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An Gairdin Beo

Community Gardens

Health and Wellbeing in a Community Garden

October 11, 2015

An Gairdin Beo - Health and Wellbeing in a Community Garden

An Gairdín Beo – A Living Garden for Carlow

I’m sitting quietly in the common room area of a new community garden project in the middle of Carlow town and in this particular instant, I couldn’t feel more at peace. The wall clock is ticking loudly, cars are passing by on the old Dublin Road and in the distance I can hear the shouts of children as they play. All of these are unfamiliar sounds to a woman who’s been living in rural Ireland for the past 17 years, someone who’s usual neighbours are herds of cows and hedgerow birds. The weekend sounds are somehow reassuring as I sit alone in this quiet, old school building during my volunteer shift, feeling an unusual sense of Saturday peace as I wait for company.

An Gairdin Beo - Health and Wellbeing in a Community GardenJust through the open door crunchy leaves are skittering around the tarmac, early losses from the nearby silver birch and chestnut trees, marking the beginning of the seasonal change.

My eyes are drawn to the area that will soon be full of raised vegetable growing beds and a compost area and I can feel the bubbles of excitement in my tummy when I think about the plans for developing this garden. The potential for this social food growing and eco hub, bang in the middle of the county-town is heart-stirring.

An Gairdin Beo - Health and Wellbeing in a Community GardenThis garden will be a place to socialise, to learn, to eat, to create, laugh, meditate or just be at one with nature in a green space that’s being created for the community, by the community. It’s unlikely it will be this quiet once the growing begins.

An Gairdín Beo, a living garden for Carlow, is in its early stages of development and the changes the other volunteers have made over the weeks in preparation for hosting the recent Integration Forum gathering, are palpable.

An Gairdin Beo - Health and Wellbeing in a Community Garden

Where, just a short while ago there were laurel and bracken, pathways now meander beneath cleared stretches of overhanging evergreens, revealing steps with urns and other delights. In the distant end of the contemplation area, stags head sumac glow in the low sunlight, trees and and shrubs have been tidied, old flower growing areas resurrected and the undergrowth cleared from basketball courts that will one day be replaced by timber and soil.

An Gairdin Beo - Health and Wellbeing in a Community GardenBoth of the buildings have been spruced up, cleaned and painted, toilets repaired and I can only imagine how different it was here just a couple of weeks ago when I was visiting friends in the UK.

Health and Wellbeing in a Community Garden

Photo Credit: Rosalind Murray

In September twenty nations moved into the garden for two hours for the Forum event, bringing life and vibrancy, food, song, art, laughter and music during the annual event that’s struggled to find a natural home until now.

We hope that An Gairdín Beo will welcome many more Carlow communities over the coming years.

An Gairdin Beo - Health and Wellbeing in a Community GardenI was contacted twelve months ago about this new, two-acre community garden project in Carlow town, that sits snugly beside St Leo’s college and convent. It’s the first community garden that I’ve personally volunteered in and not simply worked with, and it’s cheering.

I’ve written many posts that you can find here about why community gardening is so good if you haven’t had the chance to join a community garden yourself, but a new group of us are beginning to live and breathe them in this urban centre.

Truly, the mental health benefits alone of being in a tranquil setting surrounded by nature, in a place that has already begun to enthuse so many people, cannot be underestimated.

Sharing the Harvest

Next weekend An Gairdín Beo will be holding another event that we hope will help to go some way towards solving the problem of what to do with our excess harvest. Perhaps next year we’ll be harvesting from the new community garden beds, but for now it will be from our own gardens as we try to find a solution for the food waste that often drips from abundant crab apple, plum and apple trees that surround many of us.

An Gairdin Beo - Health and Wellbeing in a Community GardenFrom 2pm to 4pm on Saturday, 17th October the gates will be open wide once more and we will welcome everyone who wants to come inside and bring their excess harvest, perhaps swapping fruit or vegetables, or maybe just taking what you want in exchange for a donation towards the creation of this special garden.

