Gardens grow community spirit thanks to projects

A herb garden in Edinburgh
A herb garden in Edinburgh

As towns increase in size and green space continues to come at a premium, urban community gardens are springing up to allow people in busy, often deprived areas, some space to recharge their batteries.

Many companies now see the need to support local green initiatives - Waitrose, Berkeley Homes and Boursin are just a few of the names to have supported community gardening projects and relevant charities.

Fragrance brand Jo Malone London is also a big supporter of community gardens and is currently working with charities to help marginalised communities in key cities build and maintain beautiful, scented gardens.

It initially collaborated with the UK charity Thrive, which uses gardening to help those living with physical disability and mental ill health, to create an Old English Garden in London’s Battersea Park in 2012, and has recently added a herb garden to the magnificent Redhall Walled Garden in Edinburgh, working with the Scottish Association for Mental Health.

The company is also working with Rotunda, a community centre in poverty-stricken Kirkdale, Liverpool, to create the Kirkdale Country Garden, which has just opened.

“Our gardens are created to be therapeutic in the short term and life-changing in the long term,” says Rachel Baker, general manager of Jo Malone London.

The Kirkdale garden will be an educational project as well as a place for recreation. Community members will be encouraged to take entry-level horticultural courses as a pathway to employment and self-sufficiency.

So how can everyday gardeners replicate some of the magic of Redhall and Kirkdale Country Garden, bringing an air of peace and tranquility to their own green space?

Garden designer Andy Thomson of BCA Landscape, which has helped create the Liverpool garden, explains: “Generally it can help to keep things simple, don’t make your garden too busy and over-complicate things. Find a quiet spot where you like to sit, perhaps at the end of the garden or in dappled shade. Then have a look around and see what is in your eyeline, what you can hear and what you can smell. If things are too busy then it probably won’t be very conducive to creating an air of calm.

“Once you have picked your favourite spot in the garden, away from the make-shift football pitch and trampoline, you can then start to think about how to adapt the design of the space to best suit your needs.

“A comfy chair or seat is a must - either fixed or moveable if you’re chasing the sun/shade through the day. A scented climber to screen and soften an unsightly fence perhaps? We used jasmine officinale with Rosa ‘Rambling Rector’ or Rosa ‘Gloire de Dijon’.

“In The Kirkdale Country Garden we are climbing these up hop poles and across wires above the harvest table to provide extra height and interest. Low-growing scented plants such as Thymus ‘Purple Beauty’ and Salvia officinalis [garden sage] are great as low-growing clump-forming plants with lovely scent or the edge of your border near a path or seat.”

If you need a project for your mental wellbeing, what sort of garden might you choose?

“Limiting your palette of plants and planting in drifts or groups of three or five plants per species can help to create a more natural flowing feel,” says Thomson. “If all the plants have different shaped and coloured foliage and flowers it can be over-powering and too stimulating for the eye.

“In any one area, try and pick plants that have a limited colour range and if it’s calmness you want, avoid hot bold stimulating colours. Ornamental grasses towards the back of planting beds such as Stipa gigantea or Miscanthus sinensis ‘Ghana’ can create a lovely backdrop and foil for perennials.”

Paul Forrest, senior horticultural instructor at Redhall and herb expert, says: “Most of the herbs in the garden have some kind of effect on physical and mental wellbeing. This is another driving factor in our choice of plants; chamomile, lemon balm, lavender, valerian and fennel to name a few.”