Abbey Physic Community Garden - Ground Force Action Team Project in St Mary of Charity Churchyard
The Abbey Physic Community Garden in Faversham celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2019. It provides therapeutic horticulture in a welcoming and judgement free environment. Open to volunteers and the public offers a wide range of activities from gardening, cooking, crafts to the ability to obtain bespoke qualifications.
The Ground Force Action Team recently reported on the project work which began in 2018 and with a grant from Orchard Community Energy was expanded. The first eight months of the Abbey Physic Community Garden’s project, ‘Bees, Bugboxes and Blooms Amongst the Tombs’, have been very successful: engaging regular members and bringing new volunteers to the Physic Garden to take part in a wildlife conservation and community outreach project in an area of nearby St Mary of Charity’s churchyard.
The project has included a wide range of activities so far this year, with most having a direct benefit for plant and animal biodiversity, these have included:
• habitat creation – installation of six ‘bug hotels’ and four bird boxes, these were built by hand from recycled materials by members of the Physic Garden. These, along with the construction of the ‘dead hedge’ within the churchyard, and the maintenance of loam stacks and ‘waste’ piles, have created habitats for micro and macro organisms;
• diversifying plant life – much of the work to establish new plant life within the churchyard has involved long periods of hand-clearing of ground which is thick with the roots of invasive nettles, ivy and brambles, and dozens of square metres have now been cleared in this fashion in several distinct areas. The first and largest of these areas was sown with a shade-tolerant mixture of wildflower and grass seed which has germinated over the summer, forming the basis of a meadow area beneath the trees. Two smaller areas have been planted with a mixed variety of over three thousand spring-flowering bulbs which will be encouraged to naturalise, and spread across a wider area. Project volunteers have also begun clearing, planting and sowing within an area beyond but adjacent to the churchyard, running along a footpath, which has allowed members of the public to see and encourage them in their work.
Using growing, rooted cuttings, provided in a donation from the Woodland Trust, nine flower and fruit-bearing trees have also been planted, along with the establishment of six metres of flowering hedgerow which will be of similar benefit as a food source to birds and pollinating insects;
• establishing beehives – this aspect of the creation of new habitats has been the focus of much of the work that has been undertaken in this project so far this year. Beginning with the restoration and construction of three donated hives at the Physic Garden, and the preparation of an area for them within the churchyard, this work has now borne fruit in the form of three well-established colonies, and the first of many harvests of honey. This part of the project has been particularly successful at engaging a wide cross section of the diverse members of the Physic Garden, whether they helped by constructing one of dozens of frames, or by jarring up, labelling and selling honey, or even by donning one of the beekeeping suits and joining our superb volunteer beekeeping instructor in opening and maintaining the hives;
• butterfly conservation – a recent development within the project has been the interest in monitoring and encouraging the presence of butterflies. By enlisting the help of enthusiastic members of the Physic Garden with an existing passion for the subject, many of the members who have not been able to contribute physically to the work of the project, have been keeping a record of butterflies within the local area, and aiding in the isolation and rearing of butterfly larvae.
The number of individuals involved with the project has exceeded our expectations. Similar community outreach efforts at the Physic Garden in recent years have produced good results, but through the work of a relatively small number of committed members. This new project has, across more than sixty sessions in 2019, enlisted the support of upwards of forty long-standing and new volunteer members, with most returning for multiple sessions, and many committing to a regular routine of weekly or even daily involvement. The nature of the work, to restore an overgrown area and to literally introduce new life to it, whereby one can see and experience the difference being made, has captured the imagination and spirit of the people for whom the Abbey Physic Community Garden is run.
Support for Vulnerable or Disadvantaged Groups
The added benefit of basing a project such as this at the Physic Garden has been its ability to reach and involve people with a range of mental, physical and social challenges. This has been in keeping with the primary aims and ethos of the Physic Garden, which is rooted in a belief in the therapeutic value of horticulture, and the wellbeing which comes from taking part in a collaborative endeavour. The diverse nature of the work undertaken has allowed people of all abilities and ages to be involved, from those with pronounced learning difficulties to socially isolated individuals suffering the ill effects of loneliness. As with the activities of the Physic Garden itself, the wholly good work of growing plants and helping to encourage wildlife, within a supportive group of staff and fellow volunteers, is a force for both positive change and valuable stability in the lives of members.
Wider Social Engagement.
The project has engaged with a number of groups beyond those directly involved as volunteers:
• School groups from St. Mary’s Primary School in Faversham, and Rochester College have been shown around the area, with an emphasis placed on the need to encourage biodiversity and wildlife conservation, the latter group were also directly involved in a day-long session which included beekeeping demonstrations and making and sowing wildflower ‘seed bombs’ in the churchyard.
• Groups from Age UK and Kent Mind have been given tours of the area, including beekeeping demonstrations and talks on biodiversity and pollinator preservation.
• The general public have been a constant presence alongside the project, quite literally as much of the work has taken place in full view of passers-by. Many individuals, and larger family and social groupings have been encouraged to step into the churchyard while work is underway, being escorted around the area and invited to watch beekeeping activities through a specially created viewing window in the dead hedge. This has had many benefits, from the simple but invaluable engagement of members of a wider society with volunteers; to the direct contribution of donations of funds and materials to the Physic Garden by those pleased to see the activities being carried out; and even bringing in new members to the project and the Physic Garden who may otherwise have been unaware of this good work.
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Beehives and Groundforce Team
Clearing Sowing and Planting
Working in the Garden