Barbera Mulcahy is the gardener in resident in the Southill Resource Centre in Limerick. The centre was set up in Southill as part of the area regeneration project. The community has recurring social problems and the centre, which was a real hive of activity on Friday afternoon when I arrived and seems to have become a local community hub, is a big part of the local effort to reverse some of the negative trends of the past.
The community garden is part of this effort to get local people to re-engage with their community in a positive manner.
When Barbera arrived at the centre in March of this year there were three raised beds and the resource was slightly under-used.
A FETAC horticulture course had been run with external help but there seemed to a problem of maintaining continual engagement at the garden. Twenty people had done the course and Barbera’s challenge was to maintain momentum and develop a routine of activities at the garden while creating an open, welcoming environment.
One of the ways that she does this is quite ingenious if you ask me. When she’s in the garden herself, she hoists a bright coloured flag over the garden so people in the local community can come to volunteer at the garden and get tips and advice from her. The social problems in the area mean that some people don’t bother maintaining their own gardens because they think they will be vandalised by local kids. So they come in to the community garden and grow some veg or flowers there instead.
Barbera is in the process of preparing a new course for the garden in consultation with the local people. She has asked those interested to fill out a questionnaire and is designing a course based on the preferences and interests of the community so as to encourage a sense of ownership of the course and the garden. Another clever method Barbera uses to get people involved is to give the women coming in to the centre free herbs packed in to recycled milk cartons to take home with them.
When the tomatoes were ripe in the polytunnel this summer, they were left in a net where the kids could come in and help themselves to a snack and she also gave bags of veg to anybody who came to volunteer in the garden. Efforts are ongoing to have the veg from the garden used in the cafe in the centre. The manager there feels it was difficult for him to take the produce because he couldn’t plan far enough in advance with the sporadic nature of the supplies-something Barbera is hoping to work on for next year.
Many of the groups from the community centre have undertaken projects in the garden this year. The kids from the crèche developed a butterfly garden where Barbera planted
limnanthes to attract green-fly (and then ladybirds) and valerian to attract butterfly.
Limerick Youth Service developed a pumpkin patch and when they were going on one of their weekends away the guys came and picked the pumpkins to bring and cook with on their trip. Barbera and the guys in the centre are working with the Garda community liaison officer, and at-risk youngsters are targeted for projects in the centre. A Limerick arts group worked with local youth to develop a rockery with a difference in the garden.
Other workshops held in the garden this year include beetroot-pickling and jam-making with berries from the garden.
Barbera is helping the primary school next door to develop a garden in the school and there is a group of workersfrom the local Dell factory coming to work in the garden soon as part of their corporate social responsibility work.
While showing me around the garden Barbera told me a story about a local kid who was in the garden harvesting potatoes this year. He told her that he was going to go home and make chips out of the spuds. She told him that he couldn’t make chips with those spuds but that he could take some chives and parsley from the garden, boil the spuds and then chop up the herbs and put them on top with some butter. The boy’s mother was in the centre the next week and told her that the kid took over the kitchen and wouldn’t let her near the potatoes; and that the new recipe for spuds instead of chips when down a treat at home!
The railings around the garden for security and the fact that women are regularly donating plants from the gardens of houses that have been boarded up bear testimony to the challenging environment in Southill. But with women like Lee-Ann, the centre manager, and Barbera on the case, lots of little seeds will continue to be planted in the community via the garden project.
Thanks to Barbera, Lee-Ann and the guys in the centre for their help; and to the Ryan family in Shannon Banks for hosting me in Limerick city.
And to Brid, Anne and Nicola who I met in Ahane, outside Limerick city; great to see you again, thanks for the bed and the great French toast!
More photos of Limerick City visit: