Life in the winter garden

The Southsea Greenhouse Community Garden. Pictured are volunteers at work''Picture: Paul Jacobs (133243-3)

The Southsea Greenhouse Community Garden. Pictured are volunteers at work''Picture: Paul Jacobs (133243-3)

Kevin Porter

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With vegetables of all shapes and sizes, hand-made wreaths, knitted robins and even a dog with a Santa hat on, Southsea Greenhouse’s community garden is bursting with colour.

It’s a far cry from many other gardens at this time of year.

Walking round the edge of Canoe Lake on a sunny but bitterly cold day, it’s easy to spot the brightly-painted gate.

And inside there are volunteers and enthusiasts wrapped up in woolly scarves, all doing their bit over the winter months to keep the garden alive.

Southsea Greenhouse has been based in the long, thin patch of land between Canoe Lake and Cumberland House Natural History Museum since early this year, and there’s no stopping just because the frost is setting in.

Sue Stokes is founder of the co-operative. She’s at the garden most days from 10am, digging, planting, watering and cultivating the produce growing there.

‘I wanted somewhere we could grow in the city, and lots of people quickly became involved in the campaign,’ the 52-year-old explains.

‘There were so many craft artists, and so many others wanting to grow their own produce. There are so many creative people in this city and Southsea Greenhouse is made up of some of those people.’

With a small shop on site selling crafts to the public, the garden is open to anyone who wanders in from Thursdays to Sunday.

Sue, who lives in Southsea, says: ‘It’s all about building a sense of community and helping people help others across the city. They see prosperity and that’s brilliant.’

The co-operative runs off donations and any money made from crafts and produce, although anything made goes back into making it bigger and better. And volunteers are always appreciated.

‘We run workshops throughout the year, and we sell produce, which is all organic, from the garden. We get food from local growers too, and maybe a bit farther afield in Hampshire and West Sussex,’ explains Sue.

A Portsmouth Community Grant meant they could build the small shop and workshop space on site, and Waitrose, which is a sponsor, recently gave them money to plant trees in the area.

Southsea Greenhouse is about spreading the idea of growing, selling and creating produce, plants and crafts, all in the Portsmouth area.

Sue adds: ‘We’re hoping to accumulate some of the space next door to us too, so we can plant trees there.

‘We get so much help from various people, and most of the time it’s just little things like popping in or putting tools over the gate.’

Today between 12-2pm, they’re running a winter vegetable workshop, a free event where anyone, of any age, can learn how to grow and care for vegetables – there’s even a chance to take home potted broad beans.

‘We run a range of workshops,’ explains Sue, ‘because we want people to come in and be involved. They can make decorations in the shop with one of our crafters, or learn about all the produce.’

‘The community garden was set up specifically because we wanted a location, whereas before we were a concept. We now have somewhere people can use and spend time.’

Portsmouth City Council has supported the scheme, and offered the land for the first year rent-free.

And for Christmas, Southsea Greenhouse is selling festive hampers, as well as having a spot at the Victorian Festival of Christmas this weekend selling crafts and wreaths.

Sue explains: ‘I hope that by promoting local produce we will be building connections with traders in the area.

‘If more traders are supported then it’s encouraging them to prosper, which has economical benefits too. If something is grown locally we know it’s fresh, and it’s easier and better for the environment to take it home and cook.’

Southsea Greenhouse isn’t just reaching out to individuals – it’s started suppling to cafes within the city. And it has an arrangement with Riverford and Wayside Organics that its produce is included in the companies’ fruit and veg boxes.

On December 20 from 5-8pm, the community garden will be open to the public to buy hand-made goods, and see the Christmas lights switched on.

Sue says: ‘We try to put on a variety of events.’

And Sue has just found out some big news – next year Southsea Greenhouse will be in charge of Portsmouth In Bloom, usually a Portsmouth City Council-led scheme.

The annual community competition allows gardeners in the city to enter and try to win one of the various categories.

Sue explains: ‘It has been running for years but the council felt it was time the project was community-led. People are passionate about it, so we want to do it justice.

‘We will be working with the council and Aspex Gallery, which has green spaces across the city.’

From January until July, there will be workshops for anyone interested in gardening, whether they have a garden or not. Winners are announced in September.

‘There’s going to be a big push to get people involved,’ adds Sue.

‘We’re also adding a new category called Eat My Street, which is for people who grow their own food. Our crafters will also take entry forms to the workshops they run, and hopefully it will be very inclusive.’

But why did Sue feel the need to start up the co-operative in the first place?

‘I don’t see the point in doing anything solo,’ she laughs.

‘We are social people, and it we don’t share all that talent, you don’t get the advantage of people who are doing brilliant things.

‘There are some amazing people doing amazing things across the city, and it’s important to highlight that.’

With four children, Sue hopes she has instilled the same values in them.

‘I hope they’ve all grown up with similar ideas,’ she says, ‘and personally I don’t want to be involved in something that doesn’t give back to the community I live in.’

For more information go to southseagreenhouse.co.uk.

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