As I alighted from the train at Bristol Temple Meads station on Saturday, I worked out that it had been 25 years since I had last set foot in the city. Whilst it’s a fine place, and not without its allurements, I have never really warmed to Bristol. I was born in Bath, so there might be a hint of snobbery in my chilliness towards my home town’s bigger, less refined neighbour. Returning to celebrate a 21st birthday (alas not my own), it took at little while for me to find my bearings – apart from the inevitable gentrification and burgeoning cafe culture, I found Bristol largely unchanged.
Extensively damaged during the Blitz of November 1940, the city’s eclectic architecture bears the scars of WWII, both in the pock-marked fabric of the buildings that predate the bombing and the ugly modern development that followed. The gutted frame of St Peter’s Church in Castle Park always made me feel particularly sad and uneasy as a child, frequented as it was by the less savoury elements of society.
Now, parallel to St Peter’s ruined nave, fragrance company Jo Malone London has supported homeless charity St Mungo’s in creating the Castle Park Physic Garden. The garden opened in June 2015, replacing a sensory garden that had become neglected. Given my previous misgivings about the place it was a lovely surprise to stumble over such a pretty, airy display of herbs and flowers. The story behind the garden is even more refreshing.
St Mungo’s works to end homelessness and help people recover from the issues that create homelessness, often related to mental ill-health. Each night the charity provides housing and support for 2,500 people. The Castle Park Physic Garden is a place where trainees on the charity’s “Putting Down Roots” programme learn practical horticultural skills, get the chance to function as part of a lively community and enjoy some respite from their troubles. There’s an opportunity to gain new qualifications in horticulture, paving the path to long-term employment.
Since the garden opened there have been 1,500 gardening hours on site and more than 400 guided learning hours leading towards recognised accreditation. Thirty one trainees have participated in the project, five have completed a horticultural qualification and three have gone into full-time employment, including one as a landscape gardener.
The garden flourished in its first year, work continuing through the autumn and winter with thousands of daffodils, bluebells and snowdrops being planted. The Putting Down Roots team keep the beds weeded, the shrubs pruned and the site generally clean and tidy. On occasion the Jo Malone London team come and help with planting under the guiding hand of designer Emma Coleman.
Funding for the Physic Garden and five others across the UK helping people with mental health issues comes from the sale of a special Peony and Moss scented candle created by Jo Malone London. 75% of the retail price of £44 goes towards the upkeep and planting of the different sites. At a time when an “every man for himself” ethos seems to be gaining ground it’s great to witness the partnership between a large commercial organisation (Jo Malone has been part of the Estée Lauder group since 1999) and a charity working to combat homelessness and create a nicer environment for everyone.
Beautifully presented, lovingly maintained and contributing significantly to the amenity of a busy urban area, the Castle Park Physic Garden is living proof that if you create an attractive environment people will respect and cherish it. Further collaborations of this kind could serve to enliven other lacklustre public spaces and introduce those less fortunate than ourselves to a rewarding career in horticulture.
n Bristol. As one of the UK’s leading homeless charities Trainee gardeners are moving on to the next phases of their horticultural qualifications.
“It gives me a big bundle of confidence and is helping me to see how capable I am. I really enjoy studying and may even further my education after this course.” – Trainee Gardener