The Children’s Garden under threat?

The Children’s Garden is a little gem in Glasgow’s Botanic Gardens. It’s tucked away up on a hill, next to a play park, and it’s an oasis for families. For 10 year, volunteers have developed the former derelict land into something really rather special: there are raised beds, fruit trees, a willow tunnel, picnic benches and a wooden play house.

I’m not often in the west end, but if I am, I probably spend some time here. It’s a great place to relax and have a picnic away from the bustle of the city. My little one was weaned on the berries growing in the garden. My big one adores the willow tunnel and the play house. And I have pictures of the foursome of my children and my niece and nephew in the garden swing. Good times, good memories.

Now John Hancox, who has been organising volunteers to develop the Children’s Garden for 10 years, turning it from a piece of wasteland to the oasis it is, received an email requesting significant changes to the garden, with very little notice and unclear reasons for the changes. Specifically, the willow tunnel is to be cut down entirely, two raised beds are to be used by a specific primary school and no longer generally available to anyone using the garden, and 2 fruit trees are to be transferred to another space.

When asked about this, the Botanics phrased the changes as required maintenance work with little or no impact on the Children’s Garden. It seems that there are two versions of what is proposed, but unfortunately no clarity has been forthcoming from the Botanics or Council who weren’t able to attend a planned meeting.

Having had a look at the garden, I cannot identify 2 fruit trees which pose a danger, unless branches are a danger in itself because someone may run into them. If that’s the case, we can’t let our children go anywhere near a tree. Transplanting fruit trees in late spring strikes me as bad practice anyway, as far as I know this would seriously damage the tree even if there was a suitable alternative space. In relation to the willow tunnel, it is unclear if it’s to be cut to the ground or cut back in a less intrusive way. However, it looks incredibly tidy and well maintained and I cannot see any fault with it. If it is to be cut down, I can only say that there will be very sad children in our household, and many others. The tunnel is an amazing feature, it really gives a sense of adventure, seclusion and privacy which is so rare in play areas in Glasgow. Considering that the Government is (rightly) pushing outdoor play I cannot comprehend how such a structure can be taken down, because we simply don’t have enough of them available to effectively any child who visits the Botanics.

Which leaves the issue of the 2 raised beds. These were paid for by the volunteers who developed the garden. The Children’s Garden has worked with many schools, and is also open to children who come with families rather than with schools. So while exclusive use to one school may not seem like a big difference, it will mean that 2 raised beds are no longer available to all the other children that make use of the garden (and there aren’t that many raised beds, so it’s a significant percentage of the growing space). There are some other issues to consider: School groups have to make an effort to come and maintain the beds, which can be a challenge (but one that can be overcome with a committed school). Other users may inadvertently interfere with the beds, so it seems to me that if a school wants to grow vegetables in a raised beds, it would make more sense to do on their own grounds.

The Children’s Garden itself is based along principles of permaculture, thus having perennial plants rather than annuals. This reduces maintenance needs and also gives it a slightly different character – fruit trees and bushes abound, and somehow it combines a sense of a pleasant garden to spend time in which also produces food. Making 2 raised beds into annual vegetable beds will affect this overall character of the garden. It’s not that one or the other is a better approach, just that the Children’s Garden is different from other community gardens in this respect and this is what makes it special. Food growing, relaxation, play seem to blend effortlessly, and this balance would be changed with higher maintenance raised beds filled with vegetables.

Then there is the question of the different information handed out to different people, which has caused confusion and undermined trust. There are many views out there of the real motifs, and I don’t want to comment on these as it is very much based on theories and heresay.

Considering that the space is used by a lot of very different users, my strong view is that there are a lot of stakeholders who should be involved in the proposals. The space is used too much for it to be simply changed at whim, it’s both a community group that has some degree of ownership which should be recognised, but also it’s a community facility which means that the views of the users should be sought. Therefore, I would think that a consultation of users would be needed, as would an open meeting where the Botanics would publicly explain the plans and the reasons behind it. Neither of this has happened so far.

There is a petition against the proposals which can still be signed until Monday, 20th May. It will be presented to the City Council on 21st May at 11 am (and anyone interested can join to support the handing over). There will also be an open meeting and AGM of the Children’s Garden at the Hilton, Grosvenor Terrace on the 21st May, 6.30-8pm (please sign up to get a free ticket by following this link)

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