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Learning to Make Plants for Free

Plants for free was the theme of our latest in-service training day, held at the Leicester Botanical Gardens on Saturday.  Garden Organic’s Sally Cunningham, a fount of knowledge on plants and gardening, led our volunteers through a whistle-stop tour of propagation techniques to enable them to create new plants from old throughout the year.  The tone for the day was set when Sally managed to diagnose a diseased sample of quince leaves brought in by one of the volunteers without even seeing it.   Jane only had to say ‘What’s wrong with my quince’, for the quick-fire answer, ‘quince blight’ to emerge from under the table, as Sally unpacked her papers for the day.  Apparently it’s the commonest problem with quinces and pears at this time of year.

20180609_142046After the informal plant clinic we went on to take softwood cuttings of African perennial kale and to learn about ripe, semi-ripe and hard-wood cuttings.   We found out that although placing geranium stems in water produces masses of roots, they are of the wrong type and so do badly once transferred to the airier environment of compost; far better to just stick them direct into a pot of compost and trim the larger leaves away to reduce water loss while they are establishing.
We learned how to sharpen and clean our pruning knives and secateurs and the essential hygiene needed to prevent the transfer of disease between plants on your tools.  Sally’s top tip: carry a small bottle of hand sanitiser with you in an old sock and use the sock to rub the sanitizer well into the blades and the nooks and crannies of your tools.


20180609_123732 copyAfter a buffet lunch with a Heritage Seed Library lettuce and sorrel salad, decorated with chive flowers, followed by gooseberry sauce cake, we had the extra treat of a walk around the gardens with Sally, taking samples of various plants for a practical session on taking cuttings.  Please note that we had permission from the staff at the gardens for this.  Please do not take cuttings from plants that don’t belong to you without asking for permission.  The best time to take cuttings is not when the owner is not looking, but when the plant is ripe and healthy and the owner is feeling generous!
We finished the day with another tour of the gardens, looking at interesting specimens and different plant families, and particularly enjoyed the background music provided by the Wigston Brass Band.  They were still playing after all our volunteers had gone home and so Coordinator Alison enjoyed a brief rest in the sunshine with tea, cake and music.  What a wonderful venue for a day that fulfilled its brief of being both a learning experience and a reward for all the effort our volunteers put in to supporting food growing in Leicestershire.

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Welcome to Our Newest Recruits

It was a glorious weekend at the  Attenborough Arboretum in Leicester for our latest Master Gardener recruits’ induction course and, as ever, a thoroughly enjoyable day in which our recruits shared experiences, knowledge and laughter as well as learning about their new role as food growing mentors.

We always recruit the most generous of gardeners, who can’t help but inspire others with their love of growing and of sharing that love with others.  On Saturday we heard stories of how they have already been supporting  family, friends and neighbours, spreading a love of growing and of good food as well as bringing people together to enjoy the fruits of their labour.  We explored new possibilities of spreading this good work further through the Master Gardener programme, working with food banks, care homes and local communities  and connecting with other keen gardeners to open new avenues and share ideas and learning together.

We look forward to watching this great bunch of gardeners grow into their new role and to hearing how their infectious enthusiasm helps their fiends, neighbours and others grow with them in the coming months.


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Europe Comes to Leicestershire

Friday was an exciting day for the Leicestershire Master Gardeners, who hosted a group of visitors from the Erasmus Plus exchange project on a tour of therapeutic gardening sites in the county.  Garden Organic is a partner in this scheme, which brings together people with a common interest to share experiences and ideas across the continent.

Back in October, Leicestershire Master Gardeners’ Coordinator, Alison McGrath, joined Garden Organic colleagues Sally Cunningham and Sara Brown on an Erasmus exchange  visit to Slovenia, where they met people from a wide range of projects, all based around the use of the great outdoors for  therapeutic purposes.  Friday was an opportunity to reconnect with old friends and make new ones from as far afield as Portugal, Italy, Switzerland, Slovenia and The Czech republic.

We began the day by meeting Sam Clarke from Blaby District Council, and John Beckett, leader at A Place to Grow in Enderby, where our visitors saw a large scale and well established community growing facility, hosting a wide range of growers, many with learning needs, but others simply enjoying the opportunity to engage in shared, creative activity in a beautiful space.

