Prince's Countryside Fund helps residents of Milton Abbas have their own plot of land
PUBLISHED: 14:24 25 June 2014
With help from the Prince's Countryside Fund, villagers have their own plot of land to grow anything they want, from vegetables for the table to fruit trees
“Projects like this bring everyone together,” muses Matchpatch chairman, Dave Morley. “And that is exactly what has happened with Matchpatch. People living in the village, who have taken on a plot at the garden, have made friends with people they didn’t even know before. It really has united the village and brought everyone together.”
Matchpatch is a series of 24 garden plots of varying size within the village of Milton Abbas. Providing villagers with the opportunity to grow their own and bid farewell to supermarket-bought fruit and vegetables, they can rely on the county’s fair soil – with the assistance of some of the finest local manure – to put fresh home-grown food back on their tables.
Veering away from the term allotment and all of the restrictions associated with it, Matchpatch allows villagers their own piece of green space to do with as they see fit, be that growing fresh fruit and vegetables, cultivating plants or turning the land over to a flower garden. The perimeter of the garden has been designated a wildlife zone, encouraging insects, small animals and birds to call the Matchpatch community garden plots their home as well.
The idea for this community run garden was first mooted back in 2010, and following much support from parishioners within the village, the obligatory committee was established to drive the project forwards. Under the guidance of establishing chairman, Denis Lynch, the committee started fundraising to bring the ambitious project to fruition.
The original committee needed to raise £10,000 to get the project off the ground and with widespread support from many local organisations, donations towards the new green fingered initiative came in thick and fast. These included funding from the village’s own bi-annual street fair, the Lions Club of Blandford, the Dorset Community Fund, Spectrum Housing Association and North Dorset District Council.
The project also won the backing of the Prince’s Countryside Fund, which pledged £2,750 to help the community gardens initiative blossom. “Denis Lynch, our previous chairman, did it all off his own back before his retirement, sorting out much of the paperwork to secure the funding,” explains Dave.
With their sights set on a 1.5 acre site of unruly grassland close to the heart of the village the project was given the seal of approval by the Parish Council in November 2011 when a 25 year lease was granted. “Local farmers helped us to get the area clear,” reveals Dave. “Much of it was overgrown, and needed to be dug up and turned over properly. Doing that by hand would have been very time consuming.”
The first tenants took over their new community garden plots in April 2012.
“We’re all likeminded and all have a common interest of gardening, which has really united people with a common cause.
“Down in the village many of the gardens are very steep and some of the new houses have quite small gardens, so Matchpatch gives people the chance to try their hand at gardening when otherwise they might not be able to. Many of the tenants tend to be of the older generation, those who are retired or semi-retired as they have more time. But we do have some younger plot holders as well. One family that recently moved into the village have already taken on a plot.”
Last month Matchpatch celebrated its two year anniversary, and the committee have been blown away by the gardens’ success. “Everything you can think of is now grown here,” says Dave proudly. “Potatoes, rhubarb, beetroot, beans…the lot. Since April or May last year my wife and I haven’t bought any veg, because everything we have needed we have been able to grow. You can’t beat the freshness and taste of home grown vegetables. There are no additives and no spraying. We can’t call it organic because the land isn’t certified organic, but it comes very close.
Dave tells me about Sue Hodder one of the plot holders who had a glut of courgettes last year. “She didn’t know what to do with them all, at one point she was leaving them on peoples doorsteps and running away!” he chuckles. “This year we are hoping to have a stall in the village to sell some of the produce, with the proceeds going to a nominated local charity.”
Buoyed on by the success of the community garden plots, Matchpatch decided to mark the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012 by establishing a community orchard nearby as Dave explains.
“We planted a mix of 25 fruit trees in the orchard. Most of these are apple trees the majority are old Dorset varieties, such as the Melcombe Russet from just over the hill, Profit Ann which was rediscovered at Kingston Maurward Apple Day in 2001 and the Warner Dessert Apple which was once thought to be extinct.”
There are also three pear trees, three Bryanston Gage plum trees and a couple of Mirabelle plum trees. “We had a small yield from the orchard last year, and already the trees are budding up well.”
Marking the garden’s second birthday, Dave says: “It really has become a good little community,” says Dave. “Most summer evenings we are sat at the gardens with a glass of wine, talking about the garden, with lots of tips going around between us. We do like to share our opinions with each other.”
Rent for a full plot for the year is £30. For more information visit miltonabbas.org.uk.
The public can make a donation online at Virgin Giving at the Post Office or by text. Text PCF to 70300 and a £3 donation will be made to The Prince’s Countryside Fund.