A year in the life of a Community Gardener

Community Gardener Rosie Linford looks back on a year of parsnips, Snake’s heads and tea.

This month marks the end of my first year working for the Food Partnership as a Community Gardener. It’s been a fairly new role for me having spent most of my professional career so far doing office based jobs with a bit of outdoor work on the side. Now that I run three gardening groups, and get to spend much more time outside, I’m a lot happier.

The groups I run: Roots and Boots, Saunders Park Edible Garden and supporting an existing garden at a local homeless hostel, are mostly for people that struggle with their mental health or have had issues with drug/alcohol addictions or homelessness. They come along to the gardening groups for various reasons but mostly because it improves their wellbeing in some way. They enjoy the groups so much there is usually lots of disappointment when sessions have been rained off or put on hold over winter.

Looking back at photos from the last year, it’s really lovely to see the different seasons and it makes me feel grateful we have such an interesting natural world all around us. We harvested amazing parsnips last December, it feels strange to see a photo of the plot in winter whilst the sun is shining outside and I’m in a t-shirt.

One of my highlights has been the feedback from participants. The Roots and Boots group in particular has really has helped to make a positive impact on people’s lives and is the main reason I enjoy this job so much.

As a gardener without a car there have been challenges. I have chatted to lots of intrigued taxi drivers helping me transport trays of plants all across the city, especially some trays of Snake’s-head Fritillaries that were donated in the spring. I’m lucky my colleagues didn’t mind the jungle-style takeover of my corner of the office for a day.

I’ve learned the more I know about gardening, the more I know I don’t know.  I’ve never claimed to be an expert in growing fruit and veg and have definitely learned lots in this last year. However it can be daunting armed with an increasing knowledge of what plants need, the effects of drought, their need for nutrients and the right kind of soil etc and if I’m not careful, the fear of getting it wrong can make me stick to easy jobs and familiar plants. However I’ve also learned the resilience of plants and that in general, they want to grow. Particularly at Saunders Park I’ve learned to treat everything as an experiment and remind myself it’s more about the process than the end result. And if plants die, there’s always next year.

I’ve also learned to appreciate how much work goes on behind the scenes in running projects like this and am very grateful for a wonderful team and manager who help to make this all happen: from funding applications to processing referrals and making lots of tea. Speaking of, I had never realised how much tea was such an important part of gardening; I’ve never drunk so much tea in my life. I should probably go and put the kettle on now…

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