A Place To Grow is a free to use sustainable Community Garden with the purpose to support positive Health and Wellbeing. This is done by encouraging people to learn new things by producing and eating healthy food, being physically active, getting involved in the community and meeting new people in a friendly, informal and safe environment.  The site is aimed at supporting and encouraging those living with or affected by a health condition to enjoy the outdoors.

Erasmus Plus leics visit March 2018 Enderby aErasmus Plus leics visit March 2018 Enderby b

Our visitors were fascinated by the way in which this wonderful facility had been built up by local people, applying for funding and overcoming the challenge of an arson attack, to the point at which it can now sustain John’s Council funded post to coordinate and lead the site.  This was in stark contrast with the large, state funded projects we saw in Slovenia.







Our next stop was a total contrast, being a tiny community garden, behind Wigston Library, developed by local people and the LCC Adult Learning Service, with support from Leicestershire Master Gardeners.  Jayne Edwards, LCC’s Local Engagement Coordinator, was delighted to share the news that as a result of the success of this garden, her department will be introducing a new 30 week community gardening course as part of its portfolio of community courses.  The library will also be hosting a new Seed Exchange set up by Incredible Edible Oadby & Wigston, at which local people will be able to drop off their surplus seed and pick up new varieties.  This will make seed freely  available for community food growers in the area and will encourage growers to make use of the free educational resources in the library’s gardening section.  Our visitors heard about the impact that the garden has had on staff in the library as well as local people who come to grow there.  The evidence of engagement was clear in a very healthy looking compost bin, full of fruit waste and tea bags from the offices as well as garden weeds and waste paper.

Erasmus Plus leics visit March 2018 Wigston Library dErasmus Plus leics visit March 2018 Wigston Library bErasmus Plus leics visit March 2018 Wigston Library f


Wigston Library Garden Erasmus visit b










Our next stop was lunch at the Salvation Army in Wigston, followed by a visit to the Kennedy House Asylum Seekers’ Garden with project leader Chris Huscroft and Master Gardeners Malcolm Brown and Alan Pittam.  When we arrived, Alan was busy helping one of the residents to barrow a delivery of compost into the new greenhouse, supplied by John Lewis, and a succession of new raised beds, which are to be planted up with potatoes.  Crops of chillies, callaloo, an exotic leafy vegetable and tomatoes as well as African kale and middle eastern herbs are also planned, while garlic and broad beans are already well established.

Although initially a little overwhelmed by the arrival of so many strangers, the resident was soon part of a laughing, chatting crowd, all trying to communicate in various levels of English and German.  This informal language exchange is one of the key objectives of the garden, set up by the Oadby and Wigston Multi-cultural Group to promote integration between this often traumatised and very vulnerable group, and local residents.  Locals have volunteered to offer free English lessons every Thursday and these lessons are reinforced as residents work alongside others in the garden.  They also benefit from cycle maintenance courses, enabling them to make good use of the cycles that have been donated to the project to address their difficulties with transport.

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Our final stop of the day was at the Loughborough University student Landscaping and Gardening Society’s Garden (LAGS), supported by Master Gardeners Martha Worsching, Helen Burgess and Irene O’Malley.  The growers were hard at work as we arrived, planting potatoes but were happy to share their garden with the visitors.  Martha explained how the garden is particularly important for overseas students, who find in it a way to ‘put down some roots’ and feel at home.  The students work with Transition Loughborough to grow and cook their crops on the site and to spread the joy and health benefits of growing and cooking through lots of events.

Helen shared with them her work with the home-educated children’s group on this site, and with the 3 Close Tenants’ ‘Gardening Gang’ on a housing association estate in Loughborough, details of which can be found here.

The LAGS focus on sharing was apparent as members of the  group began appearing for their regular Friday afternoon gathering, bringing lots of goodies, from nuts and dried apple slices to Irene’s delicious dairy free brownies.  The kettle was put on in their capacious shed and, as the children of staff and postgraduate students ran around under the trees and explored the compost heaps, the European visitors mingled with the locals in another multi-lingual hum of conversation and the afternoon developed a party atmosphere; a fitting end to a wonderful day.

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Spring Has Sprung!

Spring is here and our volunteers are busy enjoying the spells between rain and snow to support our new  food growers.

