“I did an entry level gardening course with Dee a couple of years ago and couldn’t recommend her course enough. She knows anything there is to know about vegetable growing, is very free with her knowledge. Dee genuinely loves what she does and her enthusiasm is infectious. Her class was fabulous, engaging, fun and brimming with useful tips and hints. It truly takes the mystery out of growing your own” Siobhan Jordan, Artist and Illustrator
Gleann na Bearú Community Garden
Gleann na Bearú Community Garden began in the spring of 2015 when Dee Sewell was invited to run six weekly sessions of informal intergenerational workshops via Kilkenny Carlow Education Training Board by the Respond Housing community building manager.
The garden is located within the enclosed walls of their community centre in the heart of a Bagenalstown housing estate and for the most part, the building sits empty. However, in the evenings Carlow Regional Youth Service (CRYS) Bagenalstown Youth Project (BTP) operate a youth club for young people and it was planned that the leaders would attend the garden course and pass on any information learned to the young people.
Gleann na Bearú, February 2015
Until the garden began to be established, the young people were the only ones who had access to the 180m2 space. It was made up of an overgrown lawn, a few tables and chairs, wall art and a pile of painted tyres in the corner that youth members had planted a few bedding plants in.
During the spring of 2015, adults were invited to attend a basic gardening course for six weeks. Dee educated the group about the basics needed for a successful organic garden – crop rotation and vegetable families, weeding and pest control without chemicals as well as garden design, potting, planting and transplanting.
Respond funded four small raised beds and were so pleased with the results and feedback, they applied for another six weeks garden tuition. The informal courses attracted approximately 14 adults who met every week and from then on, further funding was provided by Kilkenny Carlow ETB and Respond housing, which continued in six-week blocks, on and off, throughout 2015.
2016 – Introducing New Stakeholders
During 2016 Respond increased their funding to provide more raised beds and in the Autumn of 2016, Carlow County Development Partnership began to support the project. During this time, Dee was invited to deliver a 30-hour horticulture programme aimed at helping adults get back to work, using the garden as their learning space but offering practical experience to help them gain confidence. The horticulture element was part of a package that included manual handling, first aid responder and a safe pass.
Since the initial ETB funding, Dee has worked and liaised with several stakeholders and material providers in this garden, including local industry (Goresbridge Woodchip, Griffith Timber, Walshes Hardware and Connolly’s hardware), to secure discounts and funding to design, build, develop, educate, tutor and encourage new people into the garden. Stakeholders and funders have included Carlow County Development Partnership, Carlow County Council Local Agenda 21, Respond Housing Association, Kilkenny Carlow ETB, Crown Paints and Carlow Youth Services.
The garden is an important part of people’s lives; apart from learning about flowers and vegetables it’s a place of laughter and friendship and of course a sense of community as its name suggests.
2017 Environmental & Community Awareness
Dee doesn’t simply cover horticultural projects in this garden. She has developed environmental and community awareness too by holding other workshops such as building green roof structures and biodiversity awareness that have attracted up to 20 people thanks to Carlow Council Local Agenda 21 funding.
In 2017, due to a fantastic team effort between all the gardeners and youth members, the garden won the first Carlow Pride of Place Upcycle Challenge for its plastic bottle greenhouse and recycled elements, and is now a showplace for environmental projects that can be considered in other gardens.
In 2017 the community garden was chosen by the Nationalist Newspaper to represent Carlow in the National Get Involved Campaign and featured in an Irish Garden edition about community gardens during 2018.
Community is About the People
However, it’s the stories of personal achievement and development that mark this garden and provide an insight into the positive effects of being in a social community garden with others. One of the reasons the garden works so well is because of the diverse nature of people in it.
One lady mentioned how the garden was helping to take her mind off her redundancy from a long-term job. Until she joined the garden she hadn’t ventured anywhere since the shock of her job loss.
Several adults attend the garden from BEAM services who support adults with additional needs. One of those participants developed the confidence to take on a woodworking course and further his education. Another long-term unemployed lady gained the confidence to begin talking and sharing her knowledge about gardening and landscaping. Her growing personal skills working alongside the BEAM members have been notable.
Finally, another young grandmother who’s been attending the garden since the beginning, who lives in the middle of the rural town and is now officially the garden’s best soup maker, summed up what being a member of the garden meant for her:
“I didn’t know how to garden until I came here, I’d never seen vegetables growing, or knew what most of them were. I didn’t really know how to cook other than the basic ham, veg and potato dinners but now I’m cooking all sorts.”
She also mentioned that the garden was the only place she meets people other than online or in her immediate family circle. Since those comments she has returned to formal education and is studying QQI level 5 horticulture, completed social enterprise training with County Carlow Development Partnership and has launched a small family business selling plants at markets.
Dee believes this garden has thrived due to the ongoing presence of one of the Carlow Youth CE support workers who has acted as a ‘gardeniser’ throughout, ensuring the gates are open every week, organising the tea and biscuits, as well as seeds, plants and compost when needed. Garden regulars know it’s open every Wednesday morning and drop throughout the year, regardless of the weather or if community education courses are running.
The multi-agency support has been tremendous given that it can take time for the benefits from projects such as this to be realised. However, the strong integration philosophy has ensured a cheerful and caring environment for the people and the plants within the garden walls, which make it a joy for those who attend.