This month, I’ve donated my space in the magazine to a volunteer group whose work I’d like to promote –
The Cirencester Phoenix Gardeners. Here’s what they have to say.
We are volunteers, who in 2010 through encouraging keen gardeners to open their gardens, raised £6000 for the restoration of the South Porch; (St James Place matched that amount). In 2012, we arranged more garden openings to raise money for the Good Neighbour Scheme (a visiting scheme for the isolated elderly) and raised £5000. In 2014 we raised a further £5000 for Cirencester Housing for Young people.
However, we also all shared a concern that Cirencester town did not look its best because the maintenance of tubs and hanging baskets had been neglected. We approached Cirencester Town Council to see if we could take over the maintenance of the tubs.
Phoenix Gardeners Town Centre Summer Bedding
What do we do?
Since then we have not only taken over the original twenty tubs but have increased the planting by placing additional tubs in the Market Place, Abbey Grounds, Castle Street and Catalpa Square. There are now forty tubs that we plant with summer bedding, spring bulbs and winter bedding to try to make the town centre look attractive to visitors and residents. We ask pairs of volunteers to mind two or three tubs. This involves planting, watering them, removing rubbish, deadheading and generally keeping them looking nice. The watering is particularly difficult since none of the tubs are located near convenient watering sources. This means that the volunteers bring water from home, or ask local businesses if they can use their taps and carry the water to the site. This can be very demanding, particularly if there is a hot dry spell when the tubs need watering daily.
How are we funded?
Cirencester Town Council provides a small grant to cover some of the costs of plants and bulbs. However, to make sure Cirencester looks its absolute best, The Phoenix Gardeners provide extra plants and bedding and this year have tried to save money by growing plants in conjunction with Deer Park School and Cirencester College and we have tried to raise money through seeking donations from local businesses and organisations.
What else do we do?
The interest in trying to improve the town has had various spin offs. There is now a group of volunteers who meet once a fortnight to maintain the large flowerbed in the Abbey Grounds. There is no budget from the council for this; the volunteers provide all the labour and any plants that are needed.
We ran the Cirencester Plant Swap for the past two years. This was a local initiative to try to increase the interest in gardening by inviting anyone with spare plants to swap them for other people’s spare plants. These events were a huge success and whilst we did not set out to raise money, we raised about £150 that was donated to the course for students with learning difficulties at Cirencester College to help them develop gardening skills. We have supported the teaching of horticulture for less able students at Cirencester College and Deer Park School through working in partnership to grow plants for the summer bedding and helping them by sharing gardening techniques and with watering in school/college holidays. We hope that the students will be able to plant up tubs this year, so that they have an investment in the town looking nice. Through our encouragement the students have now offered to take over the management of a bed at Thomas Street, as a means of teaching horticultural skills and helping students to become job ready. As part of our community involvement we have worked with the Churn project to encourage some of the adults who attend their groups to learn gardening skills, both as a way of increasing social interaction and improving civic engagement in a group of people who can be isolated. Where appropriate we will try to help Churn volunteers gain “work-ready” skills, and one attendee has already got a job at Dobbies.
Have we been successful?
This is subjective, but when we are watering or weeding, we receive many positive comments from passersby about how much they enjoy seeing the tubs and how much better they look. Local businesses have been so impressed with the tubs outside their premises that they have provided their own hanging baskets, (specifically the shops in Catalpa Square and on Castle Street).
The number of tubs has increased and now totals 45. There are spin-off gardening activities. As an example, the Watermoor Community Group wanted to improve their neighbourhood. They approached us for advice and through working with Cirencester Town Council, a large and previously neglected flowerbed has been planted up and they are hoping to locate some tubs at key points.
In order to maintain and increase these activities we need more volunteers and more donations. If you would like to support the Phoenix Gardeners and help improve the planting in Cirencester you would be very welcome to give some time, money, plants or any other help. Please contact Meg Blumsom on 01285 657696 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you.