Gardening in 2020

Libby Morris from North Berwick in Bloom explains how the group has kept going this year, adapting to new guidelines while still managing to keep the town colourful for everyone to enjoy.

Every article I have read recently has started with the words ‘This has been a year like no other’ but, for North Berwick in Bloom (NBIB) volunteers, we have tried very hard to keep things as much the same as possible. It feels that at a time when the world seems to be turning upside down, the best thing we can do is to get on with everything we usually do. This meant that from the start of the pandemic, we carried on with weeding, planting, digging, tidying and doing our best to keep the town looking as beautiful as we could under the circumstances.

When lockdown hit at the end of March, many of our volunteers had to shield, either because they had health issues or because they were carers for someone else. Initially everyone stayed inside, stunned, until we realised that we could go outside for a daily walk. Once outside, people noticed that the tulip bulbs we had planted in November were bursting out all over North Berwick - at the station, the High Street, the Golf Club, flower beds and in the lodge. Suddenly the town was full of exotic blooms and glorious colour, and everyone realised that there was something to talk about other than ‘the virus’. Our Facebook page was full of pictures, twitter went wild with ‘tulip fever’ and we even heard of a WhatsApp group dedicated to pictures of the best tulips. Our tulip festival had to go online, and our usual fundraising Tulip Tea turned into a cheerful video that can be viewed on our website. East Lothian Council Amenity Team had also planted displays in the Lodge and the War Memorial garden, and their magnificent colours were truly uplifting.

One or two volunteers looked after the tulips while on their daily walk. Official guidance in Scotland said that gardeners were allowed to work in pairs, provided that they worked side by side rather than face to face, and wore masks and gloves, so gradually more volunteers joined the small group. We communicated via WhatsApp and made sure that we spread out and covered all the various tasks including lifting all the bulbs at the beginning of June, bagging them and labelling them. At the end of June, we held a ‘bulb giveaway’ in return for donations to our funds. We still couldn’t meet up together and we missed our coffee and chats, but we were encouraged by many appreciative comments from passers-by.

Inspired by the positive reaction to the tulip festival, we were determined to make a success of the summer displays. Fortunately, East Lothian Council nurseries had been able to grow a wonderful selection of summer bedding and this was delivered in June. We set up a one–way system to unload the plants and take them to each location to be planted by pairs of volunteers. Throughout the summer we have carried on as usual, while being careful to work in small groups and keep socially distanced from each other and any members of the public. We changed our usual meeting place to a large car park where we could collect tools and stay two metres apart. Gradually more volunteers and several new recruits have joined which has been very welcome, as apart from gardening we also do fundraising, website maintenance, newsletters and tweets and make plans for ordering bulbs and plants for next year.

I have always believed in the therapeutic powers of gardening and this quote sums it up:

“It is not us who look after the gardens, it is the gardens who look after us.”

NBIB provides a buddy service for any new members who would like to try volunteering with us, and no previous gardening experience is necessary! We hope that one day we will be able to get fully back to normal but for now we just need to take each day as it comes.

Amidst all this anxiety and uncertainty, I was touched to receive this email from one of our previous volunteers:

Hello Libby, I have been thinking, often, that the only normality this year has been the wonderful range of seasonal displays in North Berwick, thanks to the efforts of In Bloom volunteers and local partners.”

You can imagine how happy this made me feel!

21 October 2020

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