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Here’s a ray of sunshine to brighten the gloom of approaching winter. It’s rose Dutch Gold blooming in the memorial garden on a late November day – a wonderful plant with dark green leathery foliage apparently bred in Wisbech, Lincolnshire and named Dutch Gold because it won a gold medal in the Hague.
Dutch connections ……. Antoinette Lucassen, one of our St Mark’s choir members has roots in the Netherlands and has shown a keen interest in the development of the community garden. Peter Bounford, past member of our Boys’ Brigade and serving team, currently lives in the Hague and is still in touch with his group of ex-BB friends, Joe Gallagher, James Elliot, Martin Jackson and Richard Turner . He has been transporting large bags of compost by bicycle to the small paved backyard of his flat in order to fill raised beds in which to grow vegetables and flowers!
Our church family is much more than the group of people who meet on a Sunday morning. We all have links and influences beyond the church walls and our extended family is rich and organic in its transformations. Each week we pray “We thank you that when we were still far off, you met us in your Son and brought us home”…….. “May we who share Christ’s body live his risen life, we who drink his cup bring life to others, we whom the Spirit lights give light to the world”
This rose may seem small and insignificant but it’s a real gem shining out like a beacon in our church garden.
Who’s this man meddling at St Mark’s on a Monday morning?!
This morning, 6th November, the air feels distinctly chilly despite bright sunshine. Sheila, John and I decide it’s time to harvest the medlars before the weather gets too frosty. The medlar tree, variety Nottingham, was one of the first planted by Keith when we started the Community Garden. Closely related to apples, medlars are unusual in that they have to be stored for many weeks to ripen or ‘blet’ before they can be eaten raw or used to make a perfumed amber jelly for game and other meats. A bit of a speciality!
Autumn is a magical time in the garden. The fruit has fallen, the flowers are fading and all appears to be death and dying. But wait! Dig in the compost heap and you’ll find hundreds of worms are busy converting this year’s green waste into rich, friable compost to mulch next year’s crops. Look for the buds already forming on the bare branches of spring-flowering shrubs and listen out for the plans that are being hatched in preparation for another year in the garden. At the end of Gillian Clarke’s poem Burning Nettles she says, “Fire, Buried in flower-heads, makes Bright ritual of decay, Transubstantiates the green leaf to fertility.”
We tipped the ashes from Sunday’s bonfire onto the compost heap. The cycle of Death and Resurrection is at the heart of our gardening. At dawn on Easter Day each year we meet in the garden to kindle the new fire and carry the Light of Christ into the dark Church. For me this is the most symbolic and moving moment of the Christian year.
Last Wednesday Sheila and I attended the East Midlands in Bloom awards at the John Fretwell Sports Centre in Mansfield Woodhouse. Representatives from towns and villages across the East Midlands, as far afield as Northampton, Buxton and Cleethorpes, were waiting with some nervousness to see whether they’d been awarded bronze, silver, silver-gilt or gold for their efforts over the last year. Mansfield achieved two silver-gilts!
The ‘It’s Your Neighbourhood’ category, which St Mark’s has entered for the last 4 years, is the non-competitive arm of Britain In Bloom, designed to encourage the greening up of neglected spaces and in so doing inspire regeneration of communities. We were delighted to be presented with a Level 5 certificate and 89 out of 100 marks. This is the third year running that St Mark’s Community Garden has gained the top level, classed as outstanding!
Looking back over the year and over the assessors’ comments, we realise that we have grown, not only flowers, fruit and vegetables but also in our community.
The judges were pleased to see increased participation from church groups and individuals. Members of the Boys’ Brigade are responsible for an area and the Under Fives are looking after a raised bed, learning how vegetables get from plot to plate. New volunteers have joined us and we have learned from one another.
Assessors were also impressed by our environmental responsibility. Materials that have been donated or salvaged have been recycled; for example a builder’s sand bag makes a good raised bed and pieces of the old organ are providing a home for bugs. Comfrey is grown and brewed as a rather smelly but very effective plant feed! Bark chippings from neighbouring tree-felling is being used to supress weeds on pathways and horse manure delivered in aid of St Edmunds Church funds is being used to mulch borders ready for next year. Our compost heaps are producing rich compost to improve the texture of the soil. Also this year we’ve gone vertical with the construction of a willow arch using the coppiced willow from the garden!
Fruit trees, purchased last autumn with funds from the diocesan Edible Churchyards scheme, have already been productive and will be trained as espaliers, while the wildflower meadow has allowed two species of wild orchid to thrive.
The community at St Mark’s is certainly enriched by its gardening project and with effort and endeavour we’ll continue to grow and flourish in 2017.