Seven local groups from Salford have been chosen to ‘take over’ a brand new garden where they will develop their growing skills together.
The Community Grow garden at RHS Garden Bridgewater is a first for the Royal Horticultural Society, where a purpose built space has been created for people from the community to use and grow whatever they choose.
In a radical departure from traditional allotments where people garden individually, the specially-designed garden features hexagonal raised beds to bring people together to work collaboratively, make friends and get gardening experience.
The groups taking part in the scheme are all local to the garden and come from a range of backgrounds and ages.
Most have limited gardening experience and have never grown their own food before.
They are: secondary school pupils from Co-op Academy, Manchester and Co-op Academy, Walkden; Salford Loaves and Fishes; The Yemeni Community Association Greater Manchester; Salford Foundation Women’s Centre; Central YMCA, Salford; andSocial adVentures, a social enterprise who run Kids adVentures childcare nurseries and forest schools.
Pupils from Co-op Academy, Walkden were the first to visit the garden this week and teacher Thomas McAndrew shared the group’s reaction.
“The pupils were blown away by the size of the gardening scheme and the huge meticulous lawn with giant spherical shrubs,” he said.
“Comments I heard were, ‘I can’t believe that lawn, it’s better than the Etihad stadium!’ They were keen to ask if they could visit again.
“They enjoyed planting the vegetables, leeks, red and white cabbage and were excited to see their school plots.
“In fact I have never seen them so quiet and in awe of being in such a beautiful place.
“All the pupils learned something very personal in such a short space of time as they interacted with adults from outside school and they felt welcome.
“They are excited to be going again next week and I feel that the link with the RHS will broaden their experience of the world outside of school and home and will generate personal confidence.”
Another group of younger children are visiting this week and Kate Simpson from Social adVentures shared her hopes for the project.
“Kids adVenture has an outdoor ethos but at our Salford nursery on Chapel Street we’re really limited with any growing space,” she said.
“Although our children are just 4 and 5 years old they have a great love for learning and finding out where their food comes from.
“We’re really excited about the opportunities that visiting RHS Bridgewater and Community Grow will give them in terms of both learning about growing and food but also social skills and boosting their confidence.
“And bringing that knowledge and enthusiasm back to nursery and their own families.”
Each group has their own designated plot in Community Grow, which they will come in and work on weekly with support from the RHS horticulture team, apprentices and volunteers.
Chloe Ellis is a RHS horticulturist leading the project and has a background in community gardening.
“For me the most exciting thing about Community Grow is giving people the opportunity to grow food, especially people who don’t have a garden of their own,” she said.
“The mix of people is also really good, we have a range of ages and life experiences.
“I’d love to see people meet and become friends with people who they would never otherwise get to know in everyday life.
“We’re here to support our community gardeners but my hope is that we become less needed as their confidence and skills grow and they take real ownership of the space.
“It’s quite experimental too, so in a year from now who knows what transformation will have taken place – both in the garden and in the groups who are participating.”
The Community Grow area, the Community Wellbeing Garden and Peel Learning Garden are just some of the community-focused spaces that can also be found at RHS Garden Bridgewater which will open its gates on 18th May 2021.
The 154-acre RHS Garden Bridgewater garden is the biggest hands-on horticultural project undertaken in Europe since planning permission was granted in 2017.
Community Grow sits within the Weston Walled Garden, the jewel in the crown of RHS Garden Bridgewater and home to the spectacular Paradise Garden by renowned landscape architect Tom Stuart-Smith.
The nearby Kitchen Garden by award-winning Harris Bugg Studio showcases a variety of productive growing techniques and both familiar and more unusual edibles.