I’ve never been one for getting my hands dirty in a gardening kind of sense. Green fingers are something I was most certainly not blessed with, whereas having the ability to kill a house plant as soon as look at it seems to come naturally. But I love fresh produce and marvel at the abundance of home-grown treats other people manage to counjour from the ground.
So when I’m offered the fruits of someone else’s labour, as does happen from time to time, I accept their vegetable glut with greed. I practically fed myself for a week once on my favourite winter warmer – creamy leek and potato soup – made with vegetables fresh from a friend’s allotment. Another freebie came from a colleague who had more apples in her garden than she knew what to do with. Once transformed into homemade apple sauce, this made a most welcome addition to Christmas hampers I made for family and friends one year.
Surprisingly though, my best windfall to date came from an afternoon at work. Some enthusiastic and green-fingered people have started a Community Garden at the University of Exeter. Being both nosey and food mad, I just had to see this enterprise for myself and arranged to meet one of the committee members. So on a sunny September afternoon, I found myself trekking to the top of the campus, away from the hustle and bustle of the academic world and out into the green fields. The views overlooking Exeter from this part of the campus are breathtaking and although the first hint of the crisp Autumn season was in the air, the warm temperature still made it feel like a perfect Summer afternoon.
I’m not sure what I was expecting – perhaps a token effort of a scruffy vegetable patch in the corner of a field – but I was very pleasantly surprised when I saw the full extent of this new enterprise. Six huge rectangular raised beds form the centre of the garden, producing everything from cabbages, sprouts and squash, to french beans, peppers and cucumbers.
Old tractor tyres are strategically placed around the edges of the garden for growing tomatoes, sweet peas and strawberries. I was given a grand tour of the garden with detailed descriptions of each variety and the date it was planted. Some of the vegetables were very generous in size, which might be thanks to the fact that a pond located on a different part of the campus was drained and the, well, what can only be described as ‘sludge’ from the bottom was collected and used to feed the plants in the garden.
The glut of courgettes is one of the success stories resulting from this and at the time of my visit, there was an abundance of flowers perfect for coating in a light tempura batter.
In the bottom right of the garden, a bee hive has recently been installed with a member of Academic staff from the Psychology department being responsible for the bees. Apparently they are being studied as part of one of the University research projects and it seems fitting that whilst the behaviour of these impressive insects is being monitored, the Community Garden can enjoy the honey they produce.
There really is a lot to be impressed by in this small yet productive space, but I think my favourite part was the raised bed which is dedicated to herb growing. Teeming with every herb imaginable, it is both aromatically and visually appealing. My generous tour guide was kind enough to let me raid the garden to my heart’s content. I had a fantastic time foraging in the soil and came away with a bag overflowing with goodies. Courgettes, butternut squash, peppers and french beans were all dug up with a selection of herbs being added to the mix. My mind was racing with ideas of what to turn my freebies into, and with such a variety the possibilities were endless! But that can wait for a future blog…
There are plans for the garden to be extended to allow for a larger volume of produce as well as more varieties. An area for a small ‘club house’ has also been identified for the committee to hold their weekly meetings. I had a fantastic afternoon – spending time in the fresh air certainly beats sitting behind a desk – and I very much hope that support for this venture will continue, as there is a lot of potential for a space like this and the enthusiasm is there in abundance. The people involved in the garden are extremely proud of their creation, and quite rightly so. With a little investment from the University and the Student’s Guild, they’ve put in hours of blood, sweat and tears to create this haven, which is more than just a plot to grow fruit and veg. It’s an opportunity for people to come together and spend time doing something they enjoy, with the added reward of seeing their hard work come into a tasty fruition. Well done them!