COMMUNITY GARDENING - SARA VENN
Gardening for me is simply what I do and I have been immensely fortunate to be able to turn my childhood hobby into my career and not only learn how to grow plants, but how to design and grow gardens, and I now support other people to do that same, both privately and in communities. I have literally spent my life in gardens, greenhouses and on allotments and I am only too aware how fortunate that makes me. But I am also very aware that whilst a lot of the gardening I do is in the public realm, that my own garden allows me a sanctuary where I can play, use my imagination and create something that soothes. Over the last couple of years during the pandemic and before that through a time of poor health, whilst my body may have felt it was letting me down, the garden supported my mind, each day seeing something new emerging, whether that was a new flower unfurling, or a dragonfly emerging from a pond, just pottering around the garden never fails to soothe the mind, calming anxieties.
With the organisation I run, incredible Edible Bristol, my small team and I have supported a little over 50 spaces become community gardens over the last 6 years. We support people to take lost and unloved spaces across the city and turn them, with our help, into beautiful and productive spaces with and for their communities. These spaces are out in the public realm, in parks, in shopping centres, on train stations and on the sides of roads and when a community comes to us, it’s usually to whisper into our ears that they have an idea, and we support them to bring that idea to fruition. And whilst we see huge transformations of spaces, we also see people bloom.
Gardens are powerful entities. They allow a community, often neighbours with very little seemingly in common, or who don’t even know each other, or speak each others language, to find a commonality. They empower people to come forwards, to offer their knowledge, or their physical selves, or both. They create a common goal and then a place of common use.
But gardens also offer something no other space can. Gardening as an activity is physical and whilst gardening our conscious minds are very much involved in the task in hand whilst our subconscious mind can wander, almost unfettered into a garden of imagination. This also allows for extraordinary conversation, allowing different opinions to be expressed and worked through in a way that in a room might be very confrontational, but in the garden is simply a discussion. From warring neighbours to political differences the garden is somewhere that allows for more understanding, for not just discussion but contemplation of that subject.
And in a city a garden also allows a connection with nature, with the soil, and importantly in a multi cultural city, with the plants and food of homelands and ancestors. Community gardens give children somewhere to learn about the food on their plates, people living without gardens the opportunity to feel the power of creating and tending a garden, and the elders of the community a space to sit, and to connect with neighbours and friends.
Gardens create community!