Day in the life of a garden volunteer

One of our garden volunteers, Nick Cooper, shares what just one sunny spring day had in store for him at Winterbourne.

The journey down the canal towpath to Winterbourne, and the fresh breeze whistling past, wakes me up on a Monday morning and brushes away the remnants of any weekend indulgences. I climb the steps from the canal and head towards Winterbourne.

The first task on arrival, apart from exchanging cheery greetings with colleagues in the car park, is to inspect the list of jobs that Dan, the head gardener, has assigned to us. This is usually a source of mild excitement. On this particular day, I learn that my first engagement is with fellow volunteers in the walled garden, where our mission is to tidy the borders and deadhead some of the plants.

At Winterbourne, the gardening team like to keep the walled garden looking good for as long as possible over the winter by retaining any elegant plant stems and seed heads that are still standing. Ultimately though, as we head into early spring, these remnants of the previous season become shabby and begin to break up or fall over, so we cut them out and consign them to the compost heap.

The walled garden is a great place to be on a bright spring morning. Several of us are assigned to the same task and there is relaxed chatter as we proceed with the work, pausing occasionally to discuss whether a particular set of seed heads are tatty enough to be given the chop. As I remove the old plant stems, I find new shoots poking out of the ground as the plants prepare for the next season’s growth.

One of the many pleasures of working in the garden at Winterbourne is that you get to know the plants very well and learn to recognise them at different times of year, instead of just during the periods when they are flowering. I have spent far too much of my life growing vegetables, so I especially value this opportunity to improve my knowledge of decorative plants. The staff are always happy to share their knowledge and most of the other volunteers need very little excuse to start talking about gardening.

The spring sunshine and unexpected warmth today has attracted quite a few visitors to the garden. We often get to know the regulars and they will occasionally stop for a chat, weather permitting. I am often touched by the affection that many visitors have for Winterbourne. It is a part of their lives as much as it is a part of ours, and they love to come back again and again as it changes with the seasons.

11 o’clock arrives and, with the bongs of Old Joe in the background, we hasten to the volunteers’ room for a break and a cup of tea. I always look forward to breaktime; there is a very good atmosphere among the volunteers. We like to put the world to rights, mull over the highs and lows of life, and even have the odd spirited debate.

Next, we head to the arboretum where Dan has asked us to get on with some edging and weeding. This is a real ‘bread and butter’ task of a Winterbourne volunteer, which regularly appears on our list. There are an awful lot of edges at Winterbourne that need trimming every few weeks, but this is a lot more satisfying than you would think, especially with the nice new edging shears that have appeared in the tool shed in recent months. With a little weeding here and there, the result is usually quite pleasing to the eye.

The sun is still shining and we spread out around the arboretum, the positions of the other volunteers marked by their wheelbarrows parked on the grass beside them. As the visitors continue to throng around us, the weeds retreat, the edges become neat once again, and another glorious morning at Winterbourne draws to an end.

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