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Grow Your Own

Grow Your Own
14 October 2019

Shirley Bray on Rotherham U3A's Grow Your Own group within their community walled garden

Are we a unique U3A group?

Back in 2011 Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council launched a community garden within the town park. Lottery funding enabled them to create plots for cultivation in the beautiful setting of a walled garden, complete with its own micro- climate. Local groups came forward including founder members Betty, Joy, Freda and Marjorie to establish a successful U3A practical gardening team.

In 2014 I was recently retired and looking to try new experiences. Growing vegetables sounded like a challenge that I could possibly attempt. I was warmly welcomed and in my first year I specialised in weeding! All the while I watched and listened, the council mentor 'Bernie' kept us on track and suggested jobs for the day. Tools, seeds, compost and, best of all, expert advice were given freely.

Learning a new skill is fantastic and from year two I felt confident enough to join in with sowing seeds and planting out. I may sound naïve when I marvel at the miracle of cultivating vegetables but to plant small seeds that grow into a huge cabbage or produces plentiful sweetcorn cobs or results in rows of beautiful beetroot is incredulous to me.

Five years on I am the co-ordinator but as in many U3A groups this is purely to look after the paperwork. We are a real team of gardeners all with varying degrees of previous knowledge. Meeting on Thursday mornings the growing year starts around January/February depending on the weather.

Initially we work in the greenhouse before moving onto the allotment plot. We keep a gardening journal to record the gardeners, weather, tasks completed and crops harvested: this is a real working document covered in mud. The year finishes when the ground is empty, it's time to spread a layer of compost before the council set to with their rotavator.

I have gained so much from the Grow Your Own group. Lots of laughs: at our comedy carrots too rude to photograph; at our plentiful lettuce the result of a wrongly packaged turnip seed packet; at our immense marrows. Aside from tending our patch we share recipes, family news, holiday tips and best of all freshly picked fruit and vegetables.

Our next challenge is to recruit new members to join the six of us, the two hours of commitment are hugely rewarding.

Here comes the sales pitch! *Its good fun. *Its a great form of exercise in the fresh air. *You eat more fruit and veg. *Its good for the environment. * Its good for your well being. *Its educational, you learn from others. *Its good to be part of a gardening community.

Are you part of a Grow Your Own group or another unique group? Let us know by submitting a story.

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