Lockdown was the inspiration for us to find a site we could use to create the Micro Gardens. It was challenging for people to be in lockdown without any outdoor space, we have heard about the positive impact gardens made to people’s lockdown experience. There are many large, old guesthouses containing lots of flats in Morecambe, lacking outdoor space.
There was an empty plot amongst some houses that was previously home to an end of terrace house. It turned out that the land was unregistered, so we thought it would be a great opportunity to create an outdoor solace in this densely populated area. We started off creating small beds for people to adopt, but increasingly people have been working communally to manage what has now become a garden.
The Micro-gardens in Morecambe
Most of our activity funded by Grow Wild took place over two days in the summer of 2022. On the first day we hosted a foraging trail around the local neighbourhood accompanied by nature-based arts and crafts, which we topped off with a community meal. Everybody was invited to share some foraged and homegrown food from the Micro Gardens. It was important that there was synergy between what was seen and taught during our events with what was eaten.
'It was important that there was synergy between what was seen and taught during our events with what was eaten.'
Food is so important in bringing people together and how we use the space which is why we would love to see cooking infrastructure on site for people to use for communal cooking. On the second day we had a community meal again but focused more on planting. We looked for native flowers and where we could get them, followed by a day teaching people about local flora, native planting, and the benefits. We also did a pollinator count, cyanotype printing and people went out with sketchbooks to draw the plants, learning how to observe them.
The foraging walk really opened our eyes to what was around locally. We did a lot of research for the walk. Even though we're an urban centre in a housing estate, there’s an incredible variety of local native plants. We’ve stopped calling lots of plants weeds, you see them as something completely different once you give them a name and learn about their properties. We put together a native plant list and considered what wants to grow in the space naturally, making sure we weren't trying to fight against nature. We also thought about the difference between southern and northern UK native plants and soil types. We plan to create a display board with information on plants in the garden so people can learn more about the space, including a key to show their properties e.g., native, edible, medicinal, or pollinator friendly.
'We’ve stopped calling lots of plants weeds, you see them as something completely different once you give them a name and learn about their properties.'
Welcome to our Micro-gardens
Lots of people came by the Micro Gardens asking if they were allowed to use it and sit in there. Consequently, we’ve met a lot of new people and enabled them to have a go at gardening. We’ve learnt loads, planted loads and have hugely improved the space. Although lots of plants won't be seen until next spring, we think it’s had a massive impact. Locals have been posting online to say how much better it looks and they've nicknamed it ‘The Oasis’, so as well as learning about plants and pollinators there’s been important social outcomes.
'Locals have been posting online to say how much better it looks and they've nicknamed it the Oasis'
We've seen a significant increase of wildlife in the garden. When we first started, there were a couple of starlings that nested in the bushes whereas now we have loads of butterflies, caterpillars and bees. We're even hoping to build a pond to entice frogs into the garden.
Our area is diverse and not the most affluent. There have been challenges due to the economy, low levels of owner occupancy and poor-quality rented accommodation. We don't think some residents liked us being there at the start of the project, some people directed racism at those in the garden, got rid of our signs encouraging people to join us and even tried to assault other locals. Despite the challenges the projects have built morale, banding people together to support each other.
'The projects have built morale, banding people together to support each other.'
We’ve met quite a few new people as well as reconnecting with those who are usually on the social fringes. There were several people who weren’t confident enough to get involved, but they were happy to stop for a five-minute chat. We noticed that each time they stopped for a little bit longer. There’s a couple of people now involved with the Micro Gardens who previously felt unsafe and alienated by the local community. One of them spent both days of the Grow Wild funded events with us. He wasn’t somebody who felt they had friends in the area, but he's met loads of people through the project and shared meals with us. He even brought us loads of books about gardening and native plants which we have now added to our library for the community to access.
Community produced mural in Morecambe Micro-Gardens, credit Graft Lancaster.
Through this project we’ve become better connected with other organisations such as Eat Grow Thrive and Food Futures. They do a lot of environmental work, growing projects and forums around food sustainability, as well as economical mappings. These partnerships have been all about sharing knowledge, teaching local people some gardening skills and thinking about food growing more holistically. We've expanded support for the project with new audiences which has opened up new learning opportunities from other established projects.
There are local allotments in the area, but they need strict time and financial commitments which isn’t something our community is always able to manage. When we identified the opportunity for more flexible community gardening, we could really see the benefit. We have a very loose system, if you've got something to plant come and plant it, or we can supply stuff for people to plant. There’s been a lot of plant sharing and we've even been able to give things away, so people can have plants for their own homes. We have also run seed saving workshops, and we’ve been able to donate many of those to local people.
We’ve been talking with a local school about getting access to an old allotment plot, following these discussions the school has offered us an orchard as well. This potentially means doubling the size of the growing space available to us, so the project is expanding and evolving. Our hopes for the future are that people stay involved and keep the Micro Gardens going so that it becomes more self-sustaining, with the community taking more ownership. That would free us up to move into new areas and open this kind of space to other families lacking green space of their own.
'Our hopes for the future are that people stay involved and keep the Micro Gardens going so that it becomes more self-sustaining, with the community taking more ownership'