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In Conversation With: Libby Hilling, a Forgotten Garden Awakens - 004

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15m

Nestled within the serene walls of a formerly unused garden, a transformative project is underway, led by Libby Hilling and a passionate team driven by a love for nature and community. This once-forgotten space at the Longstock Park Nursery, part of the Leckford Estate, is now being revitalised into a vibrant community garden, thanks to the combined effects of dedicated volunteers, national and local businesses supporting through grants, donations, resources or materials, and the esteemed John Lewis Partnership’s Golden Jubilee Trust.

The vision for this project began with a simple observation: an area within the nursery that was not being used to its full potential. Sparked by an idea from the Leckford Sustainability Focus Group and the nursery team, who saw an opportunity to enhance the beauty of their surroundings and create a space that adds value to the community, the project also addresses mental health, partnering with charities like Andover Mind to create a therapeutic environment.

“Gardening helped me during a difficult time in my life and we want this space to offer the same healing experience to others, whether they seek social interaction or a quiet place to reflect. Our nursery is beautiful, and the environment is stunning. But this area wasn’t being used; it was an eyesore,” says Libby. “We wanted to create something that would benefit the community and connect people with nature.”

The project’s goal is not just to beautify the space but to make it sustainable and functional. The garden features mature shrubs, trees, and cleverly designed areas that create a unique microclimate within the walled garden. This thoughtful design ensures that the garden will thrive and provide a sanctuary for both people and wildlife.

A large aspect of the project is its focus on sustainability. The team has implemented an efficient irrigation system to conserve water and maintain the garden. “With the changing climate, it’s crucial to have systems that don’t rely on manual watering at inappropriate times. Our system allows us to water wisely and monitor usage, ensuring that every drop is used effectively.”

The garden also serves as an educational centre. Local colleges like Sparsholt are involved, providing students with hands-on experience in gardening and design, enhancing their learning and fostering a sense of community and shared responsibility. Contractors, volunteers, and community members have all come together, driven by a shared vision. One volunteer, a recently retired horticulturist, expresses the impact perfectly: “I’ve just visited the garden, and I’m hooked. I can’t wait to be a part of this wonderful initiative.”

As the garden continues to evolve, it stands as a beacon of what can be achieved when a community comes together with a shared purpose. This project is built to endure and adapt, benefiting the community for years to come – we can’t wait to see the progress unfold.

Watch (24)

00;00;08;25 – 00;00;36;06
Libby
Welcome to the Garden for Mind. Okay, so this area was just graveled over, hadn’t been used for years. The whole site hadn’t been used for about six years. So it was an empty space. Used to be used for all the stuff in the nursery. But because it’s such vast area, like the partnership just weren’t using this anymore. So this area, we decided to make it into a kitchen garden area.

00;00;36;08 – 00;00;39;00
Libby
So have you, first of all have you pressed the record button?

00;00;39;00 – 00;00;43;24
Simon
This is nice sitting here.

00;00;43;27 – 00;00;44;28
Libby
I know it wasn’t.

00;00;44;28 – 00;01;08;05
Simon
It was lovely. So maybe a bit of a breeze blowing now. Yeah, but the first thing that just struck me, especially when we were sitting over there in that corner, is all about the place. Yeah. And, yeah, there’s something about being here, and I don’t know if it’s in a courtyard or it’s just the sound of the trees and the plastic rustling in the wind

00;01;08;07 – 00;01;22;08
Simon
But you can tell there’s something very special about the place for me. Place is everything. So what originally drew you to this place? How did you discover it? How did you come to think … Wow

00;01;23;06 – 00;01;44;08
Libby
It was initially I had a chat with the nursery team because this area just wasn’t being used. I just thought, there’s an opportunity here. I just saw it as an opportunity because, yeah, the nursery is beautiful, the environment is beautiful. You just sit here and you just listen to the birds and it was just an area that wasn’t being used.

00;01;44;08 – 00;02;08;09
Libby
So the nursery team wanted to see it developed. We’ve set up a sustainability focus group on the Leckford Estate. And one of the things we wanted to do was think of something that would add value and we discussed it and this was the thing that we came up. We thought, let’s make use of it. It’s not been used, it’s an eyesore.

00;02;08;09 – 00;02;34;08
Libby
It was detracting from the beautiful nursery. I just felt it would add value. I just thought it would be good for the community and be able to connect. So it could be used for the working with the charity, but also for the community. And I just love the environment and it’s got its own little microclimate in here as well because it’s the walled garden and when it’s warm, it’s just amazing.

“It was detracting from the beautiful nursery. I just felt it would add value. I just thought it would be good for the community and be able to connect. So it could be used for the working with the charity, but also for the community. And I just love the environment and it’s got its own little microclimate in here as well because it’s the walled garden and when it’s warm, it’s just amazing.”

00;02;34;08 – 00;02;56;03
Libby
You get the heat reflecting off the walls. And I just think the fact that we’ve got mature shrubs in here as well, and then you’ve got all these beautiful trees surrounding it, it’s I just think it’s phenomenal. And so I came up with the idea, put a proposal together, took it to the head tof Leckford Estate and said, what do you think?

