Chris Evans, The Butterfly Garden, Cheltenham
From the outside, Dundry Nurseries looks like any other out-of-town garden centre, promoting their winter pansies and Christmas bulbs, with an on-site pet shop and café. Inside, however, go through the shop, past raised beds packed full of seasonal plants, through a gap in the hedge, and you’re in another world – the Butterfly Garden.
This educational gardening and land skills charity, launched in 2002, is run for students of all ages and disablements. Working outside or undercover in greenhouses, gardening brings students out into the daylight. The first six were autistic, but now up to 30 students a day can turn up from anywhere, either referred by authorities or having heard about the project on the grapevine. There are people with Down’s syndrome, cerebral palsy, trauma, mental health problems and refugees with disabilities. It is a safe place where there is no prejudice, a real community.
No one pays to come to the Butterfly Garden, and no one gets paid. Volunteers come from far and wide. Some are curious neighbours, catching a glimpse, and are then hooked. Others, like Liz Fallon, are ex-teachers or horticulturists. Liz used to volunteer through Thrive, helping one day a week, now she spends her whole working week here.
Another, Judy Mitchell, explains the special appeal of the Butterfly Garden. “This place is fantastic. Time and effort is spent finding out what’s right for students. Initially, it’s gardening or recycling, but if that doesn’t suit, we find them something else they enjoy. It’s a place where everyone gets the chance to shine.”
Overseeing the whole, is an extraordinary ring master, Chris Evans. Endlessly affable, he has loved gardening since he was nine, and never questioned following his father and grandfather into the business. He has never been interested in chasing profits. Fifty years on, he says: “I got the cake with this business, but it’s the Butterfly Garden that’s the icing.”
Unfettered by the strangleholds of bureaucracy, while his staff carry on with the day-to-day running of the nursery, Chris spends his time listening and reassuring, creating a safe haven for his community, and in his spare time, fundraising. A new purpose-built venue and classroom was opened recently by the Duchess of Gloucester. It offers massage, belly dancing, cooking, knitting and drumming lessons in the warm and dry. Some of the students propagate shrubs that wholesale to this and other businesses.
While Chris and I chat in the cosy café, run by trustee Sue Dove, students wander in and out, interested in our conversation, interrupting and adding their opinions.
Everyone is listened to and respected. I meet Eid Hijazi, originally from Dubai, who has learning difficulties, but calmly helped organise the group and props for our photos. He loves propagating and pruning, describing himself as “Alan Titchmarsh”.
Matthew Bush, who is 24 and enjoys strimming and digging, helped turn the derelict two-acre plot next door into a meadow, pond and wildlife area. Dressed in orange overalls, he’s ambitious to learn to use the chainsaw, and will be first in the queue for one of Chris’s future schemes – driving lessons.
Chris says many people with disablements, when offered encouragement and training, become very good indeed at the things they are good at. This attitude has changed hundreds of people’s lives for the better, and he’s repaid with the knowledge that they are either happy to stay with him or, with boosted confidence, have moved on to other things.
I imagine that everyone who visits the Butterfly Garden – customers, staff, volunteers, even passing visitors like myself, and of course students – leaves feeling better. This is how care in the community should work, but it needs enablers like Chris Evans to make it happen, and Chris is a very rare bird indeed.
The judges said:
Richard Reynolds: “A strong example of obsessive passion, encouraging endorsement from others.”
Richard Vine: “An incredible act of giving.”
Tim Richardson: “Particularly impressive, A social entrepreneur who sees a need and creates from scratch.”
A progressive prison in Wales and a London community with a violent past
HMP Parc, Bridgend, WalesBRIDGEND, WALES
Inside the concrete walls that surround HMP Parc, it’s a surprise to find all the available green space has been transformed into well-regimented flower and vegetable beds. The gardens are maintained by prisoners as part of the practical side of vocational courses, under the guidance of horticultural instructor Gareth John, and retired head of security Mike Thomas. But working in the garden is not a soft option.
Prisoners put in a 40-hour week of spade work, sometimes more if they’re minding the donkeys, chickens or ducks.
Set up by Gareth three years ago, the garden is run to generate funds. A shop opens next year to sell produce and crafts made in the workshop, with profits to be ploughed back into the gardens. It also teaches skills for future employment, preparing men for life on the outside.
