Gardeners and the Big Society

Posted: Monday 9 January 2012
by Adam Pasco

Whether for commercial reasons, altruistic ones, or a bit of both, it’s great to see the staff and customers of garden centres participating in a varied range of projects and initiatives.

Community gardeners on a veg plot

News reports have recently discussed the meaning of ‘The Big Society’, a phrase apparently coined by David Cameron’s wife, Samantha. If I understand it correctly, the phrase is devised to highlight the importance of society over state, but I'll leave others to debate the political nuances.

My reason for even raising this issue is that it reminds me of a report published last November by the British Retail Consortium, called Retail in Society: Serving our Communities, which highlights the valuable work many garden centres do to support their local communities.

Whether for commercial reasons, altruistic ones, or a bit of both, it’s great to see the staff and customers of garden centres participating in a varied range of projects and initiatives.

When members of the Horticultural Trades Association were recently surveyed, it was found that 75% of garden retailers participate in or promote community events, and 68% engage in local charity fundraising. Some even host charitable events at their own premises. Garden centres also play a significant role in engaging with young gardeners, with 67% supporting school gardening initiatives.

I always find gardeners to be generous people, keen to share knowledge, plants and produce. But it's interesting to look wider, at the important role garden centres, retailers, open gardens, colleges and others play in our society.

It's not just the financial and commercial aspects I refer to, although we can't ignore the employment generated by the garden industry, and the support it offers to charities such as Greenfingers (which builds gardens at children's hospices) that wouldn't exist without the generous support of the garden industry.

I'm also thinking about how gardening creates bonds between people, as well as producing gardens of value to individuals and wildlife. Gardening friends and neighbours build communities. They connect groups, work with parents and schools, revive allotments, transform eyesores into gardens, and so much more.

Yes, gardeners could teach politicians a thing or two about helping different areas of society to work together. And they wouldn't need a multi-million pound budget to do it either.

How does your gardening help your local community and others around you?

Discuss this blog post

Talkback: Gardeners and the Big Society
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Julia Smith 09/01/2012 at 17:57

I'm leading a project to make the land the York RSPCA occupies act as an asset for the charity.
We got Silver in Yorkshire in Bloom last year and I think we were the only animal charity in the country that entered.
We have five key activities and the feedback we're getting is great with my favourite one being that the place 'looks friendlier!':

- Planting and landscaping to create a stimulating environment for the staff, volunteers, animals and visitors.
- Improving the environmentally friendly practices by; composting the waste from the small animals; harvesting rain water to use in the garden; reusing donated plant pots, fencing and wire.
- Making the garden a friendly and sustainable place for wildlife by installing; insect hotels; a small pond; handmade donated bird boxes; planting bee-friendly perennial plants; nurturing a native hedgerow.
- Establishing a plant nursery to grow plants for sale at the RSPCA events to raise cash for the charity
- Growing fruit and veg for the small animals in the care of the RSPCA to help reduce food bills
- Creating a memorial garden for people who would like to remember their pets who were adopted from the RSPCA

All of this activity must come at no cost to the charity so I have led on a number of fundraising initiatives to date resulting in over £3.5k-worth of materials and plants.
More info here:

happymarion 09/01/2012 at 18:43

Oh, I do so agree with you, Adam. And yet a search I made of the New Years honours list revealed only one honour to a gardener, a part-time gardener at Highgrove. I am one of 41 volunteer gardeners at the Bristol University Bot. Garden and we keep the garden looking spruce for the local community to use. it is seldom we don't see wheelchairs being pushed round from the next door nursing home and we love to see their smiles. The garden also has its own fundraisers in the shape of the Friends of the BBG which has nearly 2000 members, some of whom, including me this year, open their gardens to make funds. Other Friends man the Welcome Lodge and sell t-shirts, postcards etc and others act as guides taking school pupils, gardening clubs etc round the Garden. Others publish the quarterly magazine.
I always have lots of surplus plants as I love growing from seed and these get sold to make funds for various local charities. If there is a fair you can bet there will be a plant stall!
In the winter I give slide shows about gardening and the gardens I visit as well as the BG and these are always enjoyed when days are grey. And, of course, I do my fair share of office work which is a poor second to gardening by being the Hon. Secy of our local group of the Alpine Garden Society. And I am only one of many thousands who do likewise out of enthusiasm for living plants and through them all things living.

Adam Pasco 10/01/2012 at 11:33

Great to hear about these projects. The increased interest in Grow Your Own has really inspired many communities to grow more crops, and share them with others. What better way can there be to get people gardening, support one another, and save money!