It’s a crisp March morning and the grass glistens with dew as we make our way through a hedge, just a stone’s throw from Southsea seafront.
The sun gives way to a cool breeze and a sudden downpour that’s gone as quickly as it came – spring’s changeability at its best.
It’s the involvement of the people that makes it attractiveNigel Huggins
Volunteer gardeners Nigel Huggins and Nina Moscrip have a sapling apple tree in their hands – the newest addition to a community orchard of about 30 trees between the hedge and a string of tennis courts.
The orchard is the latest project at the Southsea Greenhouse, which itself has blossomed over the past 12 months.
‘It’s going to be gorgeous,’ says Nigel, 58, after he lowers the plant into its hole.
Nigel, who lives in North End, has been involved in the Southsea Greenhouse community garden since it launched in 2011.
‘When the tennis club realign their fencing we’ll have room for a picnic area,’ he says.
‘It will be nice place for people to come and spend some time.’
The orchard also includes plum, cherry and pear trees.
Started by Sue Stokes, of Southsea, the greenhouse now has more going on than ever before.
‘It’s the involvement of the people that makes it attractive,’ says Nigel.
‘It’s amazing how the community has built up over the past couple of years.’
There are now more than 200 members of the greenhouse co-operative, and far from being just a gardening group it supports a thriving community of painters, knitters, ceramicists and woodcrafters.
Sue says: ‘People think we’re just gardeners, but actually we’ve been a co-operative of gardeners, growers and makers since we started four years ago.’
Sue says the gardeners are now preparing for Big Dig Day, a national effort to get green fingers active on March 21.
Members of the public are invited to visit the greenhouse between 11am and 1pm for plantings and other activities, including a children’s workshop.
Sue says the greenhouse has 400 bush saplings which people can collect for free.
Sue says: ‘There’s blackthorn, crabapple, hazel and others and we want to give them away from now.
‘They’re not going to grow into gigantic trees – they’re just bushes and they will encourage wildlife.
‘The Big Dig Day ’s all about encouraging people to grow fruit and vegetables and to look after their green spaces.’
Last year, the greenhouse’s team also took over running Portsmouth In Bloom, the city’s annual contest for green fingers.
Sue says the competition was a great success, and she is hoping even more people will get involved this year.
Categories included ‘school garden cultivated by children’, ‘hanging basket or wall container’ and ‘eat my street’.
She says: ‘We’re still looking for as many people and schools as possible to get involved this year.
‘Last year we had 180 entries and a lot of them were really lovely.’
The Portsmouth in Bloom awards night will be at Portsmouth Guildhall on September 16.
Sue says the greenhouse has also launched a partnership with the Greens Café, a business which opened up next door in December.
‘They wanted to work with us and be part of the regeneration of the whole area,’ Sue says.
‘We’re growing food that will later be served up fresh in their café and they’ve provided us with a tap water supply which we never had before.’
The café will also showcase art and crafts made by members of the greenhouse co-operative.
Opportunity to grow
It was a community website that drew hobby gardener Janice Attrill to the Southsea Greenhouse last October.
Janice, of Southsea, says she was told she was one of the first people to find a group to volunteer with online at volunteer.portsmouth.gov.uk.
She says: ‘I’m not working at the moment so I had a bit of spare time and I had a look at the website thought that’s something I could do.
‘I quite enjoy gardening and I’ve run out of garden space at home so it has been nice to come here and do some gardening.’
Janice says she’s looking forward to seeing the greenhouse garden come alive in the warmer months.
She says: ‘Personally, I like growing things from seeds and cuttings and I also like growing things to attract bees.
‘I’m looking forward to more activity going on in spring.’
At a glance
Where: In Canoe Lake park at the back of Cumberland House Natural History Museum, Eastern Parade, Southsea, PO4 9RG
When: The greenhouse is open for visitors on Tuesday and Thursday from 11am to 1pm and Sunday from 1pm to 3pm, and often at other times as well. The greenhouse also has an organic vegetable box scheme, see the website for more details.
Phone: 07530 913211