The beehives, wild-flower meadows and pond all help to make the garden a pleasant place to work. The therapeutic benefits of looking after animals and working in the open air, the fresh vegetables in the canteen, plus the hard-earned qualifications of the prisoners – more than 100 have achieved City & Guilds Level 1 in Horticulture – are part of the G4S-run prison’s commitment to making the journey back into the world of work easier.
The staff’s progressive attitude and their efforts to rehabilitate their charges within a challenging environment is impressive – a more effective solution than locking them in cells for 23 hours a day. One of the prisoners, John, 23, was unable to read or write, but with help he achieved an NVQ in Environmental Conservation, and on release was motivated to start work with chickens, goats and horses on his grandfather’s smallholding, opening to the public and putting something back into the community. The experience has inspired others to work within the industry, apply for college courses, or get an allotment to become self-sufficient.
The judges said:
Craig Sams “Excellent achievement. Deserves recognition and repeating on a wider scale.”
Niki Preston “Giving prisoners a second chance and hope of a better life must be a huge boost of confidence.”
Broadwater Farm, London
The residents at Broadwater Farm Estate have recycled their troubled past and turned the concrete surrounding their community centre into a productive and educational leisure garden. They’ve cleared the nightmare of broken fences, turned discarded timber into raised beds, made dumped furniture into comfortable seating and even used rubble to make a fence. Health-giving produce has been grown in the beds and then eaten next door in the Harmony Café and the green spaces offer exercise and wildlife habitat, but something more important than veg is growing here now in Tottenham – a vibrant community spirit.
All year round local residents Martin Burrows (project director) and Robbie Samuda (master gardener and coordinator) of Back2Earth Projects, with a team of 70 volunteers, help youngsters on probation, recovering addicts, the long-term unemployed and local sixth formers gain horticultural experience. Some go on to further training at Capel Manor College and industry jobs.
The project encourages disadvantaged and marginalised people to make productive use of their environment, and promotes cohesion, health and employability. Local life expectancy here is 17 years less than the national average, so the garden is the perfect place to begin a healthier life.
Working in the fresh air and daylight, exercising in the Green Gym, eating together and sampling traditional and exotic vegetable-based meals at competitive prices, with freshly grown ingredients picked a few feet away, is a good start. Many of the café’s catering trainees gain qualifications and go on to work elsewhere.
Back2Earth runs workshops teaching gardening skills and much more. In the future, they hope to employ more local full-time paid staff, so Broadwater Farm will be full of healthier, fitter and happier residents.
The judges said:
Richard Vine “Looks like a proper garden where the local community has a vested interest in looking after it.”
Craig Sams “A positive outlook for a troubled estate.”
Tim Richardson “A vibrant living community resource.”
YOUNG GARDENER JOINT WINNERS
Dost, Newham, London
The word “Dost” means friend in several languages. It’s also the name of a project set up to help children who have arrived in Britain alone, either as refugees or migrants, seeking sanctuary from violence, abuse and persecution in their home countries.
In Newham, east London, a group of about 20 young people aged between 11 and 25 are living up to the meaning of their name and creating a garden on a neglected site next to the Child and Family Consultation Service, which treats youngsters with complex mental health problems – a service that some of the group have used themselves.
Helped by two leaders who support them in learning skills and look after the issues that affect them individually, such as post-traumatic stress disorder with its symptoms of insomnia, anxiety and depression, the team has transformed the plot.
Involvement in this edible-gardening project included basic design, carpentry and planting and has provided the group with therapeutic hard work in the open air – whatever the weather – helping ease symptoms, allowing them to gain qualifications and giving those who were socially isolated a chance to build friendships and feel a sense of belonging to the community where they now live.
The walled garden is home to espalier fruit trees and bushes and raised herb and strawberry beds, with a sensory garden and somewhere to sit and relax. The group loved working on their graffiti artwork, which cheers up one of the walls, and are enjoying their harvest and the results of their hard work.
The judges said:
Richard Vine: “There’s a real possibility this garden will help them grow to be part of the community.”
Niki Preston: “These children have been wrenched away from their homes and families, yet they are trying to improve each other’s lives. This project provides a safe haven. A hugely brave bunch of youngsters.”
Craig Sams: “Good to help disturbed young migrants settle in and connect.”
