Garden 2

Jayne (French & German 1980)

Volunteering fun in the sun

“I had really loved working as a volunteer gardener for a year at a local historic mansion and garden when living in Wales. So when I moved back to the beautiful city of Exeter with my teenage son in November 2014 I thought I’d check out whether there were any volunteer gardening opportunities at the University (my alma mater). I soon found my way to the University of Exeter Community Garden.”

Read more about strawberries, bug hotels and cameraderie in local alumna Jayne Cooksley’s (French & German 1980) reflections on volunteering for the Community Garden on Streatham Campus.

Created only as far back as 2011, the Garden is the brainchild of Norrie Blackeby, its enthusiastic treasurer. Established by members of the Students' Guild, the University of Exeter and members of the local community, the Garden aims to put into practice an awareness of the growing need for sustainable gardening, biodiversity, and habitat creation/protection.             

The Garden has nine raised beds (with vegetables, herbs, fruit and flowers), a greenhouse, two polytunnels and a wonderful physic garden set within an orchard of traditional and heritage trees ­ apple, crab apple, pear, cherry, plum, greengage, mulberry, hazel, quince and medlar. Experimenting is definitely encouraged; we have blueberries, ginkgo biloba and an olive tree, all of which seem to be growing well. We have a beehive and a five­star, five­storey ‘bug hotel’ constructed entirely from branches, pine cones and wooden pallets ­ aptly named Buckingham Pallet.

The gardeners comprise students, staff, alumni and local residents. Anyone is welcome, green­fingered or not. We meet on Wednesdays at 3pm for a couple of hours (or less if you prefer ­ there are no rules!). You can come along just for a chat if you wish. And of course there's no obligation to come every week ­ just come whenever you can. We all have different levels of knowledge and there’s always something to learn. We harvest any produce that’s ready, weigh it for our records and share it among whoever is there. It’s lovely to walk home with a bag of strawberries for dessert!

I love being out in the fresh air. Any task, be it weeding, watering, planting or digging, can be completely absorbing and the perfect antidote to any stress. The camaraderie is an added bonus ­ there’s plenty of conversation and laughter. And the Garden’s chairman, a wonderful baker, always brings along a sweet treat to enjoy before we go our separate ways. I sometimes pop up on my own on a summer’s evening and do a bit of weeding or watering ­ or just sit on the bench and enjoy the peace and quiet.

More students now choose to stay in Exeter after graduation and we’d love to see more alumni joining us. You’ll find us at the back of campus, on Higher Hoopern Lane. Do come along!

For further information, contact Norrie Blackeby on n.blackeby@exeter.ac.uk or visit the community garden website. You'll also find our public group on Facebook

Date: 17 September 2015

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