The Social Garden

Social and Therapeutic Horticulture in Practice

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The Bird Man of Cyrenians

We like to support wild bird populations all year round at the Cambridge Cyrenians Allotment Project because food shortages can occur at any time. But even if you don’t always feed the birds, at this time of year, it’s a good idea to put out food and water on a regular basis.

Birds require high energy (high fat) foods during the cold winter weather to maintain their fat reserves to survive the frosty nights.

At the project we couldn’t forget our feathered friends because we have an expert in our ranks. Peter (The Bird Man) is renowned for his amazing knowledge and love of garden birds.


At the hostel where Peter lives he has been feeding the wild birds in the small garden for many years. Some birds over the years have become very tame with Peter, even eating from his hand (and face!) His knowledge of birds is remarkable and he can even recognise most native birds just by their calls.

So, Peter has been making sure that the bird tables are full of seed and other appropriate food since the weather got colder. He also has some other unique ways of feeding the birds around the project.

He uses a special bird nut paste to stick nuts all over the compost bays and sheds. He’s also been making his own bird feeders from old plastic bottles and stringing monkey nuts from the barn rafters.

He has requested that I get some niger seeds for a special new feeder that he’s making at home to encourage Goldfinches to our project. I can’t wait to see them flock to the Bird Man of Cyrenians in the months to come!

Ruth 🙂


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Celebrating Life at the Allotment

A couple of weeks ago we had some really sad news at the Cambridge Cyrenians Allotment Project. Our group member and resident artist, Lee died unexpectedly at his hostel.

The allotment group and I were all very upset, especially the long termers who’ve known Lee for a while. He was involved in lots of the activities at the project over the years. I especially enjoyed taking him to see the horses to collect horse manure as he was at his most relaxed and happy with them.


But Lee will always be remembered for his art work at the project. He would cover any flat surface with paint and one of his shed murals even got into the pages of the Big Issue. This was what Lee said about painting at the project – “I like drawing and painting… When I’m doing it, it feels like I’m in the painting. Everything else goes away.

So, this week we celebrated his creative life and his involvement in the allotment project by having a memorial fire.

The group said a cheers to Lee with our cups of tea and donuts and enjoyed roasting marshmallows on the fire.

We’re so happy to be able to see Lee’s artwork every day at the project so we can remember our times with him.

Ruth 🙂

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Celebrating Diwali

Last month, some members of both Cambridge Cyrenians Allotment and Riverside Garden Projects and I were invited by artist Joshua Bilton to take part in a community art programme, ‘Open House’ in partnership with Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge.

The Open House project has been mapping North Cambridge residents engagement with their domestic space, architecture and local neighbourhood. As part of this, Joshua asked local allotment holders to keep a diary over 3 weeks to reflect on all aspects of work on the allotment including the relationship between growing and wellbeing.

So, obviously, this was right up our street! And we really got stuck in to our diaries, all producing very different styles of diary with drawings, prints, poems, photos, seed heads and vegetables inserted.

The finished diaries were displayed at an event in North Cambridge – The Open House Gathering and Feast which a couple of us managed to attend.

Since then several group members have already started further diaries (including me) and we will be sharing those with Joshua for his continued project.

To say thanks for getting involved with the project, Karen Thomas, community officer at Kettle’s Yard invited us to attend a special event at the Cambridge University’s Botanic Gardens – The Festival of Light.


So, several of us went along last night to celebrate Diwali and enjoy the spectacular light displays, beautiful installations in the glass houses and Indian electronic music by Talvin Singh.


Happy Diwali

Ruth 🙂

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Beekeeping Project is Go!

Last year we, at Cambridge Cyrenians Allotment Project took on the very over grown allotment plot next to our site with the plan to set up a beekeeping project.

We applied for funding based on the potential therapeutic value of beekeeping skills for our group members and the benefits to the local environment that honey bees will provide. Luckily we were very successful.

So, we got our first hive through the Cambridge Bee Keeping Association (CBKA) as I had previously done my basic training with them. It was flat pack!

We set about clearing the front of the plot ready for the willow screen to be planted and we were lucky enough to get a beekeeping bench built for us by a recent volunteer team which we placed in front of the living willow.

Sarah, a very experienced local beekeeper offered us a small, healthy colony and last week she brought the bees in a temporary hive to the site. They seemed to have settled well to their new surroundings so yesterday Sarah joined us at the project to help me transfer the bees into our own hive.

The project group members are very interested in the new arrivals and three members are going to enrol on the CBKA beekeeping for beginners course next Spring.

The bees have already settled in to their new hive and we’re hoping they’ll continue to be happy at our project site so the group can enjoy watching and supporting a healthy population of honey bees.


The bee hive on site behind the growing beds

Special thanks to Sarah (for the bees, advice and support) and Rachel (who helped me build the hive.)

Watch this space for updates and pollination stories 🙂


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Garden Arts and Crafts at Riverside

I believe that creativity is an intrinsic part of a human being and to be able to create arts/ crafts can be extremely important for a person’s wellbeing. Arts and crafts, usually relating to the garden, are often used at Social and Therapeutic Horticulture projects. They feature strongly in the projects that I manage in Cambridge with homeless and vulnerably housed people.

Today, I started a new side project – The Riverside Garden Arts and Crafts Project – which will run on Tuesday afternoons at the Victoria Project hostels. The group and I have already had loads of ideas about the sessions that we want to do, including – building a flower press and pressing wild flowers from our garden, making paper out of scraps from the garden, building solitary bee houses, making chutney from our gluts, making wire and stone hangings for the trees, making mosaics from found objects in the garden…….. I will be posting about some of them as we go ahead.

