When a community garden finds you, don’t let it go

13th April 2022

The first time I discovered Dame Emily Park was a warm August evening. The need for fresh air and the willingness of a good friend to walk with me took us through the residential streets of Bedminster. We used the last rays of sunlight to take pictures of the plants and flowers we found, trying to identify them on the way. I finally felt like I was starting to speak a language that I’d been hearing around me all my life.

The night, or perhaps the spirit of adventure, led us to the Dame Emily Park entrance. We ventured into the darkness to find monstruous, creeping figures standing together. I flashed my phone’s torch at them and couldn’t have been more amazed. “Are those courgettes? Look at those sunflowers! I think those are nasturtiums… Have you ever tried them?” I laughed when my friend tried to swallow one of the green fiery seeds.

There was an announcement board calling for volunteers to join their gardening sessions. I emailed them and the next day I received a very friendly invitation to show me around. It was love at first sight! Admiring the garden under a blue sky and a warm welcome just felt right. The team made it very clear, there was absolutely no commitment, I could come over whenever I felt like it.

Many volunteers share a similar story. Some can see the park from their windows and others walk all the way from Redcliffe, but something draws them every time, including the less experienced gardeners (like me). I’m not exaggerating when I say I’d never even sown a seed before I joined Dame Emily Park’s sessions. Our garden grows by following each other’s guts and advice. Who needs experience when you’ve got all the will in the world?

The great thing about urban community gardens is that they’re beneficial on every level. For you, it can almost become a therapeutic ritual. Many volunteers live in high rise flats or homes without gardens, so having somewhere to take action on the things they care about is life-changing. Empowering the local community also contributes to building a better Bristol. Initiatives like “Veg on the Edge”, where people grow seasonal food at home and then bring it back to the garden, encourage self-sufficiency and sustainability.

No matter how small your closest green space is, let it become the canvas to build a miniature utopia. City Nature Challenge is a great way to take your first steps into making a better world. Explore the wildlife near you, be curious and see your neighbourhood like you’ve never seen it before. Sometimes slowing down is the best kind of revolution, especially when your weapon is an app that identifies plants and animals. Actually, now that I think about it, I don’t think I found that park. The park found me.

Writing by Paula Rincon Naranjo, Content Writer and volunteer for Dame Emily Park

@dameemilypark https://dameemilypark.com/

This piece was commissioned by the Natural History Consortium for City Nature Challenge 2022.

City Nature Challenge is a four-day global wildlife recording mission taking place in 450+ cities around the world. Residents and visitors across Bristol and Bath are taking part to help put nature on the map in the region from 29 April – 2 May.

You don’t have to be an expert or even know the name of the species you’ve seen. Just download the iNaturalist app, take a picture of the nature you find, upload – and share.  Once on the app, join the Bristol & Bath Project see live updates on how your area and the rest of the UK are doing.