Column – Helping Others with Karen Weaver

Volunteers help to maintain the landscape and gardens at a number of venues across the region, including Ripon Workhouse Museum.
Volunteers help to maintain the landscape and gardens at a number of venues across the region, including Ripon Workhouse Museum.

We know that our district is renowned for its beautiful gardens and open spaces and they have always attracted visitors to the area. It is easy to take this all for granted but there is far more to all this gardening than perhaps we fully appreciate.

Back in July two friends and I visited the beautiful private gardens at Yorke House at Dacre Banks. The occasion was “Rhythm and Blooms”, a long established fundraiser for Harrogate and District Society for the Blind, and we enjoyed tea and cake on the lawn while listening to relaxing music and enjoying the sights and sounds of this stunning garden and the views across Nidderdale. Volunteers from HDSB were busy manning the gate, running a tombola, making tea and selling tasty cakes all made by supporters of this vital local charity.

The National Garden Scheme, which Yorke House participates in, raised £2.7 million for charities in 2015 nationally. Its fundraising and grant-making model is simple; funds are raised by the gardens that open and the total net amount available is given away annually. In addition, individual gardens have donated more than £4 million directly to local charities of their choice, such as HDSB.

The green fingered hard work of the individual garden owners is supplemented by an army of volunteers who enable this to happen, as we saw that day in Nidderdale.

Everywhere in the district there are examples of gardens and green spaces making a huge difference to the lives of local people, as well as attracting visitors and benefiting the local economy. At Henshaws in Knaresborough, the Ripon Walled Garden in Ripon and Horticap in Harrogate gardening provides opportunities for people with disabilities to learn, work, exercise and participate in community activities and enterprise.

The value of gardening to mental health is increasingly recognised and Orb Community Arts, just off the High Street in Knaresborough, have turned derelict land adjacent to their premises into a tranquil community garden.

Offering space for growing vegetables, native wildlife habitat and a place where people can meet, relax and find a moment of calm, Orb Green is now a resource both for regular service users and volunteers from the local community.

Back in Harrogate, local people have worked hard together to create a community garden in Woodfield (Millie Green) and the Woodlands Community Garden recently won the highest accolade in the It’s Your Neighbourhood category at the Yorkshire In Bloom awards.

Yorkshire in Bloom is itself a charity, which aims to encourage community spirit and civic pride whilst promoting responsibility for planting, cleanliness and maintenance.

Energetic volunteers run the various In Bloom groups across the district and the local and regional In Bloom awards also recognise voluntary groups dedicated to helping look after public open spaces, including the Friends of the Valley Gardens and the Pinewoods Conservation Group. Volunteers help to maintain the landscape and gardens of the Nidderale Area of Outstanding National Beauty, Brimham Rocks, Fountains Abbey and the RHS Garden at Harlow Carr.

At the Ripon Workhouse Museum they have helped to recreate the original Workhouse Kitchen Garden, which would have been tended by the inmates and used to feed them. The produce is now supplied to local restaurants and children on school visits have the opportunity to get a taste of workhouse life.

The National Gardens Scheme has commissioned research by the Kings Fund to improve the understanding of the links between gardens, gardening and health. The recent Gardens and Health report reviews the evidence of the impact of gardens on wellbeing from childhood through family life and into older age.

The good news is that there are lots of examples where gardens and gardening are being used to improve health, including community gardens, volunteering, recovery from illness, dementia care and end-of-life care.

Hopefully I’ve shown that this is already happening in spades in our area, but if you are in any doubt visit Saint Michael’s Hospice and you will know for sure the benefit of beautiful gardens lovingly tended by volunteers.

The afternoon was made even more special on account of being with two old friends, one who is very knowledgeable about horticulture and one who needs a bit of help to get out and about these days due to a long term health issue.

We tested Sue on her plant knowledge and had a great time making sure that Jenny could enjoy as much of the garden as possible from her wheelchair (with the garden owner’s full encouragement).

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