Help our Garden Grow

Meghàn McEwan is the Service Co-ordinator at West Lane Gardens in Johnstone which recently celebrated its twelfth birthday. For our very first blog post, Meghàn shares why the gardening group at the service is so important to the people that use the service.

West Lane Gardens is a wee service located down a small lane in the middle of a housing estate in Renfrewshire. It’s not somewhere you would expect to find a service, especially one with a lovely garden. It’s hard to imagine now, but in the summer our garden is blooming and you can hear the voices of our gardeners busy at work making sure everything is in order and going to plan. It’s a lovely place to be, but twelve years ago it wasn’t the same story…

When we first arrived the grass was up to our knees. We cut it down, saw the plot we had and thought ‘what an opportunity’. We got a gardener in to help us out and we added in the extended beds and grew fruit and vegetables. Just like that we had a wee garden project. It’s been a great opportunity to develop skills and encourage people who use the service to try new fruits and vegetables and encourage healthy eating. We are able use our kitchen here to cook things like jam and chutneys too, which helps our gardeners to develop additional skills.

Soon we were able to grow enough to sell some produce to parents and carers and eventually we also had enough to sell in the local community. Not just the raw fruits and vegetables but also pot pourri, lavender bags and bath bombs that people who use the service make here in the winter months.

We realised that this could be a great success. Everyone involved was really enjoying it and so we thought it could be something that bit extra – and that’s how the Hidden Gem project was born. It’s now more than just the garden: we hope to make it into a social enterprise. There are lots of skills to be learned and jobs to be done, administration to be completed, produce to be made, things to be cooked, and lots of activities in between. This means lots of people can be involved in the project even if they don’t want to get their hands dirty.

The benefits of our hidden gem….

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The project’s been great for seeing the people here grow – quite literally. Take Robbie, for example. He grew up on a farm and enjoyed the outdoors but hadn’t had any gardening experience. Robbie was involved in the garden from day one; he even planted the magnolia tree when we first opened the gardens twelve years ago. He might take longer than some people to dig his flowerbeds and prune his roses, but he does it with an undiluted sense of pride which is a joy to watch. Through being involved in the garden he has completed the Royal Caledonian Horticultural Society course and is now volunteering at other gardening projects in the local community, which is just great to see.

But it’s not only Robbie. When Alan, who is in his forties, first visited the service he hardly spoke one word. Now he’s part of the gardening group and has a large repertoire of jokes that he loves to crack – he should be on stage! Through the skills he learned from taking part in the garden he also volunteers. One of the groups he volunteers at works with people with physical disabilities and so he is able to share his skills there, which is just a real achievement.

We’ve seen people gain so many new skills as well as learning to eat healthier food and cook new things. There is something rewarding about eating something you’ve grown in the garden isn’t there?

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It’s not all been easy …

We’ve had incredible support over the years but it’s not all been easy. We had a shed and one day it was a bit like ‘The Wizard of Oz’. I looked out the window and thought ‘something isn’t right’. The shed had started to blow away! We attempted to rescue it but unfortunately by the following morning the whole shed had gone despite our best efforts. I thought about what we should do after that, and eventually we decided to get a wooden shed. We had it for three months before vandals sadly burnt it down. Not only did we lose the shed, we lost all the things in it including the slats for the greenhouse, tools and equipment. We’ve now got a new very sturdy metal shed, we put bolts everywhere on it and we’re slowly rebuilding the supplies that we lost.

The future…

It’s been so great having that garden outside -we couldn’t have hoped for a better space and project to get everyone involved with. Going forward we are hoping to encourage more people to take part in the Royal Caledonian Horticultural Society certificate, and are exploring teaching the next module to develop people’s skills further.

We are also hoping to raise enough funds to build a new outdoor learning area so that our gardeners can enjoy learning about gardening outside in all weathers. To set this up will cost at least £5000, but we are confident that our fundraising efforts will pay off.

So next time you’re in your garden, think about our wee hidden gem here in Renfrewshire. Surprise yourself and see what you can grow! Our gardeners would love to see your pictures so please share them on social media using #MyHiddenGem. Go on, we dare you.

You can donate to help make the garden grow by texting ‘GARDEN’ followed by an amount (either 3,5 or 10) to 70300, for example if you text ‘GARDEN 10’ we will receive a donation of £10. Did you know that just £10 could buy a set of specially adapted gardening tools, enabling more gardeners to access the garden?

For full terms and conditions in regards to text donations please click here.

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