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Community gardens encourage residents to become more socially and physically active and to build stronger ties to the area they live in. In the summer I visited Landport Community Garden to see for myself and find out about the Room to Grow project (which has now come to an end) and to find out how community gardens can benefit our cities and improve our well-being.

I’ve always loved being outdoors in the fresh air; growing things, or just relaxing, but I am fortunate enough now, to have a garden. It wasn’t always the case though. Living in a flat with no balcony it’s hard to imagine being able to grow vegetables, but it is possible! If you have a windowsill then you can grow stuff; herbs, salad leaves, even peppers and tomatoes.

Back in the summer, I went to visit Landport Community Garden to meet the man who runs it and chat with the volunteers there.

Matt Underwood, Landport Community Gardener at Portsmouth City Council, has been running the garden for 2 years now. In that time Matt and his wonderful volunteers have helped shape it into what it is today; a safe and friendly environment for Portsmouth City Council tenants who don’t have their own garden or green spaces.

The community garden is right in the heart of the city and so I was really surprised at how calm and chilled the place was. I could’ve stayed there all day. The sound of city centre traffic soon faded into the background and was replaced by the chirping of hundreds of birds in the trees dotted around the garden.

Not only does the community garden provide haven for wildlife in the city centre, but people can come out and socialise, help grow vegetables and flowers, or just relax and enjoy the fresh air.

When I visited, Matt showed me around; there was a mini forest with a giant bug hotel, a little wooden bridge and fruit tree area which was being watered at the time by Derek, one of the volunteers. There were large, raised growing beds, full with flowers, herbs and vegetables, oh and the bees and butterflies! I also got to meet their amazing rescue hens and said hello to Sid the cat.

5 ways community gardens can help your city and boost your sense of health and wellbeing

  1. It’s a wildlife haven – With trees, bushes and plants of many varieties, the garden attracts insects, birds and other animals and is home to the Tree Wardens who plant trees all over the city helping to reduce Portsmouth’s carbon footprint. At Landport Community Garden there are bug hotels, fruit trees and a variety of flowers and plants, all helping to attract the birds, bees and butterflies that are so vital to us.
  2. It provides volunteer opportunities – giving volunteers a sense of purpose and fulfilment and opening up further opportunities for them. All the volunteers I spoke to when I visited Landport Community Garden told me how much they enjoy volunteering and how it has improved their sense of wellbeing. A garden changes with the seasons and so there’s always something new and exciting to see and do.
  3. It helps bring communities together – you can learn a lot about life by growing things. Community gardens bring a sense of belonging to volunteers and residents alike. Landport Community Garden has an ethnic growing zone where residents from other cultures can grow things. Volunteer, Sue says that she’s been able to meet asylum seekers from various conflict zones. Sue told me ‘The asylum seekers volunteer at Landport Community Garden. They have fled countries and had to leave loved ones behind, who they may never see again. They have patiently answered a lot of my many questions. It was brought home to me how lucky I am to have what I have always taken for granted’.
  4. It improves health and well-being – volunteer, Peter says that he feels better and happier when he’s working in the garden. Volunteer, Charlie who is doing a Marine Biology Master’s degree, and spends a lot of time stuck at his desk, enjoys the fresh air and finds the hands-on work therapeutic.
  5. It provides educational opportunities – when I visited the garden I saw lots of tiny wheelbarrows, watering cans and shovels. I asked Matt who they belonged to and he told me that children from the local school come to the garden as part of their lessons, to sow seeds and tend to the plants. For some children this will be their first experience of growing something. Community gardens are great places to meet others and learn just how easy and satisfying it is to grow things, especially if you are short on outside space.

The nights are drawing in, and Christmas is just around the corner, not the usual time to think about growing things, but there’s still stuff you can sow and grow at this time of year. Take a look at these websites for ideas:

Portsmouth City Council has a number of community gardens, orchards and allotments that give advice and offer council tenants the experience of growing fruit and vegetables. A wide range of volunteering opportunities are also available.

For more information or to volunteer, contact our community gardener, Matthew Underwood.