In Wigston, Master Gardener Radha continues to support groups of students from South Leicestershire College who have been developing food growing areas at the Salvation Army Centre.  Last autumn they planted bulbs to form the Salvation Army’s logo, which is now showing in all it’s  bright yellow glory.  Last week they planted pallet collars donated by Toyota to create some new beds and spruced up old benches and tables with a lick of paint.

Radha is also working with a group of students on raised beds beside the barn at the Brocks Hill Country Park, where onions, garlic and chard are already well established.

S Leics College at Salvation Army Wigston  March 2018c logo in daffs S Leics College at Salvation Army Wigston  March 2018d

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We’re Recruiting Again!

We’re Recruiting Again!

Are you a keen gardener who just loves sharing your enthusiasm for food growing with other people?  Would you like to join a team of like-minded gardeners mentoring novice food growers in your area?  Are you already part of a food growing project and would like the extra support and training of being part of a county wide programme and a national charity?

We are recruiting for our  2018 induction course to be held on 12th & 13th May

As a programme that is funded by LCC Public Health, we are particularly focused on bringing the physical, emotional and social benefits of growing to the most vulnerable people in our county.  These range from pre-school children to older residents of sheltered housing, people with learning disabilities, visual impairments, mental health issues or those facing the challenges of food poverty or social isolation.  Have a look at our case studies on this site and our Facebook page to see what our volunteers are already involved with.

This year, we are looking to build up our teams in:

Hinckley & Bosworth,




For more information about the programme click here Volunteering With Leicestershire Master Gardeners May 2018

To submit an application click here.

For paper or emailed application documents, or to find out more, email our Coordinator, Alison McGrath at or phone 07584 343847


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Learning to Manage Pests and Diseases Organically

Last Saturday saw our largest in-service training day for our Master Gardener volunteers yet, with 26 of them gathering at Leicester Botanics for a day dedicated to learning about organic management of pests and diseases with Garden Organic’s horticulturalist and soil science expert, Anton Rosenfeld.

Despite the pouring rain and cold, and the less than attractive bugs and plant materials at the centre of the day, there was a general concensus that it was a thoroughly enjoyable and informative session.  One of our volunteers even chose to come and study slugs with us on her birthday!

We learned about the importance of using a wide range of organic practices to ensure that our soil and plants are in good shape to prevent or reduce attacks by pests and diseases, thus reducing the need to wade in with heavy controls once the problem has occurred.  Anton explained how avoiding high Nitrogen levels in the soil reduces the excessive lush growth that aphids love, and sticking to a well planned crop rotation prevents pests, viruses and the like building up in the soil.

Hoverfly larvaRecognising that not all ugly critters need to be squashed and that some are friends that eat pests or pollinate our crops was also an important lesson to learn.  Hoverfly larvae may look like caterpillars but they hoover up vast numbers of aphids.  Cabbage white caterpillars are also predated on by a wasp whose larvae eat it from the inside out and reprogram it to protect them from attacks.  For a gruesome insight into this micro-world that has inspired horror films like Alien, have a look at these amazing videos here

After lunch we braved the foul weather for a visit to the glasshouse, where we saw organic trapping methods in action and discussed the challenges and advantages of growing under cover where poor ventilation can favour fungal infections but a contained area can also allow the introduction of predatory species.

As ever, our volunteers had a great deal of experience and knowledge to share and there was much animated discussion both of their own tips and some interesting traditions passed down from grandparents.  Derek shared his grandfather’s tradition of planting potatoes on Good Friday with a dollop of soot and a piece of rhubarb in each hole and we learned that while the acid rhubarb may have helped against potato scab, the soot would have been full of heavy metals and therefore not such a great idea.  Ruth and a group of school children had been carrying out experiments with slugs, surrounding them with rings of various substances believed to create barriers.  She reported that they slithered across everything!

The day ended with the presentation of certificates to 10 of our volunteers, two of whom have clocked up more than 400 hours with us over 4 years.

Thanks to Anton for such a stimulating day, to Leicester Botanics for hosting us and to Zeph’s Café from Oadby for bringing us a delicious jacket potato and cake lunch to keep us going.


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A Right Royal Visit

A Right Royal Visit

On Friday, our Leicestershire Master Gardeners and their guests enjoyed a day trip to Highgrove Gardens, the home of Garden Organic’s patron HRH The Prince of Wales, as a thank you for all their hard work and enthusiasm in supporting new growers across the county.

