The Great Conservatory at Syon Park was the beautiful setting for an inspirational event yesterday, as amateur gardeners from across the UK were recognised for their determination, creativity and green fingers in the Gardening Against The Odds awards.
Whilst the top prize went to a brilliant project by gardeners of the Southend branch of the Huntington's Disease Association: Sherborne Allotments, Londoners dominated the special commendations:
- Gardening Leave — the charity that works to improve the mental and physical wellbeing of Serving and ex-Service personnel using Horticultural Therapy — cultivates a plot at the Royal Hospital Chelsea which yields veggies for the Chelsea Pensioners and improved well being for its gardeners.
- Prescila Bisa keeps her Notting Hill frontage full of colour for the benefit of whoever beholds it.
- The Gardens Community Garden in Harringay was created out of an anti-social patch of land next to the railway line and behind Sainsbury's. Local residents battled years to find out who owned the land so they could transform it and happily, since 2002 it's been a thriving community garden with an events programme that makes it "the community centre without a roof”.
- Tower Hamlets local, Tanya Nalywajko is the campaigner behind Eric Street Community Garden which was once fenced off, full of dog poo and a favourite of drug dealers. Now it's a well loved play area and garden designed by local people and even has its own full-size cow.
- Mary Raphaely uses the therapeutic benefits of gardening to help victims of torture find their way back to everyday living. The Medical Foundation for Victims of Torture peace garden in Holloway is a safe place that gives people a patch to call their own and opportunities for new growth.
- A plot of land in Canning Town earmarked for Crossrail development was temporarily commandeered by Jean McQuaid of GreEn 16 and filled with 120 builders' bags of vegetables and flowers. The impromptu planting cheered up the area, reduced anti-social behaviour and fed locals with homegrown produce. This garden will close this year as the Crossrail work starts but don't doubt that another will spring up somewhere nearby...
The judges included London guerilla gardener Richard Reynolds, who gave an impassioned plea for all the amazing and nascent gardeners present to spread the word and be evangelical about the benefits and wonders of gardening. His call to arms was echoed by special guest, Alan Titchmarsh who summed it all up, extolling three basic things about growing stuff: it's good for your health, it teaches you about the world and happy, nuturing, green fingered types are less likely to hang out on street corners being anti-social.
As award winner Prescila Bisa — who gardens on despite a diagnosis of breast cancer — says, "No matter how small the space, it can be a garden and no matter what your circumstances you can still be a gardener."
The Conservation Foundation runs the Gardening Against The Odds Awards in memory of writer and Sunday Telegraph columnist Elspeth Thompson who launched a blog "Gardening Against The Odds" shortly before she died in 2010.