved on the joys of homemade fruit wines and slow gin!  Very early in the visit the topic of the current crisis in supplies of fresh veg from Spain was raised and concerns expressed at the rising costs of fresh veg.

“Did you know, my local supermarket is limiting people to 3 lettuces a week?”

This led on beautifully to our first activity.  I had brought along a well known brand of seeds for pea shoot salads, priced at £2.95 for  250g  and compared these with a pack of dried marrowfat peas at 80p for 500g, which are perfect for home salad growing.  We planted these in paper cups to grow on the windowsill at a cost of a few pence each.  These will produce 3 or more crops of salad leaves, if the lower leaf joints are left to grow, and are happy on a sunny windowsill even in the depths of winter.  A fist full of peas can produce as much salad as you might buy in bags for £3.00 or more (pre-Spanish  crisis price!).  They can be used in fresh salads, stirred into soups and stews or nibbled on as you pass by in the kitchen.  This was of particular interest to one frustrated carer who has been trying to find ways to sneak fresh vegetables into her recalcitrant husband’s meals and, as a mum with similar concerns for my children’s 5 a day intake, we compared strategies.

“I learned to garden from my mother during the war, when my father was away. She did all the digging and everything until I was old enough and then she taught me to do the digging.”

The cheap and cheerful theme continued as we divided pots of supermarket  ‘living herbs’ and potted them on for stronger windowsill growing and possible transplanting into the garden in the spring.  A potted parsley or living lettuce salad can give you dozens of spindly plants that, when given space in their own pot or used to edge a flower bed, can produce vastly more greens than one person can eat, and look beautiful at the same time.

I learned from my granddad when I was a child. I could keep up with him because he’d lost a leg in the First World War. He planted onions on the top of the ground and I followed behind and re-planted them all underground because he’d got it wrong.

We passed the pots around the group, who chatted animatedly as they pinched and rubbed the leaves to release the aromas and had a nibble at each one.  The session finished with a gardening crossword puzzle, set by Joanna, the group’s leader, which triggered much merriment at some of the answers that hinted at who would be nurturing their new salads:

Crossword question: what would you use to mow the lawn with?

Answer: the wife

By the end of the session, even the least enthusiastic members of the group were proudly carrying their ‘Give It A Grow’ bags home and talking about watering their new crops.

If you’d like our volunteers to come along and run a session like this for your Leicestershire group, get in touch with us by clicking here.

If you’d like to have a go at your own pea shoot salad, click hereLeics MG_20150707_12_28_59_Pro Growing Pea Shoots Sheet








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Oadby & Wigston Master Gardeners enjoy Awards Night

Malcolm Brown and Radha Bellur represented their fellow Master Gardeners at the Oadby & Wigston Borough Council Awards at Parklands Leisure Centre in Oadby last night.  Our team of 12 Oadby & Wigston volunteers were shortlisted nominees for the Physical Activity Participation Award, they are shown here with Coordinator Alison McGrath, displaying their nominees’ scroll.

This award is for individuals or community groups that have improved the health, well being or physical ability of themselves or others. This may include facing and overcoming personal barriers and challenges, or inspiring others to take up new challenges to achieve their own goals.

Awrd Nominees poster 2016The Awards were presented by Tigers player, Tom Daly, on behalf of Active Oadby & Wigston, Leicestershire & Rutland Sport and Active Together.

Gardening is increasingly being recognised as an important way of encouraging people of all ages to get up, out and active.  Those who are physically able can break a sweat and lose some weight with a good session of compost turning or cultivation and stretch their muscles pruning and weeding.  In June, many of the 120 pupils of Manor High School who participated in the school’s Green Day, digging new garden beds, commented on being ‘out of puff’ and enjoying the exercise.  At the other end of the scale, getting outdoors and pottering around a garden can help less mobile people at risk of falls develop better balance and coordination.  Having a garden to play and grow in is a great pull for children to get outdoors and active.  This is a particularly important consideration in a world where there are  physiotherapy courses for under 5s with delayed physical development after a lifetime of being either cooped up indoors or strapped into a buggy.