Highly Commended Award winners
The power of plants
Some young gardeners have a hard time on their way up the garden path. At 22, Ricky is one such gardener: he has fought a number of battles and made what he admits were some regrettable choices, but has persevered. In September he started work as an apprentice at West Ham Park, as part of City Bridge Trust’s Growing Localities programme.
It is a dream come true. Ricky always wanted to be a gardener. After leaving school he joined inner-city charity Roots and Shoots and got his City & Guilds qualification, but after that his world turned upside down. He fell out with his family and into bad company, ending up in prison. He kept his spirits up by working in the prison garden, but on his release, he had nowhere to go. Luckily, the charity Roots and Shoots was there to help, and he spent the summer working all over London’s green spaces.
“Every job is my favourite,” he says. “When I wake up every day, the thought of what I’m going to do gets me motivated.” His positive attitude makes everyone smile, but ultimately he has found success through his own determination.
He now lives just a cycle ride away from his new job, studies a day a week at Capel Manor College for his Level 2 in Horticulture, and he’s progressing well – testimony to the power of gardening to change lives for the better.
The judges said:
Richard Reynolds “Splendid tale of an individual turning his life around through gardening.”
Craig Sams “Another great example of horticultural rehab. A happy ending.”’
Annie Maw “My choice for young gardener.”
HIGHLY COMMENDED AWARD WINNERS
The Horticultural Therapy Trust, Devon and Cornwall
Mental health problems can affect anyone and when life’s “odds” become overwhelming, the Horticultural Therapy Trust offers a calm, nurturing and active environment for adults and children at its two gardens in the West Country. “It’s a haven,” says Jeremy. “I suffer from social phobia and it took a lot of courage to get here.” Mark didn’t go outside for six years. “This garden is my own piece of freedom,” he explains.
Erica Quinn, Glasgow
Erica credits gardening with helping her through post natal depression and bipolar disorder. This summer she made a list of the edible plants in the garden in front of her Glasgow tenement to show what can flourish in a small urban space. The neighbours love the garden, many stop to chat, and parents point out the vegetables to their children. “I’ve probably talked to 100 people I’d never have met otherwise,” Erica says.
When the mental challenges of taking public transport to Gardening Leave’s Royal Hospital Chelsea site were too difficult for traumatised ex-service veterans, the charity brought the garden to them. Its first outreach project opened this summer at Community Housing and Therapy’s unit in East Acton, London, and now the once-bare space in the shadow of HMP Wormwood Scrubs boasts vegetable, flower and herb beds. gardening leave.org
Forget-me-not young gardeners, Northumberland
Children with learning and behavioural difficulties are able to spend time with their families through the Forget-Me-Not Young Gardeners programme at The Alnwick Garden, Northumberland.
It provides a beautiful place away from the stresses of everyday life, where disability is accepted and supported and useful new skills are learnt and practised. Brothers, sisters, parents and carers meet others who understand and many develop new support networks as a result.
Living Medicine has opened the healing potential of the University of East London’s Newham medicinal garden to local people, bringing plant medicine to life. The charity is developing ways to show community leaders and gardeners how to use plants and food for many everyday health problems from anxiety and fatigue to coughs, colds and allergies.
The Gardening Against the Odds judging panel comes from the many corners of the gardening world, and include two previous award winners
The Duchess of Northumberland, who has redeveloped the wonderful garden at Alnwick Castle.
Annie Maw, award winner from 2010 and chairman of the National Gardening Show.
David Bellamy, presenter, celebrated conservationist and botanist.
Susan Hampshire, actress and Conservation Foundation supporter.
Craig Sams, founder of Green & Blacks, Carbon Gold and former chairman of the Soil Association.
Christopher Woodward, director of the Garden Museum.
Tim Richardson, Telegraph gardening writer and historian.
Richard Reynolds, founder of guerrillagardening.org.
Niki Preston, last year’s runner-up.
Frank Wilson, husband of the late Elspeth Thompson.
Francine Raymond, Telegraph gardening writer.
David Shreeve, president of the Conservation Foundation.
Richard Vine, head gardener at Coutts.
Anne Cuthbertson, editor of Life.
Source : http://www.telegraph.co.uk/gardening/gardenprojects/10452912/Gardening-Against-the-Odds-2013-the-winners-in-full.html