A hidden corner of the grounds of Westbury Arts Centre has become a community garden to grow food and encourage diversity and conservation, thanks to the work of local group, Planting Up.
Kirsty Forshaw who leads Planting Up explained that the original idea arose from a proposal made by the team at Transition Town Milton Keynes in 2017 to create a community garden on an overgrown strip of land. The team recommended that the garden was created using an approach to growing food and gardening that promotes biodiversity and conservation, known as permaculture.
The project got off the ground thanks to an initial grant from Milton Keynes Community Foundation and had support from experienced Permaculture Association practitioners who shared practical tips. These included ideas that can be used by home gardeners such as the mutually beneficial nature of sourcing cardboard, coffee grounds, and woodchip from local suppliers who needed to “get rid of it” free of charge. Manure and plants all came from local sources and helped establish the garden.
Kirsty volunteered to lead the project with a handful of supporters. She said: “We quickly found that our community garden project was a fantastic educational tool that engaged people through hands-on experiences that not only got us sharing skills, but also helped to foster a deeper understanding of environmental challenges and solutions.”
Volunteer Bob, added: “I became involved with Planting Up at Westbury through a friend from my allotment in Wolverton (very grateful). l started volunteering about two years ago after l was told that l could benefit and possibly help others. I am so pleased l did. l think it’s helped me to communicate with people and there are always new faces asking questions, being a busy place. l have found myself getting more involved and learning more. Finally, it’s a nice environment with wildlife.”
A community of gardeners
The community garden at Westbury Arts Centre brings together people from different walks of life, whether it’s volunteers dropping in to help occasionally or regulars shaping the next phase of the garden.
Volunteer, Patricia said: I’m so glad I have got involved. I have enjoyed helping out at the plot at Westbury Arts Centre, where I get a sense of contributing to something worthwhile – and beautiful! Westbury is also a lovely place to be, very welcoming too. I’d recommend Planting Up if you want to learn more about sustainable gardening/permaculture and be part of a friendly group, as well as get outside and be in nature. What I’ve learned has led me to dabbling with a few ideas in my own garden, making it more sustainable.”
A sustainable approach to gardening
The beautiful green space for people and nature to enjoy was created by not using chemicals and building up the soil and planting it up with a focus on preserving genetic diversity, supporting ecosystems, and providing habitats for beneficial insects, birds, and other wildlife. It also contributes to improving air quality through the absorption of carbon dioxide and release of oxygen.
Kirsty says: “Over the years, we’ve seen increasing indicators of good soil health. For example, during the heatwaves, our soil has managed to retain water (under the layer of mulch) and we’ve also come across an abundance of earthworms that our resident robin likes to follow us around to reveal.
Increasing food security and reducing our food miles
Produce is grown without the use of pesticides and harmful chemicals. Everything grown is available to everyone – from the volunteers to passers-by, which all contributes to encouraging local people to consume nutritious food and see how easy it is to grow their own food.
Kirsty said: “One of the best parts is that we get to indulge in our produce during our garden work party ‘bring and share’ lunches and by taking any surplus home to cook up new recipes and treats to share with each other next time.”
Interested in a new adventure?
If you are looking for a new adventure for the New Year contact Kirsty Forshaw at email@example.com
The Planting Up group are at Westbury Arts centre every second and fourth Saturday of the month from 10.30am.
To learn more, visit plantingup.co.uk or https://www.westburyartscentre.org.uk/permaculture
or follow the group on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/plantingup/