HEALTH AND WELLBEING IN A COMMUNITY GARDENWe hope to be pressing apples (bring some empty containers in case), tea making and cake devouring as well as generally enjoying the company of new friends and people who enjoy being close to their food sources or who want to learn more about this or other community gardens.

If you’d like to become involved or simply keep in touch with the activities in An Gairdín Beo and watch from afar how the community garden develops, you can find our Facebook Group here.

Hope to see you there sometime.

Community Gardens

Come Inside and Have a Look at An Gairdín Beo

March 15, 2015

An Gairdín Beo is a lovely Irish saying that literally translates to ”The Garden Alive”. It’s the name a group of us agreed upon last autumn for a very special urban community garden project that’s coming together in Carlow town.

Carlow Community Garden - An Gairdin Beo

Last year, the Mercy Sisters offered a 36 year lease on a two acre wilderness that sits next to St Leo’s College and Convent, giving the community an opportunity to create a garden that will be:

“based on an ecological orientation, on valuing diversity, sustainability, organic methods and indigenous species. It recognises that we as humans, are part of nature too. It is committed to the preservation and protection of the site as a green area for the greatest diversity of life possible.”

For the past few months I’ve been one of around twenty people who’ve volunteered to get this project off the ground, many representing communities and groups within Carlow town and several with links to St Leo’s College that stretch back to their childhood and beyond.

Watching a Community Garden Evolve

Carlow Community Garden - An Gairdin BeoExcellently facilitated by Chris Chapman of The Change Exploratory and encouraged along by Srs Mary Carmody, one of the drivers behind the Baltinglass Community Garden, back in September we split into three teams – governance, landscaping and catalysing. It’s the later that I offered to help out with and since then our group have worked to create the garden’s vision, community involvement and put together documents that will help with funding applications. As one of the coordinators of the Community Gardens Ireland, the experience has been an enjoyable and valuable learning opportunity.

Over the coming months there will be a tremendous amount of physical work to do, money to be found and community engagement to be coordinated. However, a lot of groundwork has taken place already, the foundations of the project have been laid and we hope this community garden will now begin to grow and thrive, helping to positively contribute towards the ongoing development of the town centre and bring some life and purpose back to it. Time and care has been taken to engage everyone from the beginning with the hope that An Gairdín Beo will evolve gradually to “become a space in which diverse people can connect more to nature, to the growing and making of food and to each other”.

Come and Have a Look at the Wild Community Garden

Photo Credit: Eilish Langton

Photo Credit: Eilish Langton

On 21st March, the weekend of th Spring Equinox, we will be holding a “come and have a look” afternoon with various side activities planned from moss graffiti and seed planting and identification to chatting to everyone involved and offering refreshments.

We’ve sent invitations out to around 200 schools, organisations and the community of Carlow in the hope they’ll drop by then leave with the desire to get involved in this project as it progresses. In time we hope An Gairdín Beo will offer a socially inclusive combination of art, food, nature, vegetable growing and community to people of all ages in Carlow who want to engage with it.

We’re lucky to have two buildings on site already that will offer places for educational involvement and perhaps more importantly, hot cups of tea and refreshments and a place to meet and chat. I’m feeling very blessed and honoured to be involved with An Gairdín Beo from the beginning and can already feel new friendships being formed as a result.

Carlow Community Garden Wild Area - An Gairdin BeoIf you’re in or close to Carlow town on Saturday, we hope you’ll drop by and “come and have a look” at what we’re up to. If not, I hope you’ll stay tuned to watch the progress of the garden over the coming months, to see how a community project can come together when lots of people are included from the start. You never know, it might help to inspire similar projects in your own communities.


Find Out More About Community Gardens in Ireland

If you’re interested in community gardens, you’ll find lots of resources here on the website. If you’re in Ireland, jot the 28th June into your diary where those of us interested in community gardens will be coming together at The School of Food in Thomastown, County Kilkenny to share our stories and learn more about this social form of gardening.