Peter Dowdall praises those hardy folk who toil in the soil to ground their souls and grow their own.

More people are coming to realise what has up to now been our little secret. 

That is the tremendous value and therapy that is to be found in the garden.

Study after study is proving what we already know — that working in the garden has tangible, positive effects on our mental health. 

In many countries now it is even being prescribed as medicine.

I have written before about this and how I feel that connecting to the immense energy that is the universe or god or whatever you wish to call it, ‘earths’ us and I truly believe it rebalances us psychologically.

It goes without saying of course, that it is an excellent pursuit in terms of physical health, but there is also another benefit to gardening that’s perhaps even more important than all the others.

Some of Zwena McCullough’s first crop of kiwi fruit grown in a home-made polytunnel.
Some of Zwena McCullough’s first crop of kiwi fruit grown in a home-made polytunnel.

Over the last 10 years there has been a huge growth in the development of allotments and community gardens. 

The reasons have been varied — the aforementioned health benefits, the economics, it is so much cheaper to grow your own beautiful, organic vegetables than it is to buy tasteless mass- produced produce which may have travelled half way across the world, and the health effects of eating fresh produce — to name a few.

It has also gone through a period of being trendy, there have been many TV programmes, books and magazine features dedicated to allotments and growing your own food. 

‘Social capital’ is one of those terms which was bandied about at will by politicians during the 2000s, very often meaninglessly but it is not a meaningless term and it is one benefit of community and allotment gardening, not normally cited as a reason to get involved but nearly always quoted as one of the best things about it.

It is that benefit that is possibly the most important of all, people out working with each other, getting to know their neighbours who may just live on the other side of a 2m fence but may as well live on another planet.

Be it Tidy Towns, community gardens or allotments, the benefits of anything that brings people together like this for the betterment of all cannot be overstated. 

Some of Zwena McCullough’s first crop of kiwi fruit grown in a home-made polytunnel.
Some of Zwena McCullough’s first crop of kiwi fruit grown in a home-made polytunnel.

As with anything that goes through a huge surge in popularity the graph was always going to reach the top and head on a downward trajectory and this is where it is at the moment.

One project, however, which has stood the test of time and has developed fabulously is The Hydro Farm Allotments which were started in 2000 as a millennium project to bring back the old days of many people working on the farm together.

They have been a wonderful success bringing people from far and wide together to grow chemical-free food for their families. 

It is a wonderful place to meet like-minded people, learn how to grow, make friends, share seeds/plants and harvests with each other. 

Plotters from over 12 countries with ages ranging from six days old, to the Blarney Active Retirement Group have been involved over the years.

Members of the Hydro have been the winners of three Gold Medals in the RDS National Allotment Awards. 

In 2010 Peggy Murray and her family team won Gold for the ‘Best Growers’ in Ireland. 

In 2014 Inga and Agris won gold for the ‘Best Growers’ in Ireland and also in 2014 Hydro Farm Allotments won the top prize for ‘Best Provider’ of allotments in Ireland.

Speaking to Zwena Mc Cullough, the driving force behind this initiative recently, she explained to me: “We harvest most of our crops and eat/store/share them. 

"Sometimes we let them flower for the bees or to collect seeds for next year. How beautiful it looks to see magnificent globe artichokes burst into huge purple flowers and full of bees and other insects collecting nectar/pollen.”

Charlie Sewell and Zwena McCullough from the Hydro Farm, Blarney at the home and garden festival at the Cork Racecourse, Mallow, Co Cork.
Charlie Sewell and Zwena McCullough from the Hydro Farm, Blarney at the home and garden festival at the Cork Racecourse, Mallow, Co Cork.

Gardening is as unique as the individual who carries the shovel and as the BBC’s Alan Titchmarsh recently commented about current UK Labour leader (or perhaps not by the time this goes to press, such is the speed with which things are changing on that landscape): “The overgrown state of Jeremy Corbyn’s rambling front garden resembles the man himself, I think it’s wonderful. He looks a bit overgrown himself, it rather matches his beard.”

That individuality is apparent in the Hydro Farm where each garden is unique to its owner and tomorrow, Sunday July 10 the public will have the opportunity to explore this wonderful place and see the differing styles during an open day at the Hydro Farm Allotments in Tower, near Blarney, Co Cork.

Some plotters like symmetry and organisation, others like a more natural look. 

Most plotters have started their gardening journey there and it was their first experience of digging their own potatoes or sharing in a feast of fresh fruit. 

The excitement of seeing seeds turning into edible and beautiful plants never ceases to amaze.

It will be opened at 2pm by Richard Barter, the great grandson of the original Richard Barter who started building the Hydro Farm in 1843 and at 5.30pm local historian Tim O’Brien will present a historical show of the Hydro since 1843.

Food on the day is being generously donated and allotment stalls and many more attractions will be there on the day with all funds going to support six-year-old Ava Barry who has Dravet Syndrome. 

CBD Oil has a proven high success rate in reducing seizures in such patients in the US but as it is an extract from an illegal garden plant — namely cannabis — it is not available for use here. 

Ava’s parents will also be there tomorrow to speak about her situation.

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