Way back in 2002 the bank in Reeth (a village in the Yorkshire Dales) was closed and the building was converted into a community hub on the ground floor, with social housing above. The bank used to be quite a prominent house in the village with its own walled garden….but the garden was completely derelict in 2002 – it hadn’t been touched for years.
Some people in the village wanted to restore the space as a community garden and orchard…so they formed a friends group, got some grants, and set about making it amazing.
More pictures here
I was involved from the start giving horticultural and planting advice as well as helping out in the early years. I thought I’d mention some points of interest for anyone thinking of creating a community garden.
Have a big wide-ranging discussion about the sort of ways the garden will be used. Here people wanted a lawn for young children to play on and for events to be held, flower borders for visitors to the village to look at, apple and fruit bushes, a wildflower meadow to remind people of the spectacular wildflowers further up the dale, and places to sit.
Keep it simple and straight forward. Fancy things and design wouldn’t have worked in the Yorkshire Dales and would have needed too much maintenance. I vetoed a rockery early on as they are so difficult to place in a garden without looking like a pile of stones with added random plants and can be tricky to weed. We got a stone trough instead.
A few pots are nice to have to give winter and summer colour, but choose big ones and only a few as they require less watering and looking after. If in doubt don’t have pots.
Think about how much work it will be to maintain when you are planning. That doesn’t mean make everything very low maintence; think about making the work varied as different people will have preferences for different jobs. Someone may be happy cutting the lawn but not wish to weed borders in case they pull the wrong thing out – for other people cutting the lawn is the last thing they would want to do because they find it boring.
Whilst you are planning, have a think about how you will raise money for the garden’s upkeep. Plants from the herbaceous borders can be split in the spring and potted up for a plant sale in May – this is a great opportunity for local people to buy plants that grow well in their area. At this community garden there is a potting shed, raised propagation bed, and a small greenhouse in an area outside of the main walled garden. The apples can be sold and juiced at an apple day in the autumn. There is also a donation box if visitors wish to contribute.
Use the grant money to purchase locally so you can showcase local businesses. A local stone waller repaired the walls, the path surface was from a local quarry, the pots are made in Yorkshire, the plants are from a local nursery, the gate was made by a local blacksmith, seating and sculptures were commissioned from local crafts people who work in the village or the dale.
If you have a grant try and ensure there is money for an experienced horticulturist to help for the first year. Especially with the weeding – most weeds turn up in the first year –if you can sort them out straight away it makes future work for volunteers so much easier. In the first year I ran workshops on how to look after the garden in the garden including how to propagate the plants. The Northern Fruit Group prune the fruit trees every year.
Finally, if there is a special event locally then try and mark it with something memorable and permanent. The Tour de France went through the village this year and this amazing sculpture was commissioned from local artist Michael Kusz.
There was a great exhibition in the conservatory showing some of the work the school children had created to help give ideas for the sculpture.
Friends of Reeth Community Orchard have a website here. The garden is open to all, but is locked at night.