Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Spot the Hobbit

My visit to the SHARE project was on one of the bitterest March days of our endless winter. A day when simply getting out and facing the cold took courage. And yet here were horticultural trainees happily braving the wind and weaving backwards and forwards across the gardens, sowing and tending new plants, for the Open Garden Squares weekend in June. The sweet peas were climbing their frame and lettuces and miniature daffodils were invitingly on sale.

SHARE is a community horticulture project for adults with learning difficulties and disabilities with approximately 30 trainees. It is a hidden surprise, beside a golf course in the grounds of Springfield Hospital, where 150 years ago male patients took their exercise in the Male Airing Court, and grew vegetables for the inmates, in a time when Springfield was the Surrey County Pauper Lunatic Asylum. The men grew vegetables in those days and were separated from the women, who took their exercise amongst flowers and herbaceous borders in another nearby space. Now both men and women work and train alongside and the flowers, herbs and vegetables are happy together as well.  

There are no inmates now from the hospital in the project, but there are strong links between the two organisations and the trainees maintain flower beds in the hospital grounds. Several trainees have developed their horticultural skills to the extent of achieving horticultural qualifications – the NVQ levels 1 and 2 in work-based horticulture and plant production are taught in the garden. Some have also found work outside in gardens. The project has developed extensive propagation facilities – there are two working polytunnels and a new, soon to be heated, large glasshouse. The trainees have a history of selling their produce locally to a neighbouring allotment (The Beatrix Potter allotment), and they also undertake a variety of external commercial work in Wandsworth and Roehampton. The fruits of their labours are also turned into delicious jams and pickles by their sister catering project in Battersea. This is definitely the place to come for buying jars of chutney and plants at bargain prices during the Open Garden Squares weekend of June 8th and 9th. Herbs, vegetables and annuals were already starting to sprout in anticipation when I visited.

The community links of SHARE are impressive. It’s a Capital Growth Project and modern training outfit with links on Facebook and Twitter. Nearby lies Streatham Cemetery, where the Friends of Streatham Cemetery have established five beehives. So SHARE are busy building raised beds, which will be planted up with bee-friendly plants for the bees to forage. And, as well as gardening, the trainees have been out and about to their local college, South Thames College, to raise awareness about disability.  

 SHARE Community Garden on a warmer day
Visitors to SHARE on the Sunday of Open Garden Squares Weekend will also have the opportunity to visit a couple of new gardens in the area, the Tooting Community Garden and the Streatham Common Community Garden at The Rookery.  SHARE are hoping to perhaps have a small exhibition too, maybe of art work, or the work of another local charity, so there should be plenty to do and see. There’s a living willow mosaic and a rose arbour, where you can sit and contemplate, or maybe settle in a seat by the pond. My top tip is to wander to the little hillock on the side of the garden, where the trainees have lovingly recreated a hobbit house. Needless to say, it was too cold when I visited to see the hobbit, who must have been tucked up inside by a warm coal fire.

Visiting SHARE Community Garden »