This is traditionally the kick-off event for the new Britain in Bloom season. Representatives from all the 2018 entrants were invited to attend. Our representatives this year were Ronnie Auld and Aileen West. While Ronnie had attended in previous years, it was particularly valuable for Dalston that Aileen was able to apply a fresh pair of eyes to the proceedings. We were able to attend three workshops – Self Assessment, Working with Volunteers and Wild About Gardens.
The Self Assessment workshop, attended by both of us, is an opportunity to look at our own entry in the context of the RHS UK Finals Marking Sheet. We reviewed the three sections covered, namely Horticultural Achievement, Environmental Responsibility and Community Participation. Each of these main sections is divided into sub-sections, each attracting a proportion of the marks. We carried this out by referring to the 2017 Cumbria in Bloom marking sheets and the 2017 Britain in Bloom Judge’s Comments. It is quite easy to be over-optimistic and give full marks, where it is unlikely that the judges would be quite so generous. Based on our experience over two years, our total marks put us into the Gold category. However, we also highlighted the areas where we considered improvements were necessary.
Aileen, who attended the Working With Volunteers workshop, has written a very fair summary and I reproduce a slightly edited version below ….
Finding and Retaining volunteers.
Susannah, of RHS, was keen to promote use of social media and cited instances of groups who had found graphics experts who came forward as a result of such advertising which had allowed that group to produce things which they would not have done otherwise. This is possibly a means of attracting younger members to the group. She stressed that volunteers didn’t have to be in horticultural mode
There was general agreement that word of mouth was the best means of recruitment. Many people felt that giving volunteers a sense of ownership and empowerment as well as commitment was a good route to successfully retaining volunteers. If we divide the village into more zones than last year then the sense of autonomy may make for more regular groups of workers. Most groups in the workshop appeared to favour a regular meeting day (usually mornings) where they either jointly tackled a particular problem or they split into groups and worked in allocated areas. There is agreement in Dalston that we were more successful in 2016 than 2017. I think we probably must establish a new structure for the new season. Whether this is with autonomous zones or collaborative distribution on each meet is a matter for debate. There was also the feeling that if we could encourage volunteers to identify problem areas and then take responsibility for them then that was another means to empowerment.
The difficulty of arranging for as many people as possible to meet the judges was discussed. One of the judges had had the experience of finding little notes left on the route where volunteers could not be there in person. This may be difficult in Dalston but a board at the beginning or end of the route with little anecdotes could be effective and a slightly different means of getting more information from many volunteers in a short period of time.
The Nature of Volunteering.
Most agreed that it wasn’t necessary for all volunteers to be actively gardening: in Dalston’s case the Methodist congregation make an important contribution by providing refreshments on judging day.
The difficulty of engaging secondary age children was discussed. One group had found that getting local college students to create sculptures (or any other form of artwork) had been a good means of engaging their interest. It had had the incidental benefit that the area where the sculptures were displayed suffered less vandalism!
Appreciating the Volunteers
The meal after the end of the season was the most usual way of thanking people for their efforts. One group had a big awards ceremony, in which most people seemed to get an award. One group had had certificates printed and all the volunteers were presented with their own certificate. This was quite a nice idea – especially for the young members of St Michaels I thought.
One other idea to promote community cohesion was stickers in shop windows indicating that they were supporting in Bloom, and in some cases, they had had pins made for the volunteers so that they were easily identified as part of the group.
The third workshop we attended, this time by Ronnie, was Wild About Gardens. This session was given by Helen Bostock, a senior RHS Horticultural Adviser. The main theme of her beautifully illustrated talk was Plants for Bugs. She referred to a four-year field study undertaken by the RHS Science Department at the RHS Garden, Wisley and supported by the Wildlife Gardening Forum. Plants for Bugs is unique as it is the first ever designed field experiment to test whether the geographical origin of garden plants affects the abundance and diversity of the wildlife they support. Specifically, this part of the study addressed the differences between native and non-native species as far as attracting wildlife is concerned.
She presented a couple of papers specifically addressing these issues. The best strategy for gardeners wanting to support pollinating insects is to plant a mix of flowering plants from different countries and regions. Gardeners should consider the seasons, especially early and late, when there is less in flower for insects to forage. Gardeners shouldn’t skimp on the flowers – pack them in tight wherever they will thrive. Plant a mixture rather than just a single theme. Be observant and plant what appears to be popular with the local wildlife. Allotment holders can make a huge contribution to pollinator conservation by allowing a small proportion of herbs and vegetables to flower, or by planting flowers for cutting in their plots.
Dalston has many areas which are rich in wildlife and pollinators. These range from the predominantly green area of Kelsey’s Meadow through the annually planted wild flowers in the Jubilee Garden to other cultivated, such as the vegetable gardens at Forge Green, and natural areas found around the village.
The afternoon ended with a chance to meet the judges which Dalston had been assigned for 2018.
Brendan started his horticultural career at the Royal Gardens Windsor and Windsor Great Park. This was followed with a period at Lancashire College of Agriculture, before completing a Diploma course at Royal Botanical Gardens Kew. He then started work for a local authority in West Yorkshire, holding a range of posts all connected to parks and the wider environment. During this time, he oversaw the restoration of three major parks as well as being involved in the restoration of a canal. Before retirement he was head of service, for many service areas, including parks, countryside and street cleaning. He also instigated the use of perennial planting to replace some areas of traditional bedding. His involvement with Bloom included working with colleagues to help a large number of groups that entered Yorkshire and Britain in Bloom. He is currently Chairman of Yorkshire in Bloom, having been a judge and member of the executive board. Current occupations include looking after his garden in the Pennines, a range of voluntary work for the charity Perennial, and acting as a member of the RHS Bursaries Committee and a trustee of the Kew Guild. He also assists his local civic society with essential tasks, such as litter picking.
We weren’t provided with a biography of Geraldine but believe that she is based in London and has been involved as a judge for Bloom events for at least 20 years. In 2016 she was Estates Manager at Chiswick House. Prior to this Geraldine managed parks for the City of London and the Royal Parks.
Ronnie Auld and Aileen West – February 2018