I moved to Leeds in 1995 to be a V.O in the wildlife gardening project led by Patrick Crowley. Hollybush seemed to me a wonderful place: an old stone farmhouse in the city, an urban oasis of trees and wild flowers. There were people there who knew skills I longed to learn – hedge laying, tree planting and wild flower meadow management. I intended to stay up to a year, but stopped being a V.O after about 4 months for health reasons. I still regret letting Patrick down, as I’d talked up all that I could and would be able to do, but I had M.E and had under estimated just how ill I was.
I continued to volunteer intermittently, and it was very important for me even when I could not do very much, to maintain contact with people.
In the mid-1990s the project sold potted herbs and wild flowers, trees and hedging plants, direct to the public as well as to schools. Plants were arranged on tables in the courtyard where the seating for the cafe now is. It was always very windy there and I often had to pick them up off the floor. The area was roughly surfaced with bricks and cobbles. The wild flowers self seeded into the gaps between them and we had a delightful collection of “weeds”. My favourites were the cowslips.
Beyond the polytunnels was the Nature Garden, a demonstration area showing various habitats and the work of which the task groups were capable – dry stone walling, fencing, various stiles and paths. There was a big pond and a mini pond, trees and wild flower meadows
. Our idea was to make habitats to attract wild life into the garden. Being along side the canal helped – the 2 polytunnels were full of newts and toads which lived under the trays of wild flowers we grew for sale. There was an annual wild flower area we called “the farmer’s nightmare” because it contained cornfield weeds: poppies, daisies, cornflowers, corn cockles, corn marigolds, nectar-rich flowers all but lost from the countryside. Hollybush was a leader promoting the idea of such plantings to benefit bees and other insects, which are now (in 2019) often seen on the edges of parks, hospital and university grounds as well in gardens.
Patrick was extremely knowledgeable and enthusiastic about all aspects of nature gardening and I learnt a lot from listening to him talking to customers. I also went on courses. The training BTCV gave to volunteers was very good . (to be continued…)