Hear from Phoenix gardeners
We caught up with some of this year's entrants for Phoenix in Bloom to find out how they started gardening and why they entered the competition.
Phebe Deeble (top photo)
“When we all moved in [to Hazelhurst Court] it was just bushes and greenery but really you want some colour and some smells because we have partially sighted people there and I thought it would be nice if people could smell things. We intend to expand it next year, we’ll get some different lavenders and I’ve got some salvia which has got a beautiful smell. I’ve got rosemary and mint and we’d like some other herbs so that when people walk through, they experience different aromas. Because this is our first year, we didn’t know how it was going to look or come up. Because of mobility issues, there’s only a few of us who can get up on the raised beds so we need to put something low maintenance and that will come back each year.
It’s a lovely place to sit. Especially I’m the evening because it’s quiet and you can hear the fountain and the pond. It’s peaceful and relaxing.”
“Some years ago, I had a house with a garden and I always found it very therapeutic both physically and aesthetically pottering around the garden and just seeing what would bloom in any given year. Then I moved to a fir flat with just a balcony and desperately missed having a garden, so when I moved to my current ground-floor flat, I had the opportunity to revisit my old hobby and create something from scratch but with a “let's see what grows” philosophy and go from there. Also, I wanted my little Friday night al fresco beer garden for the summer!
When I first moved in it was basically a piece of wasteland with dilapidated fencing and tree stumps growing out of the gaps between the slabs. I saw” an opportunity to make this space my own.
I love buying bulbs in the winter/spring and mixing them all up, so I have no idea what I’m planting and where and seeing what grows. I also love going to fetes and boot fairs and buying stall plants and not really having an idea what they are and just seeing what unfolds!
I saw the competition advertised in the Phoenix Flyer which had come through my door and initially I thought my little space wouldn’t compete with those football pitch-sized gardens, but I thought hey ho why not give it a go? I was utterly surprised to have been shortlisted!”
“I grow all the plants from seed out the back, I grow so many that I’m running out of space! I give plants to neighbours and make up hanging baskets for them. I enjoy doing it as everyone around here is lovely, we take care of each other. Plus, it keeps me busy and brightens up the area. I also grow about 100 tomato plants from seed each year. I give away about 70 and the rest I grow myself then give then share the tomatoes with neighbours. Another one of our neighbours made a wishing well which we grow plants in. All this helps towards my illness and helps pass the time.
I also make my own compost for all the plants. Last year I got 20 litres of soil just from recycling food and plant waste so everything has a use.
We have a communal garden behind our block, and I’ve started planting out there as well. I just find a spot that’s neglected or empty and plant it. We have barbecues out the back and a little paddling pool for the kids. One of my neighbours varnished the benches last year and we come out and sit and have a chat.”
“I’ve been planting on my balcony for years; I like moving things around to meet the plants' needs and help them thrive. I like the change, it’s nice to have some variation. I've been wanting to enter the competition but never got around to it.
Last year, I had some tomatoes, and the squirrels came up and wrecked them. Then it was winter, and I wasn’t very well. So, this year I finally got round to entering! Whenever I walk around the estates, I admire other people's gardens which always inspires me.”
“We only moved in a year ago and I’ve been working on the garden ever since with my granddaughter Layla. I got a free gardening kit from Phoenix for Layla and she has loved planting the marigolds, nasturtiums and carrots. She’s also a big fan of tomatoes, she’ll have a tomato over a sweet any day. We’re growing heirloom tomatoes at the moment. We’re out here a lot, it’s great that she can pick and eat what she’s grown herself.
I’d put some peanuts out for the birds in a box outside the back door and one night I heard this rustling noise. At first, I thought someone was breaking in but when I opened the curtains it was a hedgehog trying to eat the peanuts! So, we put a little hedgehog house in the garden and made a tunnel out of bricks so it could travel safely, out of harm from the local cats. We bought some hedgehog food and fed him every night. We obviously didn’t see him over the winter but when he came back this year, he brought a friend! So now we have two hedgehog visitors and Layla has named them Spikey and Sparkle.”
Annemarie Van Dijk
“Me and my husband do the garden. The tree we’ve got in the front garden we’ve cut down about three times, it just keeps growing! When we first got it, the leaves were red and now they’ve turned green. The tree in the back was 6ft when we moved but now it’s two or three times the height. The cats used to run up it to get away from the foxes so we put some platforms on the tree for them to sit and escape to.
During lockdown, we turned a wooden palate into a flower planter and it works really well. We’ve also got a peony that’s actually on the endangered species list, so we’ve been asked to send some of its seeds for conservation purposes.
The banana palm was given to me by a customer where I work and now it’s got pups at the bottom which I’ll probably separate out. I wish everybody looked after their garden, it’s such an invaluable space and with a little bit of love it can become a real paradise.
I have quite a few bird feeders which I make sure stay full of food, so the garden has become a real haven for the birds. We get three parakeets each morning in the feeder, and I recently saw a bird on the tree which was brown with blue and white on the wings, he was in the tree cleaning a snail on the trunk. It’s so nice to lay in the garden and listen to the birdsong.”
“I’ve been here 13 years and only had a few plants. Then 5 years ago I thought I’d get some artificial grass to cover the balcony floor. Since then, I’ve just been putting in more and more plants. I don’t know much about plants it’s all been a bit of trial and error. I often say to my friends “I’m going to sit in the garden”, even though it’s a balcony because of the plants and the grass you forget about the concrete and bricks beneath; It really does feel like my own mini garden. As it’s a balcony I don’t have much space so I don’t get plants that come back each year because then I can’t get others. I get plants that die each year so the next year I can get some new ones, it keeps the variety going.”
“We love our holidays, so we started collecting bits abroad to bring back for the garden. The patio was all uneven, so I decided to start with that, and I worked my way up from there. We’re geared up for all weathers with the porch, even when it’s raining, we still get to stay out.
We’re trying to start some palms of by seed. The palm out the front is 8 or 9 years old. We got it from Homebase in the bargain bin as it only had one brown leaf on it, they only charged me £4 and now it’s thriving! Every year we tell ourselves, “right that’s it, no more stuff for the garden,” but we just can’t stop!
During the lockdown, we did the front garden. We got two skips to get rid of all the concrete slabs so we could put flower beds in. When I was digging out the bed, I found the base of a WW2 air raid shelter and there was another one in the back garden. One of the boys a few doors down said he’d been in the air raid shelter while it was still standing!”