Ultimately, our Master Gardeners were beaten by  a lady who has worked for years supporting an activity group for older Asian women, but nevertheless, they enjoyed an inspiring evening amongst like-minded people dedicated to helping others enjoy sharing sports and other non-competitive physical activities together.

Their work to inspire their local community to get involved in food growing, whether at home or through community gardening received well deserved public recognition, with a poster describing their activities and a photograph taken with Tom Daly on stage as they received their nominees’ scroll.  This was followed by a buffet and time to mingle with the other nominees and share more of what they do with others.

We are very proud of all our 67 Master Gardener volunteers across the county, and the tremendous effort they put into inspiring and supporting new food growers.  In under three years, they have become a well recognised part of many local communities and valued contributors to existing and developing local community food networks.  Keep up the good work everyone!

Radha O&WBC Awards 201620161123_194316

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Learning to Grow Exotic Veg.








The sun broke through the recent gloom to shine brightly on our latest volunteer in-service training day on Saturday, as our Master Gardeners gathered at Leicester Botanical Gardens to learn how to grow ‘exotic’ vegetables.

Volunteers arrived with a desire to support a wider diversity of growers , and particularly those refugees, asylum seekers and overseas students who come to our county; to ‘liven things up’ and get more creative with growers in their own communities and to expand their own growing horizons.  As ever, the day was also a chance to enjoy meeting like-minded gardeners and swap stories and growing tips.

20161119_103430The day was led by Garden Organic’s Anton Rosenfeld, who runs the Growing From Your Roots project;  gathering information and stories about  the wide range of new crops that immigrants bring to our English allotments and gardens, as well as seeds adapted to our climate by years of growers’ seed saving.  Some of which are now available to members of  Garden Organic’s Heritage Seed Library.

Our Master Gardeners learned about everything from Ying’s Chinese lablab beans to sharks fin melon and giant Dhudi squashes, which featured in an excellent curry lunch.  They got hands on with angular loofas, bitter gourds, turmeric, methi and mooli and visited the gardens’ greenhouses to see Taro, sugar cane and pineapples growing.  Before lunch, appetites were sharpened as  they made freshly ground garam masala, a delicious way of using home grown coriander and cumin seed.  Click here for the recipe to have a go yourself.


I20161119_142531n the afternoon, after trainers and volunteers alike were chivvied back from the fascinations of the gardens to those of the classroom, there was more hands on learning as they took root cuttings of lemon grass and African kale.   Coordinator Alison McGrath now has the daunting responsibility of bringing on cuttings of Vietnamese coriander and Carribbean Thyme to propagate more plants for our volunteers in 2017.  The day ended with mincepies, coffee and a quiz to test their new knowledge.

We all went home with plans and ideas for expanding our own growing and that of the people we support.  Who knows, maybe one day, home grown turmeric  and coriander seed will be as much a part of the average Leicestershire gardener’s normal repertoire as the once ‘exotic’ chilli.

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Leicestershire Master Gardeners are Supporting South Wigston’s Growing Edible Landscape

South Wigston is developing into an edible landscape thanks to the new Incredible Edible Oadby & Wigston project, supported by our Master Gardeners.  It all began with an inspirational trip to Incredible Todmorden in West Yorkshire in the spring, where community food growing in public spaces ahs been a hugely successful tool in bringing the town together and developing the community.

A new project to develop a food garden at the Bassett Street Community Hub has recently received £4132. funding from the Local People’s Programme Community Fund  in addition to another £1000 that the Community Action Partnership that runs the Hub has pledged.

Later this month local gardeners, supported by our Master Gardeners, will be clearing weeds from existing planters at South Wigston railway station in preparation for new herbs and other edibles that local commuters will be able to harvest on their way home.

A new community growing space is also planned for Crow Mills and local people with an interest in food growing are encouraged to get involved and come along to upcoming activity sessions


 Monday 24th October 2.30pm at South Wigston Station – to clear the planters

Thursday 27th October at 11am at Crow Mills – to carry out some clearing and preparation work

S Wigston Tour April 2016

Master Gardeners and Incredible Edible Members Touring South Wigston in search of likely spots for some visible community food growing spots.

