Saturday, 3 March 2018

If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need. Marcus Tullius Cicero

The accidental gardener
After a long and time-consuming career as a high school teacher, I reckoned I’d earned my retirement at age 60, although I was rather anxious about how I would fill my days.  I had always preferred gardening to housework and enjoyed visiting gardens and stately homes, so I approached the RHS (Royal Horticultural Society) to offer my services as a volunteer gardener at one of their local properties.
I was most surprised to receive a response informing me that if I wished to become a judge for Yorkshire in Bloom, a prestigious gardening competition for villages, towns and community areas, I should submit a short statement explaining why I considered myself to be a suitable candidate.   This made me chuckle and even blush as I am the proud owner of a small, handkerchief sized plot of a garden but then it got me thinking.  I had the skills of report writing as well as assessing and grading the work of my students against set criteria.  Also I had a keen interest, one could even call it a passion, for gardens and gardening, so I replied telling them just that.  To my astonishment I was accepted as a judge and undertook some initial training.  
Since then, every spring and summer, I have had the privilege of visiting the most beautiful areas of Yorkshire and meeting some interesting and like-minded people.  I have judged a wide range of planted areas including parks, village greens, residential gardens and school gardening clubs.

The In Bloom groups are always looking for judges so do get in touch with them if you are interested.

Another activity on my “bucket list” was to learn how to arrange flowers and found a suitable class nearby.  I can’t claim to be the most creative of arrangers, but I have managed to produce some passable pieces and I enjoyed the classes immensely. 

The monthly fee for tuition was minimal but we were obliged to become members of the gardening organisation where the classes were held.  I decided to give one of the other groups a try and absolutely loved it. 
The programme includes illustrated talks, visits and the members themselves are a great source of knowledge and generous with tips, cuttings and plants.  I now keep a blog for this group.
 memorable garden visit - pity we didn't take our swimming gear!
When I retired I had put my name down to be a volunteer for the local community and one day received a call asking if I could spare an hour or so per week to help at an allotment for adults with mental and physical disabilities.  I had no previous experience in growing vegetables and had always regarded allotments as hard work and muddy.  Well, two years later we have produced a variety of vegetables, fruit and herbs in raised beds and a polytunnel and have been awarded a certificate from Yorkshire in Bloom for our efforts.  Some of the produce is sent to the residences of the service users and some is used in making jams and chutneys which we sell at local sales and retail outlets. 


Unfortunately, we had to give up the allotment as the staffing situation meant that there were no carers available to accompany them.  However, our social enterprise, Yorkshire MORE, staffed entirely by volunteers, is thriving and has so far distributed over £1 000 to local mental health charities.

I always look forward to the annual publication of the Yellow Book and plan my visits to those gardens open for charity.  The owners are so helpful and knowledgeable and provide the most delicious afternoon teas.  These gardeners show what can be achieved in some of the most difficult areas are a real source of inspiration.
So here I am some seven years later and busier than ever.  I feel really lucky being able to spend so much of my time pursuing a hobby I love but I have to confess that my own modest plot has become rather neglected!
 My suburban back garden

 Late Spring at my little plot at the coast

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