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Spring: Bonnymuir Garden

The Second in a Series of Features Highlighting Aberdeen’s Community Gardens

By Sophia Baker

Winter in Aberdeen is special. Walking home from campus at 5:30pm last autumn, following a windless, blue-skied day, the crisp crescent moon, sharp as a shard of ice, was already sailing across a black sky. It was during the long night that followed that the first touches of frost silently laid themselves upon the city, leaving more than granite glittering when we all awoke the following morning.

Spring flowers covered in dew.
Courtesy of the Bonnymuir Green Community Trust

It’s beautiful stuff - but what happens to the garden communities of Aberdeen when darkness falls and sub-zero temperatures set in? It seems that many of them take a break, hibernating until the first primaveral tendrils of warmth begin to creep back over the city. The gardens I contacted last year assured me that there wasn’t much to be said about their winter activities (or lack thereof).

Though the potential for deep, bitter cold is still ahead of us, the days stretch a little longer, and it seems about time to return to Aberdeen’s garden scene.

The myriad of little horticultural communities smattered between Don and Dee are slowly awakening, and the promise of spring hangs in the air, just out of reach, but drawing closer with every blustery day.

It was last March now that I set out to One Seed Forward’s Potato Day at Bonnymuir Green Community Trust. Balanced amid the first wavering fronds of spring, the morning dawned bright and clear, and pink blossom sat fluffy on the branches lining the avenues of Midstocket. It was my second Potato Day at Bonnymuir Green, and I was not disappointed. 

The concept of Potato Days, which I first discovered on Instagram, is simple. Across the UK, hundreds of such events pop up throughout March, offering anyone who wants to grow their own friendly advice and an accessible way to obtain seed potatoes. They’re often free, or with a ‘give what you can’ donation pot. Bob, from One Seed Forward, the driving force behind the event in Aberdeen, explained that Potato Day has been running about six years now, with the goal of encouraging people to grow their own food. They're one of the most accessible vegetables for beginners, and are easy to get in the ground or growing bags, with a tangible reward for your efforts. 

An herb patch with a sign stuck in the earth reading 'herbs'.
Courtesy of Bonnymuir Green Community Trust

One Seed Forward doesn’t just do Potato Days. As well as touring the community gardens of Aberdeen with potatoes last spring, they also ran an eight-week growing course aimed at community garden growers or aspiring founders. 

Picking up some seed potatoes for my own garden, as well as a growing guide and leaflet with information about One Seed Forward, I began my stroll around Bonnymuir Green in earnest. The insects were back, busying themselves amid fresh green buds. New growth was bursting from the crisp, black rhubarb crowns that lay semi-submerged in the rich soil. The shadow of a pigeon in flight flashed across the wall of an adjacent house - a beautiful amalgamation of brick, stone and espaliered apple trees. Little blue clusters of muscari blooms swayed amid lanky daffodils. Thinking back to it is a welcome reminder that there are only a couple of short months until the flowers rebloom!

A frog peeking out of a pond.
Courtesy of Bonnymuir Green Community Trust

A chat with Sarah, one of Bonnymuir Green Community Trust’s committee members, revealed that once upon a time, the space was the garden of that brick-and-stone house. It was gifted to the local community as a bowling green in the 1920s, and so it stayed for almost a century -  until around seven years ago. ‘Bowling numbers dropped off and the green became disused for about three or four years,’ Sarah told me. The bowling club entered talks with developers, hoping to sell space to build flats. ‘At that point, the immediate neighbours got wind at the fact that there was a developer in the loop and they petitioned the Scottish government for the right to buy.’ The community came together, raised the required funds, and then purchased the space to be used for the benefit of the local people. It’s now a communally owned garden run by volunteers. 

The garden’s café sees more student volunteering than the garden does, Sarah says. I can’t help but think it would be fantastic to see students utilise Bonnymuir Green and other community gardens more, to really integrate and give back to the local community, even if just by, say, shopping at Bonnymuir Green’s annual plant sale, or going to Potato Days.

My Potato Day spoils yielded me a lovely little handful of potatoes come summer - for the shaded, rooty patch I put them in, and the lack of water I gave them, I’m very tickled. I will be growing them again for sure.

A handful of potatoes covered in dirt and laid out on a slab of rock.
Courtesy of the author

If you are impatient for spring like me, there are things in the garden even in January. Some seeds, like sweet peas and snapdragons, can be sown now, or you can start to plan your space for spring, and mulch to save yourself having to weed later in the year.

However, it’s good to remember that the real beauty of gardening comes from exercising patience and moving with the seasons.

For now, enjoy the clarity of the cold air and bare trees, and the first of the softly nodding snowdrops. Those hesitant spring days so characteristic of Scotland are waiting just around the corner for us.


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