Garden project blossoms at Livability Millie College

by Helen Barnes // February 7 2024

Spring is the season of renewal.

The first signs of the changing seasons are evident at Livability Millie Garden, where the garden is starting to blossom.

Anna Sweeney, Horticulture Enterprise Lead, is overseeing its redevelopment, collaboration with Michael Pickford, Senior Horticulture Technician and former historic garden designer, with a vision to create a kitchen garden, plant nursery, cut flower garden and forest garden on the Holton Lee site.

The four areas will support students and post-25 participants in learning skills for independence and employment as well as improving wellbeing.

Space to grow

Initial ground work has been carried out to create the four garden spaces.

Making the garden accessible has been a priority. A network of accessible paths will enable students to navigate the site. Raised beds, espalier and arch trained fruit trees will ensure all can participate in horticulture activities, from planting and pruning to harvesting crops.

The addition of sensory walkways of fragrant plants and herbs, will also allow students to explore the garden through sight, smell and touch.

Installing the infrastructure for the plant nursery, which will expand growing space, will be the focus for the coming months, says Anna.

The increased capacity will mean early salad crops and vegetables can be grown ready for planting out in the kitchen garden to support future plans for a veg box scheme.

The college recently acquired two polytunnels, donated by Livability Victoria School, that need to be re-skinned and adapted for use as learning and growing spaces.

A third polytunnel will be used to raise plug plants, bulbs, and perennials for sale at the Courtyard Craft Centre at Lytchett Minster, giving students opportunities to gain vocational skills, and for existing community contracts for hanging baskets and planters.

Building skills

Since the groundwork has been completed, students and volunteers have been involved in installing edging along borders and re-siting plants.

“It is fantastic to see students working together,” says Anna. “Gardening is a great activity, working together as a team to a given purpose.

“Working with plants, people become absorbed by what they are doing. Immersed in nature, hands in the soil, there is nothing quite like it.”

Through horticulture sessions, students rehearse practical skills and learn different ways of working with nature, underpinned by sustainable practices.

“We grow organically,” says Anna, “demonstrating in every area of the garden how to encourage wildlife and biodiversity, how to protect crops without the use of chemicals, how to save and store seeds ready for planting.

“There is something quite magical about planting a seed and seeing it sprout and grow.”

From seed to plate

One of the long-term goals of the project is to reduce reliance on external suppliers and establish a circular economy on site.

On a small scale, this is already happening. The college’s chickens and lambs have been helping to clear areas of the garden and to fertilise soil, with a mobile chicken coop rotating round the site. Eggs laid by the chickens are used in catering sessions, integrating the links between the college’s different enterprise activities.

Next steps include constructing compost bays where animal manure, garden and food waste generated on site can be used to make compost, reducing costs and contributing to the college’s sustainability model.

Seasonal crops grown in the kitchen garden will be used in catering sessions and, once established, produce for consumption at an on-site café. Some crops will also be grown for the animals on site.

In addition, the site is being adapted to enable a wider community link where people can visit, spend time in harmony with the environment and learn more about gardening.

Get involved

Donations of time, materials and funds to support the continued development of the garden is always welcome. If you would like to help, or to find out more, email Annabelle Pearsall APearsall@livability.org.uk