Hi, Ali here! This blog is a little different to how I usually write. That’s because instead of using studies and research to send out a message this time, it’s from personal experience and family history.
Fortunately for me, I was brought up by a long line of female gardeners who were slightly obsessed with the idea of getting outside to work with plants.
I fondly remember my Granny’s garden; it was something incredible to me, as where I lived; it was all concrete. Granny had a beautiful magnolia tree, classic pink Hydrangeas, a range of Poppies, red hot pokers, bluebells, giant towering pine trees overlooking the very back, and so much more.
I eagerly watched bird boxes come to life, feeders being devoured by a range of birds, and a little pond that Grandad lovingly put together with a range of butterflies, frogs, hoverflies, bees, and at one point, a heron eating his Koi.
There was a greenhouse that was so warm I could barely stand it some days, and I loved the smell in there. Granny would sit in there for hours sowing seeds, repotting and all sorts of magical things, inspiring my curiosity from the very beginning. Granny let us grow our own little tray gardens and water the plants. I created a flowing path with little patches mixed with flowers and a pretend pond.
Right down at the bottom of her garden, there was a swing!
It had a squeak, and every time us cousins would get together – the swing would be a major attraction. We didn’t understand why it was slow, but we liked the sunny day cushions and sitting on it altogether.
The garden was a place Granny would invite people into her home. It was a place where she didn’t talk about the brutalities of being the eldest child during WW2, trying to hold everybody together, telling us about how her Mum tragically died when they were all so young. It was a place she would sing, knit, teach, read, talk to her dog, and have wine delivered by us all.
Mum was similar. One of my earliest memories is being in a house where we had an old chimney as a plant pot, my Mum working on the front of the house where it was.
For years now, my Mum has been organically growing vegetables all year round, with absolute passion. She joined an allotment and grew even more vegetables. She had veggies just about everywhere at different stages all year round.
The dining table became a propagation station, the driveway became a greenhouse, and grass became a chicken coop for rescued chickens and ducks later on.
Having access to these things got my Mum through being made disabled. However, with growing vegetables, Mum gets the opportunity to provide again. She gets lots of fresh air, and after having scarred lungs, it can help her enormously as indoors, she tends to cough every other word.
When my daughter was born, I was a little bit grounded in the house. Soon after, my uncle brought us some houseplants, which I loved and are still growing. Then I found some aloe and spider plants which I realised I could split and share and keep really easily.
Before I knew it, I experimented with potatoes, cabbages, sprouting broccoli, various climbing plants, and an abundance of herbs.
Plants and wildlife became my thing. It would get me outside, whatever the weather. It would get me talking to people on matters other than my low moods, reading, and experimenting.
Every year I get a buzz for each season, which has continued wherever I’ve lived. Even when I have felt unwell, depleted, at a loss of spirits, I find that just spotting a little bird chirping or a little seedling emerging helps me. It helps even more so when you get onto joining a community.
During the lockdowns, I was finding myself exhausted at work. Mentally drained, the going in and going out with isolations and all the rest.
I was talking to my friend. For her, the challenge was not physically connecting with people. She had been volunteering most of her life and was missing it. So we talked about maybe getting some wildlife seeds to people who don’t have access to them, with tutorials of how they can grow anywhere. This is how Give it a Grow Wigan started out.
We wanted them to be as easy as possible, great pollinators for wildlife, perennial, for mixed sun gardens. We wanted to include the whole borough. We just kept brainstorming.
During that time, I felt such a relief that there was another purpose in my life other than just work, isolation, repeat – with all the complications that came with it. We were connecting with people, and they liked it.
Victoria was amazing; she would stay up late planning community garden projects for us, researching endangered species, and talking to everyone and anyone who could help us on our mission. She tracked our journey to how many seeds we distributed (over 700 packets). She found me opportunities to get outside and really challenge myself.
Every time I’d feel amazing that I’d got out and delivered seeds, I’d packed and weighed seeds, I’d spoken with experts, I’d listened to ideas, joined meetings on teams. Before I knew it, we had made a decent video; we had blogs, we had allies (a few random foes coming at us) , extra team members, funding, a hub!! We’d together built a brilliant little pond. I can barely keep track of it all, but I will always be chuffed about our RHS award.
I think the best thing is how it helped me find myself. Gardening, specifically gardening for wildlife with our community. That is my absolute passion!! I inherited it, my friend nurtured it, and I get to keep it.
Now, whenever I am in any mood, there is a space outside where I can breathe, move, connect. There’s so much to learn and try to teach.
The possibilities are endless, and I know I keep repeating myself, but there are days when I struggle so much, and if I just go outside, I can’t help myself tinkering! Deheading, checking water, pruning, weeding, tinkering, and observing it all.
Through community gardening, I’ve found my place in the world. Where I still feel connected to my Granny and my Mum. Where I meet new people and read so many different things. I love to teach gardening; I love to push myself physically to keep improving. I aim to help our community, especially now, with things being as they are.
Having the ability to turn a space from an eyesore into beautiful nectar is something I’ll always pursue now.
If you want to help Improve where you live in Wigan, for your own well-being and for wildlife, see how you can get involved, we'd love to hear from you.