Wigston Library Group photo June 2016

Happy Growers and Master Gardeners creating the new community food garden at Wigston Library

PCSO, Wigston Library

Local PCSO Sarah always likes to get stuck in when there is gardening to be done

Wigston Library June 2016

Bean Planters in Wigston

Lliz Bellamy, Wigston

Master Gardener Liz demonstrating some planting in Wigston


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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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Community Engagement Through Food, Fun and Kindness: North West Leicestershire Master Gardeners Visit Incredible Edible Todmorden For Inspiration

Last week, four of our Master Gardeners from North West Leicestershire joined representatives of NWL District Council, Coalville Heroes and Voluntary Action Leicestershire on a visit to the inspirational Incredible Edible Todmorden project in West Yorkshire. They have been meeting together over the past few months to explore ways in which they can develop community food growing in Coalville and Ashby in particular. Coalville Heroes are currently working with the support of the others on this trip, on a project to develop a community garden, which will serve as a learning and meeting point for Coalville residents who want to enjoy the social, physical and mental health benefits of growing together.



Veg Beds Outside the College Educate Everyone About Crop Rotation

Veg Beds Outside the College Educate Everyone About Crop Rotation

In the past 12 months, similar expeditions have inspired our Master Gardeners and other community growing stakeholders in the Harborough District and in Oadby & Wigston Borough. In Harborough, Sustainable Harborough worked with the council to run a public consultation, which demonstrated a strong support for more community growing in Market Harborough. Master Gardener Judy Rowley has gone on to initiate Grow and Pick, a community group transforming neglected areas of the town with edible planting. She is also continuing to offer her support to new growers through the Master Gardeners programme.

In Oadby & Wigston, the Todmorden visit in March was followed by the establishment of Incredible Edible Oadby & Wigston, which has already initiated several new growing projects around the borough and secured funding for a new food garden at the Bassett Street Community Hub in Wigston. A food growing themed mural is planned for the Wigston Railway Bridge as part of a project to develop edible gardens around the station and its approaches.


Pictures from our NWL visit, with descriptive captions, can be seen on our Facebook page by clicking here or on the Garden Organic Flickr pages here

Deanna exploring the willow bee hive

Deanna exploring the willow bee hive

Highlights of the trip included the willow bee hive, which is part of an area that was once full of the detritus of drink and drugs sessions, in the shelter of a canal tunnel in the centre of town. Now, Coalville Heroes Director, Deanna Wildgoose, can safely crawl through a willow representation of a bee hive on the same spot, that encourages local children to learn about the importance of bees for pollination of crops and honey production. Growing by this feature is a soap garden containing plants used by a local soap manufacturer, and a little further along, an apricot tree flourishes on a south facing wall, warmed by the ovens of the Take Away behind. This is a town bursting with herbs and salads, available for anyone to pick. In the late summer and autumn, the health centre, market, canal tow path, theatre, community college and parks offer a bounty of fruit which rapidly disappears as the locals descend to beat the birds to the pickings.



Kindness and Food, the Key to Successful Community Engagement

Kindness and Food, the Key to Successful Community Engagement

Less obvious to the day tripper, but of greater importance to the town, is the way in which all this community gardening has brought people together to enjoy growing and cooking, rather than viewing their activities as volunteering for others’ benefit. The key word is ‘Kindness’, written in large white letters in gardens around the town. This focus on food, and particularly sharing good locally sourced food, is a language understood by all classes, races and creeds. It has helped rejuvenate local food businesses and reduced antisocial behaviour as the townspeople now take a real pride in their surroundings. Todmorden is now the destination for tourists from across the world, looking to see how its lessons might be applied in their own towns and cities. ‘Veggie Tourism’ has even struck police services, who come to find out how growing sweetcorn outside the Police Station has helped improve the town’s community policing.


Fun But Educational.  Keeping Everyone in the Know and Encouraging Participation

Fun But Educational. Keeping Everyone in the Know and Encouraging Participation

Throughout the day there was an excitement and inspiration around every corner and on the way home, the bus was buzzing with conversation and ideas. We wait with eager anticipation to see what this bus load of community growing advocates will inspire the people of North West Leicestershire to achieve in the coming years.

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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.

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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’.

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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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