Putting the ‘garden’ in Railway Gardens

Did you know that – back in the 1950s – the Railway Gardens site was a thriving allotment? In today’s blog we wanted to share the progress local volunteers have been making to get the site growing once again. 

The idea for Railway Gardens grew out of the Edible Adamsdown group’s need for more food growing space. Although their original community garden has since had to close (due to the building it was attached to being leased out), levels of enthusiasm for gardening and food growing in the local area have only increased! 

We have to admit, in the six plus years it has taken to turn Railway Gardens from dream to reality, the idea of actually getting to the stage where we could be growing food together there has often seemed improbably distant. And yet – we are finally here! Thanks to the hard work and creativity of volunteers, and support from The National Lottery, Keep Wales Tidy, and the National Open Garden Scheme, the community garden is taking shape. Here’s what’s happened so far…

Step 1: Find some soil...

Due to the site’s previous lives as an allotment (where there’s a chance that now-banned chemicals were used) and a car wrecking yard, the soil testing carried out pre-groundwork suggested it wasn’t a good idea to grow food directly in the ground. Four HUGE planters were initially built instead and needed filling with soil. Welsh Water generously provided 60 tonnes of soil improver created at Lamby Way from local garden waste collections – so if you’ve ever put out a white garden waste bag then you’ve probably helped to filled these planters – thank you! 

These beds are now being topped up with some peat free compost and well rotted manure and will soon be planted by the Railway Gardens Growing Group. The plan is to combine a mixture of edible, useful, and wildlife friendly garden plants to create mini habitats full of tasty treats like strawberries, raspberries, hops, herbs, edible flowers. Fruit trees in these planters will (hopefully!) provide apples and pears. 

Step 2: Build some beds for veggies

Next we needed some beds for veg growing. Earlier this month a superstar team of volunteers spent two days building an area of chunky raised beds in three different heights so that children and adults – including people who find bending or crouching difficult – can garden comfortably. 

They then lined and filled them – all this was done with the help of Gareth and Andy from Keep Wales Tidy who taught us all some really useful DIY skills along the way. Volunteers have now also started work on constructing three additional raised planters that are wheelchair accessible or comfortable to work at while seated. 

Step 3: Get ready to rot!

We will produce a certain amount of food and garden waste on site so we need to have a plan to compost it and transform it into useful stuff. That’s where Compost Corner comes in! Volunteers have built a double compost bay, local resident Emma donated a dalek bin, and on August 10th we’ve got a family workshop to set up wormeries for the site too. 

Step 4: Welcome wildlife

Even a small space can be a haven for wildlife, so in the last couple of months volunteers have…

  • Built and planted a wildlife pond
  • Laid a native wildflower meadow
  • Put up bird boxes and bug hotels
Step 5... let's get planting! Want to join in?

Starting next week the Growing Group will begin planting up different areas of the site. This is going to take time, partly as some things (like fruit trees) don’t like being planted at this time of year, but we’re so excited to see the site transformed from grey to green. Last week we got together for the first Gardens skill share – it was a great evening of sowing seeds, sharing our experiences, and having a cup of tea or two. 

Would you like to get involved? No gardening experience is needed to join the Growing Group – just pop an email to hannah@greensquirrel.co.uk to find out more. 

Here's what we've learned so far...
  • There’s so much skill, experience, and generosity in the Splott and Adamsdown (and wider Cardiff) community… although to be fair we knew that already! 
  • If you build a garden, nature will show up. Within ten minutes of laying the meadow a butterfly had shown up to check it out, and the self-seeded poppies are buzzing with bees!  
  • Railway Gardens is a HOT site – looking forward to tomatoes and chilli peppers next year! 
  • A solid watering rota is a must – thanks so much to everyone who is on it already, and please email hannah on hannah@greensquirrel.co.uk if you’d like to help. 
Here's what we're planning next...
  • There’s one more accessible bed to build – these then need filling and planting. 
  • Two greenhouses and a tool shed will be constructed over the next month. Find out more about helping with the building here. 
  • More habitat boxes will be going up, including a solitary bee nesting and observation box – volunteer Helen Edwards raised funds to buy this at the Christmas fair! 
  • We’ll be adding water butts and rainwater harvesting systems over time. 
  • And excitingly, this autumn we’re building an outdoor learning space too! 
Want to stay up to date with developments?

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