Tayside triumph

How appropriate that the third Keep Scotland Beautiful ‘It’s Your Neighbourhood’ pollinator award was won by Bonnie Dundee.  2020 was also the third year of Bonnie Dundee’s focus on pollinators, and they delivered an extraordinary effort in what, by any standards, proved an unprecedented year.

The volunteers from the It’s Your Neighbourhood Bonnie Dundee group design and maintain attractive planting in Dundee city centre to encourage insects and improve the wellbeing of workers, residents and people visiting the city.

Working closely with Dundee City Council, the group plant with pollinators in mind, and to educate and increase people’s awareness and understanding via notices, contact with schools and nurseries and through online communications. The volunteers are responsible for fourteen planters on Union Street, four in Westport, fourteen outside the square at Dundee Science Centre plus an Urban Orchard of eight heritage trees in fourteen planters, a raised herb area and seven flower beds in the William Gardiner Square at the back of the Overgate shopping centre and an area of Slessor Gardens.

Dundee’s enthusiastic volunteers deliver a wide range of activities each year, including tending planters, community gardening, litter-picks, encouraging biodiversity and helping to improve local parks.

For the past three years they have been doing all of the above with an emphasis on ensuring pollinators are catered for. 

Catherine Lawson explains the thinking behind the group’s actions.  “We have been planting with pollinators in mind for some time now,” she notes, “educating and increasing the public’s awareness and understanding through notices and online, plus encouraging everyone to sow seeds. 

“The city centre areas we maintain have included attractive pollinator-friendly planting, such as our planters on Union Street where we planted varieties of Rudbeckia, and our garden at Slessor Gardens which also included Tithonia Torch and Echium Blue Bedder. The Thyme and Hyssop in our community herb-beds were bee magnets when in flower, and our cosmos was loved by hoverflies! 

“In 2020 we hoped to build on the success of our 2019 pollinator identification notices and pollinator walk, but had to hold back due to Covid-19. Instead, we teamed up with ‘Seeds of Hope Scotland’ and handed out 95 packets of Scottish wildflower seeds during lockdown to individuals and groups throughout Dundee. 

“Communication was done electronically, and seeds posted out to maintain social distancing. We highlighted the importance of pollinators, and the fact that absolutely everyone can be pollinator friendly, even if they only have a window box. “

This approach overcame what threated to be a significant hurdle. The response was really positive, with participants sending on celebratory photos of their seed patch to the Bonnie Dundee organisers.  There is something enduring and uplifting about planting, and the rewards of blooms are both a personal and shared delight.

Through the increased communications and seed-packet sharing a sense of community was fostered, despite the restrictions, and individuals, some of whom felt isolated, welcomed being part of a city-wide project. As the seasons progressed everyone involved enjoyed watching their seeds grow and bloom, and loved seeing the visiting range of insects particularly the bees and butterflies.

As we increasingly come to recognise the positive link between nature and our health this collaborative approach paid dividends in the City of Discovery. The attractive planting in Dundee city centre not only encouraged insects but clearly had the ability to cheer people and engage them with a key biodiversity issue.

The group harnessed social media to keep their project ticking over with ease. They entered a video of the project into the Dundee Flower & Food Festival’s Virtual Show and uploaded it to their popular Facebook page (@BonnieDundeeBloom). 

Grasping technology in this way quickly highlights positive actions and the long term pollinator-friendly planting message Bonnie Dundee were keen to see circulated. Along the way this attractive messaging demonstrates the importance of pollinators to our economy and enjoyment of the outdoors.

This is the third year that NatureScot has supported this pollinator-friendly award. The number of entrants increased again, and the variety of successful pollinator-friendly approaches was clear in all the entries.

But anyone hoping to wrest away Bonnie Dundee’s crown next year will have to work hard. The Taysiders don’t intend to rest on their laurels.  As Catherine explains “We plan to use the prize money to buy more Scottish seeds, from ‘Seeds of Hope’ and perennial seeds from Scotia Seeds to distribute with instructions to individuals and groups so we spread knowledge even further.”

Keep Scotland Beautiful CEO, Barry Fisher was quick to praise the Dundee project and the commitment that lies behind it. “We know that lockdown resulted in many people reconnecting with nature and biodiversity in their local neighbourhoods,” he noted. “This can only be good news for our environment, locally and globally, as people’s renewed appreciation and reconnection will ultimately help us tackle climate change and protect our planet.   

