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Blog / Cultivating Connections

Cultivating Connections

I am Elaina Rose, a horticulturalist working with Dandelion in the national delivery of a year of Unexpected Gardens and stories. 

I have arrived in Forres to work with the incredible Findhorn Bay Arts and I welcome you to join me on my journey here as I sow, grow and share a summer full of cultivating connections!

So,  join me as I work and connect with the incredible people and growing initiatives that make the town of Forres blooming with inspiration and opportunity! 

Once a fortnight on Saturday from 11am – 1pm the Unexpected Gardens team rock up outside the Tollbooth in Forres with our Victorian cart, plenty of plants, compost, seeds and pots!

We have been joined by the fabulous Mad Hatters of Moray and poet and storyteller Margot Henderson.

In these pop-up events, we encouraged the public to come and engage with us! Whether it be to take one of our seasonal plants home, to ask us questions about your garden, to get a photo with the Mad Hatters, to write a poem with Margot or to sow some seeds and take them away to watch them grow!

All of this is free and is truly rewarding to witness the amazement, thrill and gratitude from the community of Forres.

During these pop-up events, we get to engage with a world of different people from different countries, cultures, ages and stages. Many participants have zero knowledge of plant propagation and it is a true joy to share in their first sowing of seed and watch their curiosity blossom for how and why we grow plants to nourish ourselves. 

My entire life has been centred around plants and as a horticulturist, I do sometimes forget that the confidence and learned experience of how to sow a seed and watch it grow is not an intrinsic skill that everyone is blessed to hold. At one of these pop-up events, I had a very profound moment connecting with an adult man who came up to sow his very first seed. He shared with me that he had watched us connecting with passing children, encouraging them to come and play with the soil and sow a seed where he was then drawn to the activity as if he was a child himself. As our conversation evolved he expressed his journey of growing up in an urban environment with mental health struggles. He expressed that had the connection between the self and our natural world had been accessible, harnessed and nourished his mental wellbeing would have been supported in ways he wished the children playing with soil this day might just benefit from.

This moment of connection brought home the purpose of these pop-up events and indeed the mission of the Dandelion project across Scotland; to inspire anyone and everyone to sow, grow and share.

I am here to sow with you, grow with you and share all the knowledge I possibly can to help inspire you on your planting journey. I am very excited to be on this journey with you all here in Forres and those who are reading this series from afar!

On Saturday the 3th of July we had to pleasure of hosting a celebration for the local residents of Forres and many of our growing partners who are participating in the living lanes program for Dandelion and Findhorn Bay Arts.

We flung open the gates of our unexpected Gardens base which is located at the Orchard Road Studios, a shared artist’s hub full of collaboration and colour! Before Dandelion, the courtyard was a brownfield site full of brambles and invasive weeds where the unexpected gardens team of Findhorn Bay Arts transformed it into a welcoming space bursting with seasonal crops destined for the residents of Forres! 

It was a rare sunny day made full from the bountiful and beautiful food supplied in partnership with Brett Mather of Mathers Cafe and Forres Coffee House and Rising Roots Micro Greens. 

As part of my unexpected gardens placement with Findhorn Bay Arts, I have the privilege to work with many of the growing initiatives in and around Forres.

On Wednesday mornings my dog Bodie and I take a splendid walk up to Forres Friends of Woods and Fields which is located within Sanquhar Woods & Chapleton Fields. 

This unique grassroots charity has a mission to restore these woodlands, support local food sustainability and aid in the mental and physical well-being of their community. 

In the top reaches of their site lays the community garden within the Chapelton fields towards the old farmhouse.  This site is enjoying its first growing season after two years of development thanks to its core team of volunteers. They have created a truly inspiring vegetable garden, children’s flower garden and a communal seating area that you’d be a fool not to bring some spare biscuits to share!

The community-growing land is a total suntrap and the volunteers and I have been sharing in the tremendous joy and sweaty armpits as we harvest the bounty of sugar snap peas, broad beans, carrots, beetroots, courgettes, salads and plenty o’tatties! 

The volunteers are welcomed to share in the harvested produce where surplus is donated to Moray Food Plus (LINK) the local food bank leading local activism in fighting food poverty. 

Personally, food security and access to nourishing food produce within food deserts is a topic that lays very close to my own heart and activism. Arriving within the community of Forres for these past weeks has truly filled me with spirit and encouragement that this town and its unique community of people are doing so much individually and together to provide food crops that have been cultivated with love and awareness for your community and ecosystem alike. 

Forres Friends of Woods and Fields displays the best of what community lead local activism can accomplish. Since taking stewardship of the 8-acre woodland site they have set a clear vision to conserve and regenerate this land for their community’s health and ecosystem health. Whereby, by restoring habitat health and function they will one day use the abundant wildlife and biodiverse habitats to pass on knowledge through a nature-based education hub for both children and adults. 

During my Wednesday mornings, I have worked with a dynamic team of volunteers from all over the world and of all ages! Most recently, we were crawling on all fours through a wildflower meadow with paper bags to collect yellow rattle (Rhinanthus minor) seeds to sow into a recently rotovated area of the community garden as green manure for next year’s growing season. This brilliant team of environmentalists are paving the way for what community lead green space regeneration should encompass and I am honoured to be working with you all during my time here with the unexpected gardens program!

The team at Forres Friends of Woods and Fields rely on the community for the community. If you would like to join in their mission they are always looking for new volunteers. 

To be sure though, I did warn you to bring biscuits!

About the Author

Elaina Rose Kelly is a horticulturalist and mycologist.

Find out more about Dandelion and the Unexpected Gardens programme on our project page.

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