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29 May 2012

Stuck in the Mud

Rain pouring down my face, in my boots, on my back - if it wasn't for the massive dark green water proof covering about 60% of my body, I would be entirely drenched.  Yet, up to the knees in a mixture of mud and soil, I was smiling, and that smile wouldn't leave my face for the whole day, even when trying to dodge a massive earthworm my boss threw at me in what I think must have been a so-called “attempt to bond".  Coming to the realisation that there was no point in trying to stay dry after a few minutes, I embraced my condition of wet-muddy-wannabe-gardener, and absolutely loved it.

As we arrived at Brent Lodge Park in the morning to continue the work we started in May 2011, we were warmly welcomed by Will (Horticulture Manager from Mind, the charity organising the event) and Vanessa (a gardener working with the charity). Both had big grins on their faces; they showed us around and quickly got us started in a torrential rain that wouldn't wash down their enthusiasm.

Brent Lodge Park Animal Centre has donated one of its goat enclosures to a fruit and vegetable growing social enterprise based at Ealing hospital. The enclosure was a blank canvas but – in no small part to Baringa's efforts last May – is now contributing produce to a veg box scheme run from the hospital's work rehabilitation centre for people with mental health issues.

I was assigned to the team in charge of raking a fallow area and turning it into a “wild" garden whilst the other team transformed an old pig enclosure into a magnificent field full of fruit trees.

The day was all about raking wild vegetation, digging holes, planting trees, and finally admiring the amazing work done.

The sun came out soon after we started our job, and turned this company event into a great day out with many lessons learnt:

  1. Bone meal is made of actual fish bones and is a great plant fertilizer, don't let the smell put you off and be generous with it.    
  2. A pickaxe is a great tool for lifting turf, but overusing it may cause severe shoulder pain to the inexperienced user as I'm sure many will testify
  3. Dead wood trunks (we called them “architecture pieces") are brilliant houses to all sorts of insects, so you don't want to put your fingers in the little drilled holes
  4. I actually love the mud, which probably appeals to my inner childhood memories when we used to plant onions and garlic in the back garden, wearing our beret and stripy t-shirts
  5. 30 people working intensely for 7 hours can make a big difference to derelict areas and convert them into flourishing orchards and lush gardens

The end result was quite surprising - it was amazing to see the transformation of the garden and the fruit tree allotment!

Our joint effort made a big difference to that place, turning it into a means for people to learn new skills and develop an activity. The patients from Ealing hospital will grow the fruits then cook and sell jam using the fruit tree area, whilst getting a professional qualification as gardeners when working on the “wild" garden, which will help them integrate back into society.

We all left filled with a great feeling of satisfaction, having spent a very productive day, met new people and built something that we all look forward to seeing grow and prosper in the future. On top of having helped the community, I discovered my colleagues in a different light – spending a few hours stuck in the mud with them was a brilliant team building experience!

See you all next year?