00;02;56;07 – 00;03;18;23
Libby
Is this something that you would support? And they said, Yes, but I then needed a vehicle to be able to do it. And that’s where I put an application into the John Lewis partnership, Golden Jubilee Trust. So that is a charity that is separate from John Lewis, but it pays for partners to go and work for a charity of their choice for up to six months.

00;03;18;26 – 00;03;30;02
Libby
So I feel very blessed that some 7000 people within the partnership and there’s usually about 30 or 40 people per annum, they get the opportunity to do it. So I am one of those 30.

00;03;30;05 – 00;03;32;29
Simon
It’s just lovely. Obviously in my day job. We work with

00;03;33;01 – 00;03;33;29
Libby
John Lewis Partnership

00;03;34;01 – 00;03;45;12
Simon
And there’s something about the partnership and that does those kind of things that are quite incredible for business to do. And you just sort of stop here and think, Well, if it wasn’t for that, we wouldn’t be sitting here

00;03;45;12 – 00;03;47;26
Libby
We wouldn’t be, we wouldn’t be here. But you know.

00;03;47;27 – 00;04;01;05
Simon
And yeah, you can really feel it here without all the plants and the shrubs and unfinished and without anyone, you can almost feel the people that are going to be walking around. Just being and then just enjoying the space and that’s something.

00;04;01;07 – 00;04;02;06
Libby
Yeah.

00;04;02;09 – 00;04;17;28
Simon
But what, what can it sort of grow into because you know, you can’t help but feel with this kind of site how many other sites all around the country. That are unloved. Yeah. And you touched on it before, it’s the idea of people have these spaces and they put something in. But then if you don’t invest things

00;04;17;28 – 00;04;20;04
Libby
Yeah, yeah.

00;04;20;06 – 00;04;22;06
Simon
They then just become weeds and they just deteriorate.

00;04;22;06 – 00;04;48;00
Libby
Yeah. And I think for me I wanted, you know, the whole point of my secondment was to come up with a plan. You know, it was a three phase plan. It was firstly look at ways in which to get funds, whether that be through grant applications or donations from businesses, individuals, etc., or doing events to raise funds, but also the contractors to build it.

00;04;48;02 – 00;05;05;09
Libby
But then the third element was, okay, how are we going to maintain it? What are we going to do? How are we going to maintain it? How are we going to get people to get involved and enjoy it and be part of it as it grows? So that’s where the connections came, where I started looking at, okay, well, we can do that through the charity.

00;05;05;09 – 00;05;25;08
Libby
We can do that through volunteers, but also having Sparsholt College on the doorstep, getting them involved as well. Because there’s a win win, they get the opportunity to have work experience, actually working in the garden, designing part of the garden, but also maintaining it. So they’re getting that practical experience that then gets them ready to work in the outside world.

00;05;25;08 – 00;05;26;04
Libby
So …

00;05;26;06 – 00;05;44;00
Simon
It’s lovely as well, I’ll tell you, because you can build up data around something or learning all the time. Yeah. And it’s a little bit like, you know, buy a family a fish to eat or give them a fishing rod where they can, and the means and the ability to use it. You feed them for life.

00;05;44;00 – 00;06;02;22
Simon
So it’s the idea that by doing this, you can then help others to set up their gardens because you understand these things that didn’t work for us. These are things that did. Yeah. So that I think the same mistakes we can make different mistakes and I don’t know, you’re creating a whole sort of citizen type of attitude towards this which is what I sort of love.

00;06;02;27 – 00;06;10;11
Simon
Yeah, this is the really powerful thing. And also things leads onto the bigger questions to me around these ideas of tiny forests.

00;06;10;14 – 00;06;11;02
Libby
Yes.

00;06;11;02 – 00;06;34;09
Simon
This idea that actually we don’t solve things by necessarily big, ambitious goals, but just by small areas nurtured, loved and looked after. We can make huge differences through the actions. What’s lovely here today is this is not about talking about doing something. This is hands on doing it and it will grow. And I suppose you tweak things on the way.

00;06;35;21 – 00;06;59;28
Libby
I’m, I’m excited about the passion I’m feeling. So as you know, I’m incredibly passionate about this. This is my baby. But lots of other people are coming as well. When there was the Heritage Plant fair last Monday, a lady came to see me because I was stood in the rain with my Brolly …

00;07;00;03 – 00;07;12;10
Simon
But it’s one of the things, isn’t it? You know, you, you show someone on a PowerPoint or on photographs it’s one thing. You take them some way, you show them physically. You walk around so they can feel it.

00;07;12;14 – 00;07;13;17
Libby
Yeah.

00;07;13;19 – 00;07;23;23
Simon
They’re hooked. Yeah. And they get it because they see it. And I think so often in life, we put judgments down to, you know, a quick picture or it’s almost like the social media of something.

00;07;23;24 – 00;07;24;19
Libby
Yeah, yeah.

00;07;24;26 – 00;07;41;16
Simon
A reflection. But actually this is all about the slow times, slow made, that actually if you give people time to just absorb and feel something, you feel connected to it, then emotionally you’re connected to it and then you feel like you want to be a part of it.

