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  • We often read about how young people need to be encouraged to garden and conversely that somehow everyone over the age of 50 are instant 'retirement' gardeners. There's plenty of reading material on both these groups but what about the other end of the spectrum with the 80-year plus gardeners? You would be wrong in thinking they are probably taking it easy. I was recently invited to meet up with the Golden Girls & Guys of Gardening. What a groundbreaking visit it was!

    I must admit I was intrigued when I got an email out of the blue asking to come to see some community gardens up in Bury. It wasn’t just the offer of tea, slices of cake and seeing some beautiful borders; it was the fact that these gardens had been created from scratch only a few years ago by a group of women and men in their late 80’s! Usually, people are paving over gardens whereas this senior community is on a mission to actively green up some otherwise grey space. So I grabbed my notebook, got in my van and off I went.

    Community gardens
    Top Row – Mike, Frank, Pauline, Betty, Jean and Christine. Bottom Row – Eunice, Sylvia and Edna

    What are community gardens?

    Community gardening has seen a surge in publicity recently with coverage on Gardeners world, the RHS and other garden media. With the allotment and grow your own movement seeing a rise in shared community spaced. You only have to open up a gardening magazine to see groups growing their own flowers, fruit and vegetables all over the country. Then there’s Britain in Bloom which since 1967 has helped shape community gardens with its award and assessment scheme. Community gardening is a huge movement, it’s now the largest horticultural campaign in the UK.

    Community gardens
    Community gardens provide unity through gardening

    Community gardens often spring up as a collective where shared resources and enthusiasm brings a larger collective result. It means no matter how restricted your space or skills are community gardening offers everyone the chance to bloom! The ladies and gentlemen at Fusilier’s court demonstrate this perfectly. What’s magnificent is with the support of Muir, their sheltered accommodation provider, they have created something beautiful. But I’m getting ahead of myself as per usual. Let’s start off with the 29’ers.

    Community Gardens; The 29’ers

    Gardening has no age limit and this sentiment is no clearer with the residents at Fuselier’s court in Bury. The 29’ers ars they like to be known, given they were born in or around 1929, are showing that gardening really is an ageless hobby. This collective group show no signs of slowing down and you really wouldn’t believe the verve and energy they displayed during my visit. It’s easy to focus on getting ‘younger’ people to garden but it’s equally important to encourage all age ranges to garden.

    Golden girls of gardening
    Edna deadheading to ensure yet more colour!

    It was clear when speaking individually to the 29’ers that there was one thing that had attracted them to Fusilier court and that was the gardens.  That every residency has access out onto the communal areas and each window has a view of one of the many gardens beds. Gardening is more than a hobby for the 29’ers, it’s a social activity, a buzz that unites the group. There’s a sense of pride and excitement when I spoke to them about their ideas, planting choices and past schemes.

    Community gardens at Fusiliers court
    I’m not sure whether it was Edna or Christine that lifted this rock!

    With some lottery funding 9 or so years ago they started on their mission to green up the communal areas. In collaboration with Muir they developed the area, overcoming planning hurdles, form filling and discussions about the best use of the spaces. They started a community and divided up the necessary roles. Where others maybe have thrown the towel in at the thought of all the necessary organisation and effort required, they forged onwards in their mission to create a garden space fit for all the residents.

    After years of form filling, meetings and plenty of grit they started work on their gardens. By establishing their skills and capabilities the 29’ers set about converting their grey space into one of green bounty. By lifting tarmac, removing paving slabs they have been able to create beautifully mixed borders of herbaceous perennials and cheery annual flowers in their place.

    Even the smallest areas are bursting with plants!

    “Not watching flowers growing on wallpaper”

    During my visit, I asked the gardeners why it was so important for them to have green space. One quote really stuck with me from Sylvia sums up perfectly the power of gardening in later years.

    I don’t just want to watch flowers growing just on wallpaper” she proclaimed.

    Sylvia explained that getting out from their residencies and lounges into the outside was of huge importance for them. That being outdoors gardening, growing and enjoying their spaces brought them great well being and happiness. It’s already been shown that gardening is great for positive mental health, that it reduces stress and anxiety. Based on the 29’ers discussions it also brings structure and community, with a couple of residents sharing that they didn’t have a family nearby so the gardens brought them together.

    Community gardens living wall
    The residences have even greened walls to make them more attractive – which takes your focus off the tarmac

    One gardener Pauline smiled and said “it’s a pleasure to offer to garden for those who no longer can”. Showing the power of gardening as a collective benefit.

    Each area has its own ‘creator’ who maintains that particular scheme, each sensitively complimenting the next scheme along. Whether it be a shady blush Rhododendron bed leading into a herbaceous border of blues or purples. Each bed is unique but blends really well with the next. I witnessed some of the ladies discussing swapping cuttings and each suggesting ideas on what to plant next. Garden Cooperation at its finest! I caught Betty and Jean discussing some cuttings and plant addition suggestions. This group live and breath the gardens.

    Community garden flowers
    Contrasting colours make the 29’ers beds literally pop out!

    What we can learn from community gardens?

    Sometimes with community gardens its easy to just think of allotments with groups growing produce or groups being taught horticulture skills. Both of which are worthwhile. However, the 29’ers have helped to highlight the other side of community gardening, which is sometimes overlooked. The side that shows that community gardens can also be used simply to bring people together; to socialise. The Golden girls have thoughtfully brought together the residents, divided their skills, capabilities and styles creating some wonderful eclectic borders. There’s no grand prize, largest pumpkin competition or judging criteria just the harmonious act of gardening. Just look below at what they have achieved over the years.

    Development of the Community Gardens over the years

    You can be in no doubt once you’ve seen the 29’ers that gardening is keeping them both fit but also young at heart. Laughing in the face of agism these good time gardeners are rejecting convention and reaping the benefits. Not content with taking it easy this cheery troop are waving the flag for mind over matter. Everyone could learn a lesson from this group that if you want to make something happen, all you need is some determination, tea and cake!

    I really can’t wait to see what’s next for this good time bunch of gardeners. Have you been involved in a community garden? Have you seen the benefits that gardening can bring? Why not get in touch on Social Media TweetFacebook or Instagram me! I’d love to hear from you.

    Happy Gardening!

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    6 thoughts on “The Golden Girls of Gardening; how community gardens lift the spirits

    1. Antony says:

      Fantastic piece,so interesting to read this,shame it can’t be applied everywhere ,so good for wellbeing ,👍

    2. Hi Lee,
      you’ve got to be wrong about some of the ages in all those pictures. Many of the don’t look over mid seventies.
      The photos were brilliant. I loved the sedum and the baskets attached to the railings.
      May I offer my congratulations to all who made these gardens.

      1. lee says:

        I too didn’t believe their ages Derek! Just shows you how having a garden and community brings purpose.. and youth! The cake spread was delicious too. 😋 Lee

    3. What an amazing group and you must have been thrilled by seeing them. Love this whole idea of community gardening

      1. lee says:

        Thanks Sarah. They were super inspirational!

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