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Poppie's Positive Benefits of Volunteering in the Community Forest Garden

(Thanks to Tomy for the gorgeous pictures!)

I've had so much help this week and I've learned so much! As I've told most of the garden volunteers who join me - I'm not a professional gardener. I'm just someone who found gardening at Rockaway so beneficial to my mental and physical health that I kept coming back!

I also notice everyone I meet in the garden has said something similar - that it's a sanctuary; an outlet, and a place where they've found purpose and a sense of achievement. It truly brings something positive to their lives, just as their presence brings something positive to the garden. It's the reason why I offered to help co-ordinate the volunteers and be here every Friday. While I was excited and enthusiastic about it, I was also very nervous at first and apprehensive/worried I wouldn't be up to the task. I told everyone that I was going to need help and guidance as I know many of our volunteers have much more growing knowledge and experience than me. Despite my nerves, they listened to me, supported me and helped me learn a lot, and I'm truly grateful for that.

Rockaway Park is a beautiful community that welcomed me when I felt quite alone. Now I'm very happy to be able to bring new people into this amazing, creative and nurturing place via the Community Forest Garden.

Strangely, it's not always when someone is trying to teach me something that I learn! Yes, I've been given very useful information about vegetable care, soil conditioning, taxonomy, pest control, composting, companion planting, pruning, taking cuttings and many other plant-related things. But the surprising thing is the knowledge I've inadvertently gleaned about aspects like time management, communication, logistics, routine, delegation, compassion, bolstering people's confidence and creating a safe space that people feel happy to open up in. I've also learned how to create a network of people who can share skills, knowledge and resources with each other, while also creating connections and friendships, and feeling accepted as they are.

As the vegetable growing season winds down, new and exciting things are happening... The main stairs are now free of weeds - mostly thanks to some enthusiastic teenagers! The fruit trees and the willow have begun to be weeded and pruned back, ready to spring forth with new branches next year. The wildflower meadow now has a narrow winding path through it so that we can weed out any unwanted plants or coarse grass that comes up. The new veg bed that we've been digging by hand can now be extended even further towards the bottom entrance and much sooner than anticipated after an afternoon with some heavy machinery. We have a huge new swathe of land that's free of brambles both at the bottom of the slope and extending all the way along the bottom hedge to the furthest corner. The laid hedge of hazel has had the beginning of a new layer added to it and the volunteer chill out circle and fire pit has a beautiful new set of steps made from reclaimed stones and objects found lying around the garden.

ALL of these things were achieved by volunteers taking the initiative and deciding that they would like to help improve things in these different ways. I was simply there to say "okay, yes - let's do that!" or to watch, observe and learn by helping the other gardeners with these tasks.

The volunteers help me, we all help the garden and, in return it helps us grow and feeds us - it's a symbiotic relationship, and I love it!

If you'd like to join us on a Friday in the garden, and feel the benefits of being part of our lovely community of volunteers, just contact me below:

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