Blooming marvellous

Volunteer gardeners in St Luke's community garden

This year is the 20th anniversary of Islington in Bloom: the annual gardening competition that sees residents sprucing up areas of green space across the borough. We caught up with two of the winners from last year’s competition and a judge to find out more

“To be able to come to St Luke’s, learn about plants, growing food, ecology and sustainability; to enjoy the pleasure of growing things, is really special,” says Samantha Lewis, community gardener at St Luke’s Community Centre, which won first prize in the community garden category in 2022.

Gardening creates a space for people of all backgrounds to come together, make new friends, learn new skills and build strong communities, Samantha continues. “We have really diverse groups working on the gardens at St Luke’s, from older people to school kids, many of whom wouldn’t otherwise have any outside space to grow anything. Being recognised by annual awards is a lovely way to celebrate the communal spirit of the work we do with the community.”

Octopus Community Network's nursery, winner of Best Edible Garden 2022

Dorothy Boswell is a member of Islington Gardeners, which helps judge the competition. She got involved because of her passion for tree pits. “I started judging partly because I was a bit nosy and wanted to see what other people were doing!” she laughs. “It’s been brilliant to see all of the creative approaches people take. Tree pits are great, as anyone can adopt one – you don’t need a garden to make our area greener.”

When it comes to the competition, she confides, it’s not just about looks. “People often think that messy, unkempt gardens won’t make the grade, but often it’s what we’re looking for!” says Dorothy. “We don’t want to see perfect straight lines and manicured lawns, as they won’t have the same benefits for wildlife,” she explains. “Piles of wood, insect hotels, a bit of water in a dish for the birds are all things that we love. A memorable garden we saw a couple of years ago had incredible plants growing out of a welly!”

As one of London’s most densely populated boroughs, green space in Islington is valuable, says Dorothy. “Things like tree pits, front gardens and flowerpots create a green corridor through the city, connecting sections of nature and providing nutrition and shelter for birds and other pollinators.”

St Luke's community garden, winner of Best Housing Community Garden 2022

Franie Smith is development officer at Octopus Community Gardens, which enters its own garden in Islington in Bloom each year, but also supports other resident-led community groups to enter. “We give them advice and information on a wide variety of issues, including planting and maintenance, how to create the best compost, or how to effectively manage a community gardening group,” Franie explains.

Islington In Bloom gives Octopus and the community groups they work with something to aim for, motivating them to “think big and get creative”, says Franie. “It gives people a sense of pride and achievement. We know that gardening and connecting to nature is good for our physical and mental wellbeing – and it has such a positive impact on the environment and biodiversity – but it’s also about how we all value the neighbourhood and the spaces around us,” she continues. “In Bloom contributes to that sense of community pride.”

Don’t feel ready to enter yourself? You can still get involved by nominating someone else – “a front garden or planter that makes you smile when you pass it, or a group on an estate growing amazing vegetables,” suggests Dorothy. “Some may not know about in Bloom – help spread the word!”

We’re determined to make this year’s In Bloom competition bigger and better than ever! Whether you have a fabulous fruit and veg plot or a wildflower window box, everyone’s welcome to get involved – no experience necessary. There’s a category for children, too: a poster design competition, run through Islington schools, with fabulous prizes to be won. Find out more on the In Bloom web page.

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