Growing our own: Community gardens across Scotland
How gardening projects, communal growing plots and city farms are transforming diets, lives and communities
With waiting times for city allotments hitting eight years, community gardens are an increasingly popular way of accessing green space and learning to grow food, as well as turning often neglected patches of land into productive, social hubs. Hannah Ewan introduces four such gardens, and shows you where to look to get involved in the growing revolution
Industrial contamination left the site of this garden unsuitable for growing food, but the fact that it had been concreted over in the 1950s made it a perfect demo site for Sow and Grow Everywhere, a project based around movable raised beds in grow bags. Four years from its initiation, the garden includes a ‘mobile orchard’, with fruit trees grown in wheeled barrels, and a chicken coop built from an old shed for five ex-battery hens. Workshops and cookery courses attract new faces, with after-school clubs for primary children among other activities taking place.
‘It might not strike you as a good space for growing,’ says Garden Development Worker Paula McCabe, ‘but it has worked really well. Lots of areas around Possilpark rank worryingly high on indices of poor health and deprivation. It’s an area where people have not had the opportunity to engage in food. Food banks are opening up on a regular basis and fulfil a need, but at the same time are incredibly disempowering. Community food groups are coming at it from the more radical direction of people reclaiming control.’
Plans for 2014 include designing a pedal-powered compost sifter, and volunteer days to build a hatchery, as well as more of their popular pot-luck lunches and social dinners. ‘That aspect is really important to build relationships and community,’ believes McCabe. ‘It’s the stuff life is made of.’
Dunbar, East Lothian, EH42 1TR
In the grounds of Belhaven Hospital, this was one of the first community gardens of its type. The NHS has donated the land to community group Sustaining Dunbar for at least five years; it pays for some plants and materials and sits on the working group, but otherwise the garden’s members have free rein. Even so, development is approached very sensitively: the first area to be completed was a sensory garden for hospital patients and staff, and the whole garden is designed for wheelchair accessibility.
‘Gardens are encouraged for therapeutic reasons,’ says Project Facilitator Sue Guy. ‘The NHS can’t do it themselves because they don’t have the resources, and lots of groups are looking for space so it works on two levels. Many people want to grow more food but don’t have the confidence or the land to do so.’
The hospital’s day room overlooks a large orchard of fruit and nut trees, planted in 2012 to border land that was previously dog-walking scrubland. A polytunnel went up in 2013 and hosts workshops as well as plants, and there are eight raised beds, with another eight planned.
‘In the first instance hospital residents and staff can help themselves to produce,’ says Guy, ‘as can volunteers. Kids come in saying ‘Mum sent me for a cucumber’ and leave 5p, and we sell from [local greengrocer] the Crunchy Carrot with proceeds going back to the garden. In time the garden will need to tick itself over – we would love to be able to sell herbs to local restaurants.’
St Fittick’s Community Garden / Roots & Shoots
Torry, Aberdeen, AB11 8TN
At the time of writing, St Fittick’s Garden is simply nine empty raised beds, yet it is a powerful example of the ripple effect that food and gardening can have in creating change. Constructed by the ex-offenders of the Roots & Shoots programme, until 2012 the garden was an council yard. Roots & Shoots is a partnership programme lead by the charity Aberdeen Forward that aims to give participants skills and employment opportunities over a six-month unpaid placement. Gardening is just one aspect of the programme, which also teaches construction, first aid, logistics, cooking and a whole range of other skills.
Basic horticultural training starts at the prison garden, where pupils learn to grow fruit and vegetables. Training continues on release, working on projects such as St Fittick’s Garden: when finished the plots will be adopted by local community groups and schools.
Having demolished the buildings at St Fittick’s, cleared and levelled the six-acre site and planted 140 trees, they’ll start one of the beds off to show newcomers what can be grown, using seeds donated by the Fife Diet’s Seed Truck.
‘The lads also maintain the allotments at Easter Anguston,’ explains Project Supervisor Andy Devine, ‘and they have two plots there to grow their own produce, which they learnt to cook with on a Love Food Hate Waste course.’
Around 25 participants have come through the course so far: several have found full time employment, and more have gone on to further training.
Gorgie City Farm, Edinburgh, EH11 2LA
Part of Scotland’s only city farm, the well-established community gardens at Gorgie include wildlife, education, sensory and vegetable gardens, several greenhouses and a polytunnel. The working farm has a mostly self-contained system: manure from the livestock is spread on the garden, and the crops are supplied to the farm’s café, as well as taken home by volunteers and sold to visitors from a stall to raise money for running costs.
Volunteers at the regular gardening groups sign up for a period of time – sometimes years – but one-off events are held that anyone can attend. ‘We ran a ‘Fork to Fork’ project recently,’ says Garden Project Manager Tracy Cudworth, ‘where people came to the farm and went through the whole process from growing to harvest to cookery classes.
‘We really want to encourage people to get growing; it doesn’t matter if you have a very big plot or a window box. The health benefits of working outside and with plants are wonderful. Physical activity is key: you can sit in a classroom or read books, but it’s a different experience when you get your hands dirty.’
2014 will see the wildlife garden redeveloped, and the building of a keyhole garden – an African design intended to demonstrate different farming methods from around the world. Beehives have just been introduced to the farm, and the hope is to add a second colony to the renovated wildlife garden.
Find your nearest community garden
(Linked names lead to main entry including locator map and further information)
Haddington, East Lothian, EH41 4QE, amisfield.org.uk
An eight-acre walled garden built in the 1780s, a restoration project has been underway at Amisfield for some years. Some areas are used for vegetable growing, and anyone can volunteer throughout the garden.
Campbeltown Community Orchard & Garden
Campbeltown, Argyll, PA28 6EN ccog.org.uk
Anyone can come along and volunteer, visit or buy produce from this community garden, which has a children’s play area and picnic area with views of the loch.
Good For Ewe
Inverasdale, Highland, IV22 2LR, goodforewe.org
Allotments are available for rent, both outdoors and in polytunnels. A specially adapted plot is wheelchair accessible, and The Shieling Project is a communal area for those not keen on taking on a plot of their own.
Arbroath, Angus, DD11 2NH, hopegardentrust.org.uk
Giving adults with learning difficulties the opportunity to train and work producing vegetables and fruit: read The List’s feature on Bringing HOPE to Angus: Hospitalfield's organic garden.
Loch na Mhoid Community Garden
A community garden for anyone to come along to and grow their own food, with a community polytunnel, summerhouse and all tools provided.
Royal Edinburgh Community Gardens
Edinburgh, EH10 5HF, royaledinburghcommunitygardens.org.uk
Another NHS garden, run by The Cyrenians, in the grounds of the Royal Edinburgh Hospital in Morningside.
Find more gardens at the Federation of City Farms & Community Gardens’ website.