One of Sue Stokes’s favourite childhood memories is wandering through flourishing, sun-warmed raspberry bushes, collecting the ripe, juicy fruits for her mum.
‘It was my job in the garden,’ recalls Sue.
‘They’d be in a nice sunny spot and they weren’t that tall but, as I was little, it felt like wandering through a jungle.’
So it’s fitting that the first plants to make it into the soil at Sue’s Community Garden are a row of spindly but promising raspberry canes.
‘We swapped rhubarb for raspberries that someone brought in. They just look like old sticks now, but in a couple of months they should be thriving,’ says Sue, whose vision is to have a green and abundant space open to the whole Portsmouth community.
The 51-year-old Southsea mum has turned her love of gardening into a little patch of horticultural paradise for everyone in the city and surrounding areas.
Her passion for planting things, which began at her childhood home in Leigh Park, has bloomed into a thriving community project called Southsea Greenhouse.
Now Sue and her fellow Greenhouse members are preparing to launch the Community Garden – a 65-foot space, which will act as a kind of trading post for people who want to bring surplus fruit, veg and plants and take away different produce.
There will also be workshops and opportunities for children and adults to find out more about gardening.
‘I tried to bring my kids up to care about where they live and this kind of echoes that,’ says Sue.
‘I think gardening is fascinating for children and adults – you plant something and you water it and look after it and look what you get out of it.’
Watching a dozen hardy volunteers in the Southsea space, digging, weeding and braving a brisk cold wind, Sue adds: ‘I now feel like my wider family is Southsea Greenhouse. We’re growing a community and helping people to learn and look after the environment.’
The official launch of the garden and cabin – which is used for trading and demonstations – will be on Sunday with a day of special events.
It by no means marks the completion of the garden – raised beds are being created and there’s much planting to do. But it is an important date after four months of graft.
The Southsea Greenhouse team began work on the space near Canoe Lake in January. Leased from the council, the uncultivated land was a jungle of weeds, and volunteers have been clearing it up, recycling vegetation into chippings for paths and preparing the ground for planting.
They’ve been sloshing around in all weathers.
‘Gardeners tend to be tough, which is lucky. It’s been a mud bath on a few occasions,’ laughs Sue.
And this bunch have also proved themselves to be resourceful. The garden doesn’t benefit from a water supply so the volunteers are storing water in butts.
When the guttering on the neighbouring cafe leaked, they wasted no time collecting more supplies!
The seeds for all this were sown in Sue’s childhood and later as a mum with an allotment.
She and husband Ian raised their four children in an apartment, so the green-fingered parents found themselves a patch of land.
Sue remembers family days at the allotment where the youngsters would keep their child-size gardening tools and get excited about the progress of runner bean tendrils creeping up beanpoles.
After being employed by community organisations and training as a florist, Sue decided she wanted to open a flower cafe business. But this turned into a social enterprise idea that became Southsea Greenhouse.
A kind of city-wide version of The Good Life, the Greenhouse scheme involved local gardeners and charities contributing to a ‘shack’ bursting with produce on Southsea seafront.
They could swap and barter and passers-by could buy the goods.
Set up as a co-operative by Sue and member Nigel Huggins, the organisation’s profits are ploughed back into its projects.
On sunny days, manning the ‘shack’ was joyful, says Sue. But they’d also be shivering on the seafront with the wind blowing the pots over.
Thankfully the nearby Pyramids Centre allowed the Greenhouse’s team to set up and demonstrate in the foyer. Now they’ll be in their new home at the Community Garden, where crafters and other volunteers are getting ready for the launch.
They’ll by no means be providing fruit, veg and flowers for the whole of Portsmouth from their little space but will be working with other organisations to meet demand, explains volunteer Wendy Brenan.
And with that, a group of them debate what to plant.
‘It’s exciting here, you never know what will happen next,’ comments Sue, adding: ‘It’s friendly and peaceful too. It only takes five minutes before you feel totally relaxed.’
Don’t miss Sue’s weekly column on the gardening page in Weekend, every Saturday in The News.
The launch of Southsea Greenhouse’s Community Garden will feature stalls, arts and crafts, live music and a gardener’s question time.
The event on Sunday runs between 11am and 3pm and is open to anyone who wants to pop in, enjoy the entertainment and find out more about Southsea Greenhouse and the Community Garden.
Radio Solent will be broadcasting live from the event between noon and 2pm, including their Gardener’s Question Time in the broadcast.
Deputy Lord Mayor, Councillor Lynne Stagg, will be among those officially launching the garden with a ceremonial tree planting.
There will be live music from samba band Batala, The Potting Shed Improvisors and acoustic roots band Grizzly & The Grasshoppers.
Families can enjoy face painting, henna tattoos and other attractions.
And of course members of Southsea Greenhouse will be showing off their garden and letting people know how they can get involved with the organisation.
Southsea Greenhouse welcomes volunteers, who can take part in Dig Tuesday sessions between 10am and noon.
Those taking part in these sessions work in the Community Garden and next door Cumberland House, helping the natural history museum’s friends organisation.
The Community Garden can be found next to the museum, near Canoe Lake, Southsea. Visit southseagreenhouse.co.uk.