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Meet Jan Ooms from Inverness Botanic Gardens

February 8th 2021

Jan Ooms is a horticulture instructor in the GROW project at Inverness Botanic Gardens.

In a previous life I studied biology and after pursuing a variety of careers including countryside conservation I came simultaneously, 26 years ago, into horticulture, up to the Highlands, and to my current employment.  I am attached to the GROW project at Inverness Botanic Gardens and now working part-time.

The GROW garden

Passing through a wee metal gate in the grounds of Inverness Botanic Gardens there is another garden that was created and is being maintained by adults with learning difficulties. It is known as the GROW garden; the name GROW being an acronym for Garden, Recycle, Organic, Wildlife reflects the way we garden. The project transferred from a previous location in 2001 and we immediately started to get the infra structure (polytunnels, sheds, fences, gates, water supply) in place while simultaneously landscaping and planting over half an acre of wasteland and then, after 2 years, the wee gate opened to let in visitors.

The garden has been developing gradually over the years without any overall design plan but with the general aims of providing interest to both visitors and to those working in the garden while maintaining the environmental ethos of composting, no chemicals, recycling/reusing/repurposing materials, and planting for wildlife.

The garden contains vegetable beds, culinary herb garden, fruit cage, an apothecary border, wildlife ponds, hedgerow, wild flower beds, heather bed, herbaceous border, trees, hedges, lawns and wild areas.

The trainees who are learning basic horticultural skills through the Royal Caledonian Horticultural Society’s Grow and Learn course develop and maintain the garden and in recent years the garden has also benefited from the help of volunteers.

Gardening, through physical activity, proximity to nature, and working in fresh air and sunlight, provides recognised health benefits. The GROW project also gives all our participants the opportunity to acquire horticultural skills and knowledge and to be a place for social interaction.

With Covid lock downs the garden has been closed to the public for a while and the project is in forced recess but here are some photos of the garden during better times (and seasons).

This border is planted with hardy herbaceous perennials that have been selected because they attract pollinating insects and because they are tough.  Plants include: Aubretia, Campanula, Centranthus, Echinacea, Echinops, Francoa, Geranium, Knautia, Lupinus, Monarda, Origanum, Phlox, Thymus, Sedum, Verbena. This bed is always changing as plants are divided, moved, or replaced. Garden design of this bed is simple: if bees don’t like it, it’s oot. Early in the year, before the herbaceous plants emerge, spring bulbs provide some colour.

In the grassed area, beds were created for sowing annuals. In the centre is a bed sown with Phacelia tanacetifolia.

The outer beds are sown with corn chamomile and poppies. More recently corn marigold, cornflower, and corncockle have been added to make up the traditional cornfield mix. The plants are left to drop seed at the end of summer before beds are weeded and cultivated.

There are some grassed areas containing naturalised bulbs such as daffodils, bluebells, and snowdrops.

Phacelia tanacetifolia is one of the best bee- and hoverfly-attracting plants that a gardener can grow. It is also useful as a green manure.

Vegetables seem to require more time and effort than ornamentals. Brassicas  need protection from pigeons, peas from sparrows, and strawberries from blackbirds. Legumes are germinated inside because mice eat seeds sown in the ground. The garden is fenced to keep out rabbits. Wood chip paths seem to keep slugs away. Early plantings are protected from the cold by cloches.

We have found that 2 L plastic bottles make good pots and mini-cloches for runner beans. The beans are germinated indoors in these bottoms-cut-off, upside-down bottles and later the bottles with their growing bean seedlings are planted outside. This growing method eliminates transplant shock, provides initial protection to seedling, makes watering more efficient, and gives good harvests. The roots grow down into the soil through the open bottle neck. We make paper pots for our peas.

We are always keen to try new ideas. If ground area is limited or a wall or fence needs to be beautified then try vertical gardening.

The most recent addition to the garden is popular with visiting ducks and dragon flies.

The culinary herb garden.

A garden is the ideal place to experiment with repurposing materials.

The GROWers construct more compost bins. There can never be enough compost for growing vegetables.

With spring coming and Covid restrictions hopefully easing soon we would like, we need, to get back to our garden.

My gardening advice: look after the soil and it will look after the plants.

My philosophy: there is no such thing as waste.