What’s Growing On?

Wow, where to start… Since finishing my duties as president of the Postgraduate Society last year, I’ve taken on an entirely different challenge: Garden Society.

Garden Society
Garden Society

I first heard about Garden Soc in May last year while reading the student newspaper. There was an article about a new garden being built on campus specifically designed for students to grow their own fruit and vegetables. Having been at uni for 6 years, and regularly attended the weekly fruit and veg stall that pops up in the Students Union, I had a passing interest in growing my own food. At the time I was also living in a flat with no garden, so the thought of having somewhere I could go and escape was very appealing. I guess also with my recent vegan binge I’ve come to question a lot more where my food comes from, and getting involved in running a community garden seemed like the ideal opportunity.

I fired off an email, well a Facebook message (such is the way with modern communication), to find out how I could get involved. I was invited to the community group on Facebook where 20 or so students were already talking about the prospect of having a little green patch of their own. While following the progress of the garden I started growing my own sunflowers.

Office sunflowers
Office sunflowers

The garden was awarded a grant from the University Annual Fund, which is a pool of money donated by Surrey Alumni to “support worthy projects across the University community”. The money was a huge boost for the garden, which could now afford to turn the plot of land they’d been allocated into an actual garden (kind of important).

the land
The plot, 450m2 of slopy ground. Picture courtesy of Victoria Johnsen, Surrey’s Environmental & Cultural Change Manager

Following the exciting Annual Fund news, a new society was ratified by the Student’s Union to put students in charge of the garden. The first job of a newly ratified society is to hold an Annual General Meeting, or AGM, to elect a committee who can run the society. I was excited to go along to the AGM and finally meet this enthusiastic group of students who wanted to see this garden become a reality as much as me.

When I got to the meeting it became immediately apparent that I might run for a committee position. I don’t know if it’s some kind of illness I have that I must be on the committee of at least one society every year, or if I was so keen to see this project happen that I was happy to play as big a part in it as I could. Either way, by a combination of involuntary volunteering and a lack of unwillingness, I found myself giving a speech to become president of the Garden Society. Even after explaining my lack of gardening experience, saying that my favourite vegetable is a tomato (it’s a fruit), and facing strong opposition from nobody, I was unanimously voted in. Thankfully, Emily and Tom make up the other signatory positions, so I’m in very good company.

Garden Layout
Garden layout, with raised beds for disabled access, a huge polytunnel, several large planting beds and a plant-a-bout

From that point on it’s been all go! Over the summer we’ve done a lot in terms of finalising the layout of the garden so builders could get started on landscaping. We’ve been helped massively by Victoria Johnsen and Matthew Arnold from Estates & Facilities who have helped us build links with some great people at the University who can help us make this project a success.

the current state of the garden
The current state of the garden

I’m excited to say that the garden site is almost ready to be planted on! We’ve got interest from the Lakeside Restaurant on campus who are keen to use some of our produce in their seasonal dishes, and we also plan to sell produce to students as a way to make the society self-sustaining in the long-term. The first year of any community garden is always going to be tricky, but we’ve got a lot of support already and hopefully we’ll get a lot of interest from students at Freshers Fayre this Friday. Our first session is being held at the weekend, so after months of waiting it’s finally happening!

We now have a website http://gardensoc.wordpress.com/ with a blog where we will continue to post regular updates on the progress of the garden society. You’ll probably see another update from me here too in due course!

Until next week,

Charles x

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