This month we’ve asked our garden volunteer Mike to say a few words about how he’s been gardening during lockdown.
Hello, I’m Mike and I have been volunteering in the Winterbourne garden for almost ten years now. Dan has asked me to contribute a few words about gardening through lockdown(s) as part of National Garden month, which prompted me to consider what difference the restrictions have made to my gardening activities, and those of my neighbours, over the past 12 months.
I am very lucky. Not only do I have a fair sized garden which could happily keep me occupied most of the time; I also have an allotment, and have helped to set up and maintain the Nettlefold Garden, a community pocket park on the Moor Pool estate, as well as volunteering on the Harborne Nature Reserve across the road from where I live – so no chance of getting bored. Seeds are always bulk bought via the allotment each autumn, so I was well stocked with them as garden centres shut down last year, and compost was available via the allotment shop. While group work parties at the Nettlefold Garden and the Nature Reserve were put on hold for several months, I could still carry on with maintenance on my own while having socially distanced chats with local residents. Coupled with the great weather we had last Spring, it meant that most of my activities carried on as normal.
So what was different? Social contacts were banned or restricted for much of the year, so there were far fewer opportunities to show friends round the garden. Volunteering at Winterbourne was stopped or has been severely restricted for the last 12 months, so no weekly catch ups with the gardeners and other volunteers. I also missed the chance to chat with visitors, particularly first timers. But the worst thing, particularly during the first lockdown last Spring, was the unknown. We had little idea how bad things would get for the NHS, there was panic buying in the shops, and the economy was shutting down.
In these circumstances the opportunity to get out in the garden or the allotment, see plants growing and just get away from the news was a real relief. Nature didn’t care about the pandemic; trees came into leaf, blossom came out and the pests did their best to eat my vegetables just as they always do. Being able to potter round the garden pulling up weeds, mowing the lawns and watching the birds scoffing sunflower hearts, or watering and weeding on the allotment, was the best therapy against the worries of everyday life. And of course, with extra time available, various projects involving clearing and reorganising parts of the garden could now proceed – nothing like an afternoon of digging and planting to promote a good night’s sleep.
And the allotment site has never looked more cared for – my plot included! Plots were being snapped up and a waiting list developed. Most new plot holders had some gardening experience, though the reality of looking after vegetables did prove too much for some, particularly as people returned to work. Those neighbours who did not want to take on an allotment decided instead to sacrifice a bit of lawn or flower bed, and grew fruit and vegetables – a real Dig for Victory. A thriving exchange scheme organised through the Road’s WhatsApp group soon developed, with seeds, young plants and even fruit bushes being put out in front gardens for collection. Later in the year surplus vegetables (including my runner beans, which had a very good year) and fruit appeared on drives.
While work on the Nature Reserve is not strictly gardening, we have been planting a lot of wild flowers, creating new paths and cutting back fallen trees, garden work on a grand scale. Our efforts were certainly appreciated by an increased number of visitors, and the massed snowdrops and wild daffodils were a welcome sight, particularly this year as we came out of a locked down and colder winter.
So, a mixed year but on the gardening front, in most areas a positive one. The garden and allotment are in a better state than before, and we can look forward, in the not too distant future, to sharing our efforts with friends and family – and of course enjoying coffee and cake in Winterbourne’s tea room!