“I’d like to thank Bonnie Dundee for the efforts its volunteers have made to keep Dundee beautiful this year, for its people and nature, and look forward to seeing how the work blooms with the prize money.”  

Being positive in a time characterised by lockdowns and restrictions can’t have been easy. But as the It’s your Neighbourhood gathering continually demonstrates, Scotland is blessed with some remarkably determined and resilient community groups.

Perfect for people, pollinators and plants

The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the importance of quality green spaces and nature for our health. Since lockdown began it has been clear that gardening and spending time outdoors are exceptionally good for mental and physical well-being.

Ninewells Community Garden has long been an advocate of these activities. It lies in the stunning arboretum of Ninewells Hospital, Dundee and the emphasis in this one-acre garden is on promoting physical activity, and healthy living, through community gardening.  In such a magnificent environment it is perhaps no surprise that successful rehabilitation and therapy are often the welcome result.

The garden dates back to 2011, and is an accessible and sheltered haven in a hospital that opened in 1974. It’s free to use for patients, staff, community groups and the general public. Helena Simmons and June Imrie work closely together and are the only paid employees at the garden, sharing a post overseeing the work of a clutch of enthusiastic volunteers. Those volunteers are key to the garden’s success (as indeed are a wonderful Board of Trustees) and without them this remarkable garden simply couldn’t function.  

The work of so many enthusiasts is great news for people and pollinators. Have a look at the online images posted by volunteers and staff at Ninewells and you will see that pollinators are extremely well catered for here. 

Having spent time in the Ninewells Garden during a Butterfly Conservation identification workshop I saw first-hand the amazing array of plants provided for the insects that use this fabulous Tayside resource. But don’t just take my word for it. 

Helena explains some of the help the gardens have had in their quest to provide for people and pollinators, “We were lucky enough to be given wildflower seeds from “Seeds of Hope Scotland” through Bonny Dundee which we planted during lockdown to brighten up the area opposite the main garden gate. We also have been providing online workshops in collaboration with PLANT in Tayport, Strathkinness Community garden and Yellow Wellies Gardening. In the gardening for wildlife workshop emphasis was on the importance of providing habitat and food for the whole lifecycle of wildlife including pollinators.”

If you have a moment I’d thoroughly recommend Ninewells Garden’s blog on Gardening for Wildlife.

In a newsletter update for Keep Scotland Beautiful Helena reflected further on recent activity: “As always there has been lots going on in the garden — bees buzzing, birds feeding, squirrels jumping and a few more volunteers back to the garden each week. We are limiting the number of volunteers in the garden to a maximum of 5 at a time, with volunteers bringing their own drinks and snack and the indoor spaces are still closed. But despite these limitations, everyone is enjoying the time spent in the garden”

“We are still running the online workshops, keep an eye open on facebook @ https://www.facebook.com/ninewellsgarden/  for the next ones and catch up with the previous workshops. The garden is producing loads of courgettes just now, we’ve been able to give them to our volunteers, offer some for a donation and still have had enough to pass on our extra courgettes (nearly marrows) to the West End Community Fridge. 

“Pop into the garden on a Monday, Tuesday, Thursday or Friday to see what we have available by the plant stall or speak to a facilitator. There are also lots of plants available for a donation. If it’s flowers you are after, one of our Trustees has kindly been bringing us sweet peas tied in bunches and will continue to do so on a Monday as long as the sweet peas keep on flowering.

For the moment things aren’t running along normal lines for the Community Garden. Sadly the quirky leaf-shaped, eco-friendly visitor centre, a particular highlight, is out of bounds.  But despite the loss of that architectural gem (and the cosy fire and tea breaks it hosted) there is still a warm welcome awaiting.

The Garden accepts referrals from GPs and occupational therapists and is increasingly providing support to more conventional treatments. That’s a key element of the good work here, for it is one thing to acknowledge that gardening is good for people, but in doing so the necessary follow up is to have space where people can actually garden. The Community Garden fills that need.

Nobody knows for sure where Covid-19 will take us. However, one thing we can be sure of is that the pandemic has created a new appreciation of the power and value of good greenspaces, of being in nature, and the power of growing.  In 2011 The British Medical Association emphasised their belief that good hospital design should recognise the important therapeutic role of gardens. A clear case of a ‘natural health service’ backing our cherished National Health Service.

The team at Ninewells Community Garden have recognised nature’s healing benefits all along, and their tireless efforts are a welcome boost in challenging times.