“A reflection. But actually this is all about the slow times, slow made, that actually if you give people time to just absorb and feel something, you feel connected to it, then emotionally you’re connected to it and then you feel like you want to be a part of it.”

00;07;41;18 – 00;08;13;18
Libby
Well, this, this was going to be just a, a bit of a makeover of this space and, you know, once I got the opportunity to have the six months of combing through the Golden Jubilee Trust, I, I realized there was opportunity to go beyond just getting local volunteers as opportunities to speak to the bigger contractors who do the contracts for John Lewis Partnership because they’d never been asked before to do a project with the partnership.

00;08;13;18 – 00;08;39;01
Libby
And I just thought, well, that’s a real opportunity here because they work for the partnership. They have an interest in the partnership, do work elsewhere. And this is an environment where they’re doing something totally different. So we were very lucky Triag. We’re amazing. They’ve stepped forward as principal contractor and then all the other contractors came on board and I called it the John Lewis Partnership Construction Alliance.

00;08;39;04 – 00;08;48;12
Libby
Yeah. Fabulous. No. Yes. Yeah, a bit of a tongue twister. But it was they you know, these are companies that usually are competing for work.

00;08;48;19 – 00;09;11;27
Simon
You know, it’s amazing here the way you’ve managed to bring in a partner like, Andover Mind, and it’s a great example that I think a lot of times when people do some form of therapy, it’s in quite boring, dull rooms. It’s quite isolating and quite intimidating. Whereas here what you have, yeah, is a garden. People can walk around and almost the conversations will just naturally unfold.

00;09;12;05 – 00;09;51;10
Libby
I just, you know, for me, you know, from personal experience, my garden helped me when I had an injury. We’re struggling for the physical recovery, but also the mental recovery from, you know, having to stop working for quite a while just to concentrate on getting physically fit again. And it does impact on your mental health. And I just found and it was through a friend I was already keen on gardening, can’t remember the name of plants half the time, but I love gardening and, and it was a friend who just engaged with me kind of.

00;09;51;10 – 00;10;17;24
Libby
We started talking about plant. She came to my garden, I went to hers and it just, it, it was just so rewarding. And it was that helped with both physical and mental recovery for me. And I just saw this. This is what people need because I know at that time I wouldn’t have walked into somewhere like Andover Mind or any other charity that offer those sorts of services.

00;10;17;26 – 00;10;35;13
Libby
I don’t know whether it was stigma or fear, I don’t know. But being able to be outside and work in nature and just connect with nature, I just found that so therapeutic and I just feel that this this creates a very different environment where people can feel relaxed.

00;10;35;15 – 00;10;40;24
Simon
So tell me tell me about your fundraising then. How do you pay for this?

00;10;40;27 – 00;10;42;23
Libby
So we.

00;10;42;23 – 00;10;43;24
Simon
Do.

00;10;43;27 – 00;11;13;17
Libby
We started with a we did a Christmas raffle, so we’ll be doing that again. So I will be seeking donations for that. So going to various businesses and seeking donations, it could be materialised by a lovely light. Or it could be meals out or part of it. And we’ve partnered with a company called Abacus who are one of the local they rent and sell motor homes.

00;11;13;20 – 00;11;32;22
Libby
So they gave us a top price last year and they said that they would support this year as well. So that’s going to be a super top prize. But we did the quiz night, so we’re going to do that annually as well. So we’re going to keep the funds coming in. We’ve got a local contractor who is doing a golf day.

00;11;32;22 – 00;11;43;07
Libby
So they are some of the proceeds from the golf day are going towards the charity. And then we’re also doing a squiggle, a squiggle, I would say.

00;11;43;09 – 00;11;43;29
Simon
Yes, squiggle.

00;11;44;00 – 00;11;55;07
Libby
Squiggle, the Mind squiggle, which actually depicts the journey to mental wellbeing. So it’s not a straight line to.

00;11;55;09 – 00;11;58;12
Simon
Is that a Rhubarb and Custard or Mr Messy

00;11;58;15 – 00;12;22;00
Libby
It is a Mr Mewssy. Yeah. No, it’s a yes. No, it’s, you know, the script. Yeah. Yeah, it’s, yeah. And it looks like a flower. And so we’ve got Hurstborne Forge, they have made them for us and the 15 in the garden. So if you think about the Tower of London where they had all the poppies, we’re going to have squiggles in the garden.

00;12;22;03 – 00;12;25;17
Simon
Thanks so much for that Is this, is this our Bill and Ben moment?

00;12;25;17 – 00;12;26;29
Libby
This is our Bill and Ben …

00;12;27;03 – 00;12;28;06
Simon
Our Bill and Ben impression.

00;12;28;13 – 00;12;30;19
Libby
There we are.

00;12;30;22 – 00;12;32;15
Simon
Mine has actually got soil in it! I have just got soil on my head!

00;12;34;02 – 00;12;37;26
Libby
I tried to knock it out of them …

00;12;37;26 – 00;12;48;26
Simon
I feel part of the garden now. Excellent. Always good to have one bit of silliness.

00;12;48;28 – 00;12;49;17
Libby
Excellent.