Monday, 28 June 2010

Community kitchen gardening and the National Gardens Scheme Open Day

With the hot weather, growing, watering, preparations for the Open Day and only a few weeks left of my daughter's first year of school - we've been run off our feet and I'm just catching up with the posting of some Open Day pictures. All in all it was a successful day. Our allotments association tells me we raised £750 on the gate which goes to the National Gardens Scheme - Claire House raised £450 on refreshments and said it was 'one of their best events yet' and the plant stall raised £250 which our allotment society keeps and which will be used for projects and improvements around the colony.

Readers will know by now - this is "Questioner's Garden Time" - I'm not in the business of spin - so this post includes some comments on where we've been and how far we have yet to go in terms of developing community gardening (an organic community gardening) in our area.

Our site must be one of the largest urban sites in the U.K. Our plot is turning into a bit of a show plot for organic gardening on site. It really is very pretty now. We found ourselves on the main thoroughfare on the Open Day and welcomed hundreds of visitors, including our Lord Mayor Councillor Neil Ritchie. I spent at least ten minutes talking to the Mayor and the First Lady about how we had converted our allotment plot organically from derelict four years ago. I'd tied some photographs to one of our apple trees along with some blog posts from this blog. I don't have a photograph of the Lord Mayor as he wanted to take a photograph with his own camera and the dignitories seemed to be enjoying themselves so much on the day I didn't like to intrude too much.

Perhaps the message is finally getting through to Cheshire West and Chester Council that community gardening is something that is particularly important for the welfare of citizens on the ground.

We've had some good news about the Council having completed a site visit in preparation for the installation of our composting toilet. The site is large - regular plot holders cope with squatting-in-a-shed-with-a-bucket on a day-to-day basis but if we are to hold public events like this we need better facilities.

In my conversation with the Lord Mayor I stressed the benefits of gardening organically - especially for families with children - (i.e it changes their eating habits for the better), pointing out that we were enjoying our plot that day with three generations of family.

However, there are still pressing issues that need to be tackled. There are lots of issues which create extra work and make life more difficult for plot holder families with disabilities like us. (There are no wheel-chair friendly plots on site and access is often a challenge for people).

 Before the Mayor left I made sure I also pointed out the derelict plot right next door to our half-plot.

This was the view from our half plot to the plot right beside it. Readers may recall this plot has been in this state for more than a year now. (See this blog post from last year's Open Day). There are around a dozen other plots elsewhere on our site like this and I've lost count of the number of conversations I've had with other plot holders about possible reasons why the plots are allowed to fall into disrepair like this. I explained to the Lord Mayor that having a plot like this next door to you - undermines your efforts to keep your own in good order - simply because you are constantly confronted with weed seeds that are blown over to your own plot. (If you have to manage fatigue as part of managing a disability then that's a serious issue).

Lack of maintenance on this plot has also undermined my efforts to garden organically. The plot and the paths are so overgrown that a neighbour has sprayed them with pesticides in desperation. I'm aware that my compost heaps are just next door to this path.

I'm still not sure what the problem is here - when  a plot-holder has difficulty keeping up their plot - perhaps due to a disability or family circumstance - are the Council too slow to offer assistance? We have a waiting list now, and theoretically there shouldn't be any vacant plots - but there still seem to be plots in disrepair.

Put yourself in the shoes of someone who is looking for a plot - if you were offered the one in the picture, would YOU take it? I mean our plot looked like that and I single-handedly converted it from derelict, but I don't think there are many people will the skills (or the bout of madness) that was necessary to  even attempt this. Surely the Council should be making it much easier for people to grow their own? 

So all in all - it's nice to be featured on the National Gardens Scheme programme as an demonstration organic plot, but despite the hard work, the fun we had and the money raised for good causes - the Open Day doesn't seem to have changed very much about the day-to-day problems we have on the ground.   

I'm going to close with some good news. As most of us did - our bee man worked very hard talking to Open Day visitors on site. I'm very happy to say that due to the presence of his three hives, yields of soft and tree fruit and vegetables have increased in the last year. Here are some more pictures of the hives, the cage he has constructed for them, the flowers he planted around the cages and the lovely posters he put up for Open Day.

And two pictures of the hives:

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