July’s Growing Ability Blog

On 27th June after much planning and much anticipation, almost all our Growing Ability gardeners (12 in all), along with staff and volunteers, headed off on a trip to Cambridge Botanical Gardens. We met at Hitchin and Letchworth stations and congregated in one carriage, also joined by Riley the support dog. Some of the gardeners had initially been nervous about the journey; they were really stretching beyond their comfort zones. Both Riley and the power of being with friends did a wonderful job of distracting and soothing any initial nerves as we got on our way.

The carriage was filled with chatter and laughter and birthday wishes for one of our longest standing gardeners, Sean. The joy of being together as a group on an adventure somewhere slightly familiar to some of the gardeners and new to others, was tangible. As the train sped along, Katherine pointed out swathes of poppies through the window and wondered whether we would see any later in the day.

When we arrived at the station in Cambridge, the group split as some walked the path to the gardens whilst others caught a bus. Once we had excitedly picked up and been shown how to use the mobility scooters at the gate, we entered the botanical gardens.

After a re-group and a quick refresh at the café, we decided to wander towards the rose gardens. We were drawn in by the waterlilies at the Fen display and found that the longer we looked at them, the more newts appeared! Quite quickly we became a little competitive as to who could see the most…

We passed a stunning display of wildflowers including abundant cornflowers and stopped to take photographs of these and the many unusual and fragrant roses in the rose garden.

Shenelle described later in the day how much she liked stroking the smooth bark of the trees. She was referring to the Prunus serrula (Tibetan Cherry), and its smooth mahogany bark, and the Betula albo-sinesis, with its beautiful copper, milky pink, cinnamon and pale pewter bark, burnished by the appreciative hands of visitors down the years to gleam like soft metals

We paused for lunch at the café where the staff had very kindly saved us a big table, and all sang Happy Birthday to Sean.

As we continued our walk amongst the trees we noticed the sweet perfume of the linden flowers and the unusual shape of the “balloon flowers” (Platycodon grandiflorus) and suggested we might try growing some.

We stood in awe of the Giant Redwood (Sequoiadendron giganteum), and noticed the shape of the pinecones (a little like pursed lips!) Further on, Steve pointed out the Wollemi Pine, and described to us how the species had been presumed extinct for over 2 million years and known only through fossil records, only to be rediscovered in 1994 in a deep gorge in the blue mountains just 200km west of Sydney. We admired the feathery, fan shaped leaves of the Ginkgo trees and marvelled at the fact that these plants had also lived among the dinosaurs and survived whatever they didn’t! 

We took a jungle-like detour through the undergrowth and had a rest on the back of a very accommodating crocodile, or alligator (we weren’t sure), and then it was time to head back to the station.

We walked to the station, and got the train back, saying our goodbyes until next week.

As Horticultural Support Worker Liz reflected afterwards: “It was a great day in so many ways, with some very special moments and memories. I observed some and was also part of some lovely interactions between people, plants and a special dog”.

We’d like to thank Cambridge Botanical Gardens for enabling this trip and setting everything up for us so smoothly. And a big thank you goes to our own staff who organised the day’s logistics, especially Project Manager Julie.

The whole day was infused with everything Growing Ability stands for: connection through nature, and helping and supporting one another live healthier and more fulfilled lives.

Thanks to Dulcie for this lovely account of a very memorable day for all of us.