At Campbell Gordon Way in Dollis Hill, the power of gardening to improve the environment and bring people together is tangible, transforming a multi-cultural estate where residents didn’t really know each other into a friendly and floriferous community.
Construction worker Bernard Fitzpatrick is the driving force behind the metamorphosis, despite have only taken up gardening five years ago when the recession hit and he had a couple of spare days a week. “It was either golf or gardening” he says, “and I thought golf sounded boring”. Bernard started off in his own garden, but his neighbours liked what he was doing so much they wanted to achieve the same results in their own plots. Bernard helped them out with planting and things snowballed from there – within a year the estate had won a Brent ‘Green Zone’ award. Since then they have gone from strength to strength, scooping more prestigious awards each year. In 2014 they received a five star Outstanding ‘It’s your Neighbourhood’ award from the RHS and London in Bloom, an achievement repeated in 2015; Bernard has personally been recognised for his hard work with a Brent Community Champions Award.
Over the summer months, Bernard and his team of 30 or so volunteers are busy organising planting weekends and keeping up with the essential aftercare regime of watering, weeding and feeding. “From the end of May to the end of October, everyone comes out in force,” says Bernard, “and when the results of London in Bloom are announced in September, we throw a community party with fireworks.”
Plants are sourced from the local Homebase, with colourful choices such as petunias, pansies and marigolds being particular favourites. Residents tend their own numbered veg patches, another innovation introduced by Bernard, whose gardening committee has also instituted its own in-house awards for categories such as best veg patch and best balcony display.
Bernard’s great success, though, has been in getting children on the estate involved – “it was easy, they love it!” he says. Sporting their own hi-vis jackets, ‘Uncle Bernie’s little helpers’ enthusiastically get stuck in with all the tidying and gardening tasks, and have been kitted out with suitably scaled-down gardening equipment, sourced from Tesco’s. It’s not all hard work though, Bernard makes sure there are fun seasonal treats to enjoy too, such as an annual Easter egg hunt and trick-or-treating in October.
The awards keep everyone motivated, but for Bernard the best thing about community gardening is getting to know his neighbours he wouldn’t otherwise have met. “We’re a very multi-cultural community, with lots of different nationalities and religions, and gardening has brought us together”.