Round the back of the Orb building, you’ll find our garden: a natural oasis in the town centre, where we promote Positive Mental Health through getting outdoors and reconnecting with nature. Established in 2010 with a grant from the Big Lottery Ecominds project, a former patch of derelict waste ground has been transformed into a unique space, with areas for relaxing and socialising, growing produce, recycling and a local wildlife habitat.

Now that winter is over for another year, we caught up with our head gardener Jon, to find out what’s been happening and what we can look forward to.

IMG_4013What’s going on in the garden generally?

Obviously it’s springtime, so stuff is starting to pop its head above ground: the usual spring stuff, like daffodils, and we’re waiting to see what else is in there. We could perhaps do with more snowdrops, and I’m interested in over-wintering stuff, like purple sprouting broccoli, kales and leeks. You plant the likes of purple sprouting broccoli in the spring of one year, and harvest them in the spring of the next year. Or with stuff like garlic and shallots, you can put them in in late August or September and pick them earlier in the spring. That’s what I’m interested in, rather than having a dead garden in the winter – and that’s the way it should be, to provide food.

So the vegetable side of things is growing, is it?

Yeah, that’s basically what I’m into. There’s a lot of other stuff in there – flowers and herbs – but I do like to see some vegetables. And it tends to be vegetables that grow over winter, as well.

Have you got many people out there with you at the moment?

Obviously people would rather be in the warmth through the winter! But it’s starting to pick up, now that the weather’s picking up. It’s a fair-weather thing, I think.

How do you see the garden helping people?

It’s a lovely environment. On a nice day, there’s butterflies fluttering about, and a fragrant atmosphere! The job last year was to get the garden under control, and to try and put some infrastructure in. So in terms of the garden helping people, it will give them a nice safe environment to go and sit, to commune with nature, and maybe to do a little bit, at whatever kind of level they can operate at.

So for some people it’s all about learning a new skill, finding something new to engage with, and being in the moment while they’re out there, getting stuck in…

Yes, and for somebody else it might be simply sitting in it, and enjoying it. They can take their lunch down there; Andy [our studio manager] has his lunch down there in the summer, all the time. Other people come down there for a cup of coffee. In the summer, there’s quite a throughput of people, coming in and out.

The garden will be five years old this year. When did you get involved?

I’ve only been involved since the early autumn of last year. It originally was just a dumping ground for the guy who owned the garage here, full of all sorts of rubbish.

Did you go in with a big over-arching plan?

There is a kind of overview, but nothing’s too rigid, and a lot of it will depend on who we’ve got to help us. I’m going to put a retaining wall in, but we’re going to make it out of composite bits and pieces of the rubble that we’ve got. It’s a good project for people to get involved in.

Can people also be assigned their own patch, to do with what they want?

Yes, we’re doing that, if that’s what they want – although that can be a pressure for some people, so it’s a matter of fitting the right activities to the right people. We’ve got one lad who’s been a tremendous help with putting the new raised beds in. That’s his kind of project – it floats his boat, so to speak. I couldn’t just give him a bit of compost and have him grow a few seedlings – it wouldn’t do it for him.

What else is on the cards?

We’ve already got a pond, which is full of goldfish, and a wildlife area, and we’ve been trying to get some funding for a wild flower area. We’re also a chosen charity for the Harrogate and District Allotments and Gardens Federation this year. They raise money from an annual show in Valley Gardens, and this year we’re getting money to put into the garden….and we’d still like to get even more people using the garden!