Connecting older people who have garden space they are no longer able to make the most of, with volunteers looking for a space in which to grow, is the premise on which Edinburgh Garden Partners has been built.
It is the shared interest in gardening, and the exchange of skills, knowledge, and life experience, that make these partnerships so special and rewarding for both volunteers and garden owners.
Project Coordinator Debs Hahn said, “We aim to nurture a sense of belonging, and strengthen communities in Edinburgh, by creating garden partnerships that connect volunteers to older people in their community with garden space to share.
“Volunteering with Edinburgh Garden Partners is a brilliant opportunity for community-spirited people who are looking for a space in the city to grow their own produce.”
“We match volunteers to garden owners according to where they live and their overall compatibility, and currently have around 40 active partnerships across Edinburgh.”
For garden owners, sharing a space with a volunteer from Edinburgh Garden Partners is a great way to help a person in the local community who is looking for a space to grow. “We prioritise working with older people who want to enjoy their gardens and feel connected with their community, but are no longer able to maintain the garden themselves,” said Debs.
“We hope that by developing the garden into a growing space, older people will feel more positive about their home and their environment, as well as more able to access their garden, which will boost their health and wellbeing.”
For a garden to be shared through Edinburgh Garden Partners, it is important for it to be easily accessible with sufficient sunlight, some space to grow fruit and vegetables, and access to water. But a willingness to share the space and work positively with a volunteer is the most important thing.
People from all backgrounds and walks of life get involved with the supportive community of Edinburgh Garden Partners. Neither volunteers nor garden owners need prior experience in gardening to form a partnership.
Edinburgh Garden Partners can help people to set up their plot, and they guide and support garden owners and volunteers to establish a mutually beneficial partnership by making a written agreement, which sets healthy boundaries and shared expectations for what can be achieved.
The plots which partners share come in all shapes and sizes, from a single raised bed to a large tiered garden. Many volunteers and garden owners have developed and expanded their shared plot over multiple growing seasons, creating unique and really productive growing spaces.
Edinburgh Garden Partners provides training opportunities in line with volunteers’ needs and interests, and there are lots of opportunities for people to get together and share seeds, plants, and ideas. They also run Garden SOS days, where a group of volunteers works together to transform a garden into a growing space.
Coordinating the partnerships allows Debs to see firsthand the difference these garden pairings can have, “Over the past two years in particular, many people have felt more isolated, and we are increasingly recognising the impacts of loneliness and isolation on our mental and physical health.”
“Having a regular visit from a garden volunteer can help not only to bring a garden back to life, but also to have a greater sense of companionship, and feel more connected to the local community. One garden owner told us, ‘Doing the garden at times can be overwhelming, and knowing and having someone to share with, that has the same values, is comforting and definitely helps with mental health, especially as the seasons change. Being able to volunteer in the garden with Edinburgh Garden Partners has been the best, and it’s brilliant to see how others benefit, that’s important now, and for the future.’”
“We think that these partnerships work so well as both sides have so much to offer. Garden owners are helping volunteers by providing them space to grow which can be hard to access in a city where lots of people live in tenement flats, and allotment waiting lists are long. Volunteers help garden owners to feel more positive about their garden space – and everyone enjoys a cup of tea and chat!”
Edinburgh Garden Partners is pleased to have recently received another 3 years’ funding from the National Lottery Community Fund, which will allow them to carry on supporting the partnerships they work with, and to form more.
They also receive funding from Vegware Community Fund and Edinburgh Integration Joint Board, which helps them to work with people from more diverse backgrounds across Edinburgh.
Have a Garden to Share?
Edinburgh Garden Partners has been creating garden partnerships across the city since 2011, and is always open to people getting involved. At the moment, they are particularly keen to hear from those with a garden to share.
They also want to spread the idea of shared gardening across Scotland and beyond, “We think garden sharing is such a great model,” said Debs, “with so many benefits for people involved, and would love it if more people could experience that.”
Edinburgh Garden Partners shows a way in which shared gardening can have a hugely positive impact on people’s lives, reinforcing in practice the physical and mental well-being benefits of gardening.
Edinburgh Garden Partners can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org, or on 0131 347 0529.