Interest in a community garden has blossomed after it appeared on the Gardeners World TV show.
The blooms, creepers and succulents at award winning Sandown Community Garden featured in the BBC 2 programme earlier this month.
They provided a colourful item for the broadcast, fronted by green fingered expert Monty Don. But florals aside, it was the community spirit that really shone through.
Founder Linda Ford introduces the project, which has won national and regional acclaim since it started in 2015 with husband John and Marlene Walker.
She says: “We’re here all the time, we love it. As soon as the sun’s out, we’re out here gardening.”
Sandown Castle was built by Henry VIII between 1539 and 1540, around the time of the dissolution of the monasteries, when the king broke away from Catholicism.
It was one of three defence forts on the coast at Deal, all formed in the shape of a Tudor Rose. Castles at Deal and Walmer make up the trio, but Sandown, the most exposed to the elements, is now just a ruin.
In 1949 it became a community garden, but six years ago it was nothing like the attraction it is now.
One day in October 2014, Mr and Mrs Ford decided to take a walk.
She said: “The area looked completely sad and sorry, it was completely overgrown.
“John said somebody should do something about that and this vision popped into my head with all these coloured flowers. And that’s how it all started.
“John decided that he would put a post on social media which he did and the one comment that stood out in our mind was ‘If you don’t like it, do something about it’.
“That’s a bit like a red rag to a bull for me. All those people who commented wanted to join the group.”
When they started the garden, they were finding things in skips and people were donating plants and giving cuttings. It has evolved and people now give plants in memory of loved ones who have enjoyed the garden.
In the early days a block of overgrown seathrift was already there. They moved that to the front tiers and sought out more rockery shrubs.
Now, well matured, there are vibrant yellows mixed in in with the pinks, purples and blues.
Mrs Ford said the colours “make me feel happy.”
“It looked completely sad and sorry, it was completely overgrown and John said somebody should d something about that and this vision popped into my head with all these coloured flowers…”
The challenges posed by the elements informed their decisions about what to plant.
“We have a lot of wind, we have a lot of salt stray and sometimes the salt spray can go right over the garden. We don’t let anything deter us here. We’ll have a go at anything and we don’t give up.”
The months of rain mean the the plants are now double the size since the Gardeners World feature was filmed so it’s an ideal time to visit.
Mrs Ford said: “The weather is perfect for our garden. We had a cold start, nothing got wind burnt, then there as a dry April which encouraged things to grow followed by the rain.”
Visitors will see a wild flower garden to attract bees and butterflies and lots of tiers and terracing along the ruin.
There is also a boat filled with colourful blooms, a picture of which won a photo competition launched by sister paper The East Kent Mercury. That Picture by photographer Dave Tilby is on the front page of the Mercury’s 2021 calendar.
The Gardeners World video meets volunteer Bessy working on the wild garden.
She said: “Because I love on my own, it’s contact with the outside world. To me that’s probably more important than planting the plants.”
The success of the project has attracted more volunteers, some from outside towns who have moved to the area and become part of the community.
Mrs Ford said the creation of the group came at a time when Mrs Ford’s husband was unwell.
She said: “Starting this garden has made a huge difference. It’s filled a huge void. It’s given us hope that things will improve and things have improved.
“We get so many nice comments from people coming to visit. They appreciate it, we love doing it and we all have a lot of fun.”
Their efforts were certainly a hit with presenter Monty Don.
After the clip he said: “I love the way they’ve gone with the landscape. They haven’t tried to impose a garden on it and there’s the fact a community garden is about so much more than horticulture, clearly doing a lot of good to a lot of people.”
The list of the group’s awards is two pages long. The community garden has won numerous golds in the Our Community category in the South and South East in bloom regional competition and it won the southern region of Cultivation Street.
Sandown Community Garden is run on donations which have been hit because of Covid.
In the past grants from Dover District Council, and local Rotary and Lions clubs have helped pay for the water supply to be fitted, and other funding bodies contribute including Sgt’s Mess Pantomime Productions.
Sandown Community Garden is at Sandown Road, Deal. It is free and accessible 24 hours a day. There is free roadside parking and wheelchair access. Dogs on leads only.
A percentage from each cup of coffee sold by Hog & Bean Green Cafe, based there, goes towards the community garden funds. The cafe has a tin for donations and it recycles coffee granulesfor the garden’s composter. To donate directly you can call Linda Ford on 07751362949 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Find the group on Facebook by searching Sandown Castle Community Garden or Sandown Castle Community Garden Group.
Read more: All the latest news from Deal