For our first session today we made some bramble cordial in one of the communal kitchens.

We picked a load of blackberries from the wildlife area and rinsed them in the sink.


We put them all in a saucepan and just covered them with water, then put them on a medium heat (but didn’t let them boil) for about ten minutes. Then, using a steamer and some clean muslin we separated the juice into another big pan. Paula couldn’t see any go to waste so she squeezed every single drop out of the muslin (see worrying third picture!)

We then put the liquid back on a medium heat and added the sugar (about 200g per litre but you can use more or less depending on how sweet you like it.) That was then heated (not boiled) for a few more minutes to melt the sugar and we decanted it into clean glass jars and bottles using an ingenious funnel made by Greg.

At this point you can add acetic acid to help preserve it but we didn’t bother because all the bottles have been snapped up by project group members, other residents/ staff at the hostel and will be used up quickly.

The cordial is really tasty and it was great to use our own produce to create something so delicious. Can’t wait for our next project sessions. Watch this space.

Ruth 🙂


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Group Volunteering at the Allotment Project

This week we’ve had a group of engineers from Infinis, a renewable energy company volunteering with us.

I had three specific jobs in mind for the group, but not much resources available. This didn’t stop the amazing Infinis team as they proved to be extremely proactive and inventive.

Task One – Clear and Edge the Perennial Beds

Keeping the grass and other weeds from creeping into the herb, perennial and wildflower beds is a constant nightmare. So we asked the Infinis team to edge them with some gravel boards that we provided. They were very resourceful in finding timber around the site and from pallets to peg the boards in. The results look amazing and will save a lot of extra weeding in future.


Task Two – Build a Beekeepers Bench

When our beekeeping area is full of bees we will need a bench to work from and sit to watch the bees. So we gave nothing but a few pallets to one of the Infinis team and he made this brilliant bench for us!

Task Three – Build a Wildlife Hide

Our orchard and wildlife area has visiting birds, butterflies, dragonflies, frogs, toads, foxes, hedgehogs and deer so we thought it would be nice to have a hide to sit and watch them all. The Infinis team kindly offered to buy us a basic flat pack shed which some of the group went to collect whilst two of the team laid a foundation out of some old stones they found round the back of our tool shed. Then they put up the shed and added some big windows for us to watch the wildlife through.

The team seemed to really enjoy working together away from their normal day jobs.

“It’s been a really interesting day finding out about the charity and meeting some of the people they help.” said Neil Armstrong, who recently joined the company. “I volunteer in my own time to help a local homeless shelter and find it really rewarding that we also do this as a company.”

Mark Wiedeholz, team manager, was pleased with the day.  “These volunteering days are fantastic for teamwork and for us all to get together. It’s great to see things finished in a day and to hear and see at first hand the difference it will make to the charity.”

Our allotment project gang enjoyed working with the Infinis team and are pretty happy with the results too.


Thanks again to those at Infinis and Business Volunteering who organised and attended the volunteering day.

Ruth 🙂

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Bee Keeping at Cambridge Cyrenians Allotment

At the Cambridge Cyrenians Allotment Project we have always tried to encourage wildlife habitats, especially for pollinating insects like solitary bees.

So, last year I completed the full training with Cambridge Bee Keeping Association with the plan to set up a bee keeping project on the allotment site.

We were lucky that the extremely overgrown plot next to our existing wildlife area became free at the beginning of the year. So we took it on, began clearing it and planted a willow screen ready to develop it into a bee friendly area.

The group members have varying interest in the thought of caring for some honey bees at the project. Some are really keen to get involved and look forward to the benefits to their physical, emotional and mental health that can come from the rewarding pastime.

However, by caring for a hive of bees there can also be benefits for the wider community and even humanity as a whole.

The majority of flowering plants need animals to pollinate them. But it’s not just pretty flowers that we need to thank the honeybees for. Approximately, one third of the average diet (far more if you have a plant based diet) has been pollinated by them. Nuts, carrots, soya beans, broccoli, apples, strawberries, avocados, even Alfalfa the clover-like plant grown widely for cattle feed are dependent on the honeybee, as is the cotton for the tee-shirt you’re wearing.

But honeybees across the world are dying at an alarming rate. In America, one in three hives was left lifeless at the beginning of 2008 and this death rate has been rising rapidly over the last decade. If or when the world loses the honeybee for good, agriculture will collapse and our civilization as we know it will be in real danger.

What is to blame for this catastrophe? Viruses, parasites, pesticides and climate change have all played a part in the decline of the honeybee as they have weakened populations. But the main culprits are the industrial beekeepers themselves who have worked their bees to death by shipping their hives thousands of miles every year to different monoculture sites, all in the name of agribusiness profits.

So, what can YOU do about this problem?

There are so many ways that you can help the honeybee at home, in the garden, on an allotment or at a horticulture therapy project. If you plant ornamental plants, choose single, open flowers for easy pollination (bees can’t get inside double flowers.) Grow a combination of different edible crops and consider a wildflower bed, a pond and a native hedge. DON’T use pesticides and other chemicals – these have been proven to affect the populations of many pollinating animals including honeybees. If you shop at supermarkets, try to choose organic produce or buy your fruit and vegetables (that you don’t grow yourself) at a local farmer’s market. By not buying into the huge monoculture agribusinesses you will be protecting our honeybees across the world.

And of course, you could consider keeping a hive and caring for some healthy bees yourself. P1010153

So, today we went to pick up our first hive from Stephen at the Cambridge Bee Keeping Association. It’s flat pack!

We will be very excited to get it built and populated so we can enjoy watching honey bees join our other pollinating insects at the project. Watch this space for updates!

Ruth 🙂