Organic Growers of Fairlie

By Nancy McQueen

Organic Growers of Fairlie is a sustainable community garden with space to grow vegetable and fruit both outside and in polytunnels. We hold workshops and events that everyone can take part in and have established woodland and forest walks. This is now a super rich area for wildlife and a sheltered quiet spot for those wishing the tranquility and peace that a woodland can offer.  This is how Keep Scotland Beautiful sees our garden.

We are rewarded with a multitude of pollinators such as bees, butterflies, moths and hoverfles. There are also many sightings of voles, frogs, bats and hedgehogs which all benefit from the natural environment created by sustainably planting for people with the environment in mind. These are a multitude of natural pest controllers.

This environment has been created over many years by enthusiastic gardeners and volunteers.

The previously derelict site was historically a train yard, and also used for boat repairs.  Contaminants were found in the soil when we first started gardening here fourteen years ago.  The three acre site was also one third covered with Japanese knotweed.  

We were instructed not to walk on the soil and were not able to grow anything  edible  in it either. It was necessary to grow in raised beds and make our own compost or buy it in.  The whole site was covered in wood chip, donated by tree surgeons, and it quickly composted into good soil of a great depth. The site was cleared of Japanese knotweed mainly by persistent and careful hand removal. A grant from Scottish Natural Heritage of £10,000 was helpful in starting the allotment, however our main funders were Hunterston PowerStation, and we were one of the first to receive a grant from The Climate Challenge Fund.

Local children planted many native trees we received from the Woodland Trust along the garden edges, and wood chip was put down to create a woodland nature trail along the perimeters.  A shelter belt of native trees was planted at the front of the garden.  We now have a small woodland at the back we are developing which contains a tree nursery. It was here we released adopted hedgehogs from a wildlife rescue centre. Now after fourteen years the trees are maturing well. There is also a local area we are developing as a community woodland.  

Our gardeners conserve rainwater with water drainage from our roof into bowsers and make organic compost using our own vegetable remains.  Fifteen to twenty tons is produced a year. Two hot bins produce compost as well as a liquid feed.  We have members who are making compost and worm-tea using composting worms and wormeries.  Young gardeners are being mentored in composting and maintaining wormeries as well as other gardening and environmental skills. They work on a ‘Grow and Learn’ Award from The Caley.  Knowledge gained is shared with anyone interested or other groups. We have had groups of youngsters achieve the John Muir Award.

Comfrey is grown for plant feed. Leaf mould and seaweed are used as mulch. It is a coastal garden. Recycled coffee grounds and rock dust help revitalise the soil.  These are all activities  which benefit the environment and encourage the pollinators needed for growing our crops.

We have bat and bird boxes in the garden and bug hotels and bats are seen in the early evening. A bat viewing night was held.  Our pollinating plants are many and have been chosen to attract pollinators throughout the seasons. Crocus bulbs in the spring, pot marigolds in the summer and ivy in the autumn/winter are a few of these.  Clover which attracts many bees is left while mowing the grass. Long grass is kept in some areas for natural habit.  Many nettles for butterflies to lay their eggs are retained. Night scented stock and evening primrose are grown to attract insects for bats to feed on as well.

We are involved in other projects where we have planted for pollinators throughout our village including Fairlie Station garden, two small picnic areas, a green space play area where soft fruits, apple trees and mints are grown for community use. A volunteer from our group improves an area in a neighbouring village as well. One volunteers has established community seating area with attractive planting. Young people have been involved in growing plants for many of these areas such as borage and planting them with wildflower seed which they maintain as well. 

These areas have beautiful wildflower displays which everyone enjoys. We have handed out 40 packets of wildflower seed this past year to encourage a pollinator trail in the village and also about 50 wildflower seed bombs to youngster. The local primary school and the garden co-operate with projects such as making seed bombs and nature surveys. Citizen science surveys have taken place on our site, and we also created a small pond in the garden. 

Our polytunnels are filled with marigolds and nasturtiums to attract pollinators but they also attract birds that feed on them.  A wren was found nesting under a lettuce leaf with a cluster of eggs so we need to be careful.  Most members are so pleased they forgo their gardening until the chicks have fledged. Nesting in the polytunnels is a regular occurrence in the spring.

Two members began to create a wildflower meadow at the front of our garden about four years ago in a grassy area of poor soil. Some plants such a rattle where grown from seed and planted as plugs to get established.

The area has matured over the years and has long attractive grasses interspersed with splashes of colourful plants such as thistles, vetches, vipers bugloss, oxeye daisy, lady’s bedstraw, trefoil and queen of the meadow and more.  Multitudes of bees are found feeding during the summer and butterflies such as the common blue.  

Goldfinches feed on the thistle seeds and other birds which eat small insects are regular visitors.  Ground beetles hide in the grass during the day and feed on slugs and flatworm which is an invasive species in the garden.  Pipistrelle bats eat moths and midges at night.  Frogs use the meadow as a shelter and eat slugs.  Hedgehogs use the meadow to pass through.  

Wildflower seeds are collected in the autumn for next years planting and the meadow grass is cut back in the autumn. There are recycled boxes where we plant wildflower seeds. The biggest challenge in 2021 for gardeners was three months of hot weather without rain. The tiny wildflower seedlings in boxes needed constant watering to thrive which volunteers did regularly.  

In the future we would like to work with the council to have dedicated wood ‘bee boxes’ filled with compost for growing wildflowers in areas in the village where ground planting isn’t possible. We would also like to help the Primary School with a dedicated area for wildflowers. We’ve come a long way in 14 years, and we have ambitions to do much more yet.