Gardening in the Park

by frankbeswick

Volunteering in the local park in my home town has been a boon for me at a difficult time in my life.

Victoria Park, in Stretford is a thriving urban green space with a range of activities going on. I volunteer in the gardening for health group, and as I have a chronic health issue I really need it. I garden in a supportive community. My fellow gardeners are friendly and helpful, and the managers do their best to accommodate my physical limitations. At a time in my life when illness had forced me to surrender my allotment the gardening group has enabled me to do socially useful work in an field that I love and in which I am skilled. I am happy in my gardening.

Photo courtesy of Sarah Gregory

A Green Flag

I arrived one Wednesday morning at Victoria Park, Stretford, a park two streets away from my house, to do my normal Wednesday morning's volunteer gardening and was told by Sarah, one of the gardening managers, that we had a flag hoisting ceremony and were having our picture taken. Now, I  am not a celebrity, so no paparazzi habitually follow me, so I asked why. Sarah, who like all the park staff is a lovely person, informed me that the park had been awarded a coveted green flag, which is awarded only to parks and community green spaces of the highest standard. Don't congratulate me, I had only been a volunteer for a few weeks, the hard work had been  done by others, but I lined up with the rest and had  a photo in which I was partially obscured on the second row. But though I had no grounds for pride I was delighted for my colleagues  and was happy to have linked up with an organisation that was friendly, socially useful and thoroughly competent. I had joined a group who enabled me to perform an enjoyable activity in which I can use my gardening skills and knowledge in the company  of good people. Moreover, they recognize and cater for my disability, Parkinson's Disease, and make me feel welcome.

A few months ago I was snatching some exercise in the park, doing half a mile, all that I could manage as I waited for an appointment with a neurologist, who would be able to prescribe suitable medication. I was at a loose end, having been forced by my health to give up my allotment. But blessings come unexpectedly, this time in the shape of Christine, Chris for short, a close friend of my wife. She is a trustee of Friends of Victoria Park, and knew my situation. Why not join the Gardening for Health group that meets on Wednesday mornings, she suggested. I  tentatively agreed, but as it was already Thursday I had six days to wait.  

The following Wednesday I turned up at the park. "Meet at the bowling green near the small cafe. You will be able to see the greenhouses." I followed the instruction and soon met Nancy, Sarah and Caroline, who take responsibility for the gardening projects. I explained the situation and they were friendly and supportive. We got to work  immediately trimming rose bushes and getting rid of one pest plant, self-seeded sycamore. I was having a good day, I was back gardening and had found new friends.

The managers adjust my jobs to my limitations. They bring me a chair so that I can sit while pruning bushes and take a break when tired. I have not been expected to perform heavy tasks such as digging, but I perform tasks that involve skill, such as "potting on" lilac plants, which I did this week; and my knowledge of plants is greatly valued.  That I am physically limited saddens me, as  I have always done my share of heavy work, but we all have to adjust to circumstances.

Flowers

flowers
flowers
Sarah Gregory

What We Do

The park is not the largest community space in our town, but it makes use of  the limited area available. There is a range of facilities, such as a nice little cafe staffed by some friendly women, two children's playgrounds and other facilities, but there is a well-tended range of gardens. Flower beds produce a display during the growing season, but there is  a  range of trees and shrubs, including gingko and redwood, all of which contribute  to a pleasant ambience. Large, grassy areas provide  space for games and picnics. The park is tended by a small team of mobile gardeners, but our group is a voluntary band who help out, though we have our own projects.

 We have some dedicated facilities: the compound, where we store the shipping containers which hold the tools, and where we keep the compost heap and leaf mould bins; and there is also a large brick potting shed, where we can work under cover in our not too clement weather. We also have three small greenhouses where we grow seedlings and peppers for the park cafe, whose friendly manager, Angela, and her staff delight in homegrown produce. The  indoor facilities proved invaluable this cold and wet November week when we made wreaths for Christmas from cuttings from trees in the park. I struggled,  as my illness affects my dexterity, but I was helped by the patient Sarah. The indoor space can be used at tea and biscuit time, important social time where I have met new friends. 

In my time there I have maintained roses and flower beds, dead-heading flowers, a task essential for continued floral displays. Without deadheading, snipping off decaying flowerheads, the plant will refuse to produce new flowers, so continued display of roses is maintained by this easy, but time -consuming task. I have spent time trimming dead branches from shrubs. Derek, a fellow volunteer, and I spent half a morning weeding the gabions, large dry-stone raised beds,  in the herb garden, where we grow  mint and borage. Weeding is a never-ending task. Also folks, remember that in England it is Autumn, Fall in American usage, so the deciduous trees shed their russet-coloured treasury of leaves, so we volunteers do our share of path clearance, but  we do not use leaf blowers, as they  are ecologically wasteful. The leaves are collected and stored in leaf-mould bins, made of  steel mesh, and situated in the compound. The gardening group plants all its own seeds and seedlings. We also water the seedlings in the greenhouses.

 

 

More Views of the Park
More Views of the Park
Sarah Gregory

Projects

There is one project from which health and safety excludes me, the roof garden, which adorns the top of a large shipping container in the compound. Access is by ladder, but my balance issues render my access risky. The roof supports low-growing plants like sedums. Okay, I cannot access the roof, but I  can play my part by growing seedlings for the roof when they are needed. This is something that I can do in the future  in the greenhouses, if required.

One project that I love is the greenhouses. We  have three small walk-in greenhouses [glasshouses] in  which we grow seedlings and vegetables. After I had spent some sessions tidying them, aided by volunteers Geoff and Derek, Sarah asked me to become greenhouse manager. I was delighted to agree. We are planning to grow tomatoes and peppers, but true to good old-fashioned gardening tradition in British country houses that gardener works with cook, I had a word with Angela in the cafe to decide what  sort of tomatoes to grow. She wants a large number of small ones spread throughout the summer rather than a few big ones. We will endeavour to give her what she wants.

We also use the greenhouses for seedlings. Last year the group worked with children from the local school to plant sunflower seeds, but slugs  ate the seedlings, so this year we are trying it again, but the challenge is to put in place  some slug protection, maybe   salt  or non-toxic pellets, which work by gumming up the slugs' digestive systems.

We are planning to build a hugel  in the compound. This is a crop-growing mound used much in the Alps for vegetables. The management want to site it in the compound, where there is unused space, and they are seeking  funding for it. The hugel, which we hope to build in Spring, will not be the first in Stretford, for I once had one, but we hope that it will  get us some publicity and add to our green credentials. It will also provide food for the cafe. We are thinking of leeks and onions and maybe salad vegetables. 

There has been talk of our planting some dwarf apple trees near one of the park's gates. This would be in keeping with the environmentalist move towards edible landscaping. But that is looking ahead to next year.

I  have spoken of my colleagues by name, but some have yet to be mentioned. Jane and Shelley, the two senior managers, have made my experience a positive one. Volunteers yet to be mentioned are Andy and Alan, Becky and Kerry, whose friendly and helpful attitudes contribute to the ethos of the team.

In the Greenhouse

Picture courtesy of Sarah Gregory
Flowers
Flowers
Updated: 12/08/2021, frankbeswick
 
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Veronica on 12/12/2021

You and your oldest son are both green-fingered, qualified and talented. I pay someone to do my garden for me!
Quite right they choose you for the photo. You will contrast so well with the beauty of the park! :)

frankbeswick on 12/12/2021

It is very pleasant and is near my house. This means that I do not have to drive, and this is important as my illness has meant that my doctor has banned me from driving. I have committed no crime, but my reactions are too slow for me to drive safely.

blackspanielgallery on 12/11/2021

It appears you have found a pleasant activity. Sorry I am late in commenting, I have a writing assignment that has consumed my time. It is for a publisher and not for here. Physics is not often a wizzley topic.

frankbeswick on 12/11/2021

The brush has stiff bristles. We have a range of rakes available, and people choose the one that they prefer.

DerdriuMarriner on 12/11/2021

Thank you! Last two questions, I promise ;-D: what kind of brush do you use? What kind of rake do you use? Oops, third question, or second part to my second question: Is the rake what the article 15 Different Types of Rakes and Their Uses by Trees.com staff (https://www.trees.com/gardening-and-l...) Sep. 10, 2021, calls landscape, lawn or leaf? I use what the article calls garden, shrub or stone rake.

frankbeswick on 12/10/2021

Runner bean, Candy. Candy is a variety of runner bean.

We brush up leaves from the paths and use shovels to get them into bags. Rakes are also used.

DerdriuMarriner on 12/10/2021

Frank, What are the two words between "runner" and the date "29/4"?

And how can you use a shovel for collecting leaves? I sometimes use my hands to collect lawn leaves, if there's a lot of wildlife around, like until the first weekend of November it's fireflies (Photinus pyralis) or since November it's the woolly bear caterpillar stage of the Isabella tiger moth (Pyrrharctia isabella).

Otherwise, I use a rake that's known on this side of the pond as garden, shrub or stone rake.

frankbeswick on 12/08/2021

Derdriu
1: Leaf collecting is done with shovels and bags
2: The building is a metal shipping container about ten feet tall. There are no internal stairs.
3: The writing reads 29/4, meaning 29th day of April. European usage differs here from American. I cannot make out the word before the date, but I think that it might denote the variety of bean.
4:Lawn care is done by the council gardeners, not us. We weed under the big trees at times, but don't clear the lawn.
5: We in England are very short of old, large elms since Dutch Elm disease ravaged elms. It kills elms above a certain age, so few elms live to grow large.

DerdriuMarriner on 12/08/2021

frankbeswick, Thank you for product lines, pretty pictures and practical information.
You are amazing the way you keep up your commitment to plants, as is the park for raising atmospheric oxygen, reducing atmospheric carbon dioxide and supplying aesthetic, edible, fragrant gardening.
What do you use to collect leaves since -- hooray -- you don't use leaf blowers?
Roof gardening is a favorite of mine. How tall is the building? Is there no access -- such as interior elevator or stairway -- other than by ladder?
European script usually poses no problems for me. But the last image possesses a plant ID with the words "runner" followed by two words, of which perhaps the second ends in a "y" and then two numbers of which I think the second is a "4".

In another, somewhat related direction because it's about gardening and lawn care, what do you do about trees, such as elms and maples, that heave their roots? Do you keep grass and ornamentals right up to the trunk or do you keep the area clear from trunk to drip line? I like to keep the ground clear so I hand-weed around them.

frankbeswick on 12/08/2021

Thanks.


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