Monday, 3 November 2014

Come and Join Us!

This idyllic dwelling with its perfectly tended cottage and vegetable garden is a delight for tourists and passers-by in St James's Park, London. Walking here from Trafalgar Square, under Admiralty Arch, up the Mall and skirting Horse Guards Parade, my spirits lifted in the autumn of 2012, when I passed the colourful borders of late bedding plants and saw ducks waddling, quacking and splashing about.

I had come for an interview for a Volunteer Area Co-ordinator post for the Open Garden Squares Weekend. Weeks before I had had my first experience at volunteering in the Aquatics Centre for the glorious London Olympics, and it was a chance conversation with another Gamesmaker on the tube ride home that alerted me to this opening. Gingerly I bent down to unlatch the low metal gate, and entered Duck Island Cottage garden. Behind me I could almost hear gasps of envy as tourists and on-lookers stood watching and wishing they could follow me into the garden – and, every time I come, the feeling is the same – what an amazing privilege it is to have your work's HQ here!

Inside the cottage, reality kicks in, as there are just two main rooms from which our charity, the London Parks and Gardens Trust, conducts operations. Fitting in everyone for meetings is a bit of a squeeze, to say the least, but we all love it. When the weather is good, we sometimes decamp onto the lawns of St James's Park. In May and June the cottage is full to bursting with all the publicity material we have to get out to our 200-plus gardens. Open Garden Squares Weekend has grown since I joined in 2012: there are now 12 other Area Co-ordinators and we are looking to recruit four more, for South East, South West and Central London. There are also three part-time members of staff and an additional 1250 volunteers help get the show on the road on the weekend we are open.

You don't have to be a gardener to be an Area Coordinator, but you do need to enjoy beautiful gardens. Working with people, juggling a myriad enquiries, some computer literacy, and an interest in seeking out and evaluating new gardens, which seem to pop up every year - these are all helpful attributes. I have the good fortune to co-ordinate 17 gardens in the area where I have lived for over 35 years, Islington, and one with the biggest building programme in Europe, King's Cross and St Pancras. Rushing around all 17 on the weekend when they open - and the lead up to the opening - can be a very busy but very rewarding time. The gardens in my area are both big and small, community and private gardens, schools, farms and prisons. This year I was really proud to see Highbury Stadium Square, former home of the Arsenal Football Club, open its doors to the public.

If you want to volunteer for a co-ordination role that offers different tasks and challenges each month, please check out our website using the following link or contact Janne on The role takes up about 4-6 hours each week, growing slightly as the weekend draws closer. But, if you can only spare help over the actual weekend of June 13th to June 14th, contact Jock on Our weekend volunteers help a garden for half a day over the weekend and get a free ticket and garden guide to visit any number of gardens over the rest of the weekend. They are invaluable in making the event go smoothly.

Area Co-ordinators are a friendly bunch, both male and female, and we meet every couple of months to share ideas and plan developments. And we, in our turn, are co-ordinated by the lovely Robin and her team who provide all the support we need, including tasty nibbles and convivial, refreshing drinks. Take a look at our website and come and join us.

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