A Community Gardener in Notts

Illustrations: Alex McDougall
Saturday 12 May 2018
reading time: min, words

The next installment in our series takes a green-fingered turn...


I’ve always been a gardener. I had an allotment in Sneinton and it evolved from there. I always thought I’d end up being a designer; I first came to the East Midlands to be a textile stylist and got a job with a company in Long Eaton but it folded, and that’s when I got into the gardening thing.

As well as designing gardens for schools and private clients, I do thirty hours a week at the community garden. Every day here is different, but it basically revolves around making sure everyone has a job to do. We grow, we weed, we clean out the chickens, that sort of thing. And we drink tea. Gardeners drink a lot of tea.

I work with people of all ages, from all different kinds of backgrounds. We have a weekly after-school club with a bunch of five- to eight-year olds, and we have people of all ages participate in our volunteer groups four times a week. I come across a real variety of people. Nottingham folk in all their guises, and interesting people from other countries. There’s such a wonderful plethora of people who come through the gate, because gardening is something you can communicate through even if you don’t speak the same language.

Anyone can come and get stuck in; if you can breathe, I’ll make you pick up a tool and work. There’s a chance for everyone to be involved, so I try to get everyone who comes along motivated, even if they don’t want to be outside. I must be doing something right, because a few of our volunteers have been coming back for years.

The thing I enjoy the most about my job is that it’s so varied; you don’t know what’s going to happen from one day to the next, which makes it fun. You have to have a lot of patience, which can be draining at times, but I work with a fantastic group of people, both staff and volunteers, so it’s always a laugh. The thing I dislike the most? That I’m not paid enough to own a Ferrari. Though I wouldn’t get a rake in one anyway, so it wouldn’t work.

All our fruit and vegetables are organically grown. We grow by the moon, too, which sounds a bit hippyish, but it basically means we use the cycles of the moon to influence our planting, sowing and harvesting. I think my favourite vegetable is the aubergine; they’re beautiful. They have beautiful flowers, too, but when you touch them they’re quite spikey, which keeps people off them. They grow the most lovely fruit; you can’t beat a baked aubergine, it’s one of my favourite dishes. So tasty.

We grow the things our community wants. If someone comes in and says, “I really want some mooli or doodhis,” then we’ll try and grow them. We draw the line at guava and pineapple, though we do have loads of fruit growing here, and we try to grow as much world food as we can. We grow things like callaloo, and pumpkins from all over the world. We have a big polytunnel so we can extend our growing season; we have lemons, peaches, apricots, chillies, tomatoes and all sorts in there.

Outside, we have things like sweetcorn, cabbage and squashes; all the things you might see in your regular fruit and veg garden. They’re all sold, too, and it’s really low cost. You can come and pick it with us out on the plot, or pick it off the trees. We sell to Sat Bains’ restaurant and deliver it there ourselves, too. If somewhere is within the city and we can cycle there, we’ll do it, though we try to say no if it’s an uphill route. If it’s not nailed down, we’ll sell it.

There are loads of things I’ve tried to grow and failed. Chickpeas were a complete and utter failure. My advice would be to buy them in tins, it’s much easier. Cabbages don’t do very well here, either. I love cabbage so much, but some of those spring cabbages look like spring weeds, so they don’t really work. There are lots of things now that we can’t grow because of various pests and diseases that have come up from the south. It’s the southerners’ fault that we have things like leek moss. I’m Welsh, and I can’t grow my own country’s vegetable, which I’m gutted about.

Prince Charles popped over to the gardens once, and I’ve never seen the place so tidy. They cut the trees and swept the streets in the Meadows about three times a week before he came. Then all these people I’d never met pretended to be our friends and turned up at the gardens – you know, Prince Charles fans – which I thought was really bizarre. Then he arrived and he was just really normal. Though he did have sausage fingers. That’s the main thing I remember about him; his fingers were like Cumberland sausages.

We won an award for our voluntary services, too. That was another royal thing, and that doesn’t mean I’m a royalist, but I did get to take some of my volunteers to the Queen’s Garden Party at Buckingham Palace. It was a great accolade, and was so good to be able to say “It’s because of you that we can do this.”

At the end of the day, when everyone’s gone, there’s a bench on the other side of the community garden’s building, and sometimes I just sit there and meditate. I need it sometimes, especially in the summer months when it’s crazy. I shut the gates at 6pm and take a few on me special bench. That, or go home and drink a beer in my own garden. Or a gin… I like gin.

On a personal level, I’d like to develop my garden design skills, but when it comes to these gardens, I just want them to remain here for the next fifteen to twenty years. A lot of community projects are dying because there’s no funding for them, but this one is so well-loved, looked after and known by so many, I just want it to survive, whether I’m here or not.

Arkwright Meadows Community Gardens, Kirkby Gardens, NG2 2HZ. 0115 986 7777

Arkwright Meadows Community Gardens website

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