HRH runs the estate on entirely organic principles and has created a beautiful and productive landscape, overflowing with beautiful ornamentals, trees, fruit and veg, interspersed with some surprising artistic touches.  Unfortunately, tight security regulations meant that we were unable to take any photographs, but we recommend an online search for ‘Highgrove Gardens images’ to see something of this beautiful estate.

Highlights include a magnificent walled kitchen garden divided by two huge apple tunnels, dripping with fruit and leading to a central dipping pond occupied by giant carp and pink water lilies.  The large asparagus beds and other vegetables are intermixed with flowers, from sweet peas to cannas, a veritable banquet for pollenating insects, and bordered by wide bands of African marigolds.

The central walkway leading to the back of the house features a thyme path, bordered by quirkily clipped yew shapes; the scent of thyme reached us even although we were not allowed to walk on the path.  A giant Magnolia grandiflora reaches to the third floor, covering several of the windows and a deep purple glory vine smothers the front of the house, trailing into the pathways and requiring HRH to push the fronds aside as he passes through his front door.  All through the gardens, formal clipped yew and box hedges contrast with the relaxed, organic approach to planting, in which flowers, ferns and grasses are allowed to intermingle and spill over edges rather than conforming to immaculately trimmed edges.  ,

A walk through a large flower meadow leads to a series of wooded gardens, including an arboretum and stumpery, a Victorian gardening feature through which wealthy gardeners displayed their collections of ferns and other shade loving plants.  Brightly coloured benches and gates are dotted throughout, drawing the visitor’s eye down long vistas and inviting entrances to hidden gardens.

Throughout the garden, HRH’s artistic interests are apparent in sculptures, doors, monuments and topiary, both commissioned by and gifted to him.  The Spirit of the Woods sits cross legged between two oak temples among the trees, but had apparently been less tranquil last summer when wasps nested under her bottom.  Highgrove reflects everywhere its status as a deeply personal project, from a large oak monument featuring a portrait of the Queen Mother, to a topiary elephant dedicated to the Duchess of Cornwall’s brother who died recently, or a young poplar planted by Prince George; HRH shares our view that you can’t start children gardening too young.

We finished with the exquisite Turkish Carpet Garden, designed by HRH and inspired by a carpet in Highgrove.  Its high walls surround columnar cypress trees and a magnificent central waterfall,, surrounded by bright mosaics, in which the water spills over into a series of bright turquoise tiled channels, descending in geometric patterns to the edge of the central carpet.  The garden is studded with highly scented and coloured  jewel like flowers, creating a wonderfully relaxing and enchanting space.

The day was over all too soon but the delights we had seen kept our volunteers and their guests chatting all the way home through the long, 3 hour journey.

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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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We’ve had our Contract Renewed and are Recruiting Again!

We’ve had our Contract Renewed and are Recruiting Again!

Hoorah!  Leicestershire Master Gardeners have been successful in bidding for the LCC Public Health food growing tender again.  In these difficult times, it’s a wonderful testament to the amazing work that our volunteers do, all around the county, and to the sheer power of growing to improve people’s lives.

We’re looking for new recruits to join our wonderful team and will be holding our next induction weekend on 20th and 21st May at a location to be confirmed, in Leicestershire.

If you are a food grower with a passion for sharing your experience and knowledge with others, get in touch with us to find out more about the programme and receive an application pack.

Click on Volunteering With Leicestershire Master Gardeners for more details about what it means to volunteer with us, and have a look around the website and our Facebook page to see what we have already done.

You don’t need to be a ‘Master Gardener’ to join us.  Some of our best volunteers have only a couple of years’ food growing experience, but can really relate to the new growers they support and are learning huge amounts about organic growing through their volunteering.  What we really need are those gardeners who love it so much they want the whole world to share.  Whether you prefer that sharing on a 1:1  basis with individuals, or love working with groups, whether your preference is working with small children, adults or older people there’s a role for you.

We are also looking for volunteers who can bring us other skills to the mix.  Maybe you re an IT whiz or are great with social media.  Are you unable to get out much but could help us from home?  Maybe you love writing, photography or filming and relish the chance to help us promote the work we do?

Over the next three years, we plan to develop our local teams and integrate them into their local food growing networks, building a community food growing support network across the county, with access to all the support and expertise that Garden Organic provides.  Get in touch with us now and become part of this exciting project.


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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!

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