Sunday, May 27, 2018

27 Jul

Guest Blogger – Tony Milne

Tony Milne, Product Development Consultant for Gardening Direct recently visited Thrive, a small national charity that uses gardening to change the lives of disabled people. 

Tony Milne writes; 

High winds and stormy clouds could not dampen the sunny atmosphere at this year’s annual Thrive Trunkwell Flower Show. 

Held at their headquarters at the Jeffrey Udall centre just outside Reading the Thrive open day appears to be a chance for those helped by Thrive to show off the results of their hard work. 

An atmosphere best described as subtle mix of Chelsea Flower show and a village fete made for a fantastic atmosphere. 

Gardening Direct donated a substantial quantity of vegetable seeds to Thrive last spring which have been distributed through the organisation and used to run a competition called ‘Bean Fest’ where participants had to find the most creative containers to grow their beans in.  

I had been asked to attend the annual open day on the 15th August act as one of the judging panel, I thought specifically for the Bean Fest competition but as it turned out I joined a panel (including Nicola Caruthers the Chief Executive of Thrive) given the pleasure of judging; the best chocolate and potato cake, the best flower arrangement in a tea cup and the best flower arrangement to represent the world cup! 

As with all judging the decisions were tough (particularly when they involve large quantities of chocolate cake) but final winners, runners up and highly commended awards were decided upon. In the chocolate cake competition I am afraid my very favourite could not be pronounced the winner because they had deviated (as it turned out with fantastic results) from the recipe so I had to settle for a ‘Highly Commended’. 

Nicola kindly took me and a number of other judges for a tour of the facilities. The original land and buildings were donated by Jeffery Udall who started the charity aimed at helping disabled and disenfranchised people through horticulture. This link with Horticulture is what makes this charity of such interest to Gardening Direct. With a range of buildings and over 120 acres plus a dedicated team of permanent staff and volunteers the site is designed to cater for the needs of an incredibly wide range of people. From ‘angry young men’ as Nicola describes their annual September intake of disenfranchised teenagers who are immediately set to work ‘digging’ for a few weeks to use up excess energy before a full educational programme is started to Alzheimer sufferers, and all forms of metal and physical disability. 

The range of activities is amazing. Activity is one thing but as we walked around the site the level of outright achievement is breathtaking. Each student is given a small raised bed in a walled courtyard at the beginning of the season and allowed to do with it as they see fit. The resulting range of mini gardens is amazing and ranges from pure vegetables to perennial herbaceous mixes and everything in between. In addition Thrive created its own garden for Chelsea this year and they are just finishing reinstalling it just outside one of the main buildings where all those using the centre can enjoy it. 

Having completed our tour I was delighted to be asked to present the prize to the winners of the Bean Fest competition. Hill View Farm made use of an old cement mixer to grow their beans in which looked fantastic and I imagine made the beans particularly easy to harvest. 

I suspect choosing the winner had been particularly difficult as some of the entries were truly creative. Notable for me was the Big Green Bean Latrine which featured an old toilet being used as a container! 

Gardening Direct are looking forward to working with Thrive in the future and wish them all the best in their work.


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