This month we are publishing the amazing story of Cara Thompson who went from never having grown a single plant in her life to winning a gold medal and the People’s Choice Award at the Gardeners’ World Autumn Fair in the space of just three years! We were very happy to have been part of her story.
Read her inspiring account below:
This year was the year I totally walked out of my comfort zone and pushed my new passion for growing flowers. I discovered growing during the national lockdown for the first time and basically got the growing bug! I always had a love for flowers but had never grown a single plant in my life. It always meant buying flowers from supermarkets or me doing a little bit of floral styling on my day job art directing on television shows such as Eastenders.
One day during the national lock down, I opened my bedroom window and decided to make my dull lifeless garden flourish. I got my hands on all the packs of seeds and bulbs from garden centres before they all closed. I sowed the first seeds of my life and to my surprise I experienced just how easy it was to grow. The seeds sprouted, the plants grew and the flowers came. The seeds sown became seeds of hope during a time when there was hardly any hope in the nation and the flowers brought such a joy. I would run outside each morning with a spring in my step to check on my compost trays. I made use of the resources I had at the time. I made containers from old paint trays, food packaging and even made containers which seems a little mad now out of old card boxes and old plastic bags.
After I discovered the joy of growing flowers I had a real passion to share this with all the people I possibly could. I honestly couldn’t keep this joy all to myself! That was when ‘Make It Flourish Together’ flower sow along was born. I went live on Instagram every Sunday during the sowing season for a flower sow along, each week with a different flower focus. During this time we were under strict rules from our government, meeting up was not allowed, a time when socialising was paused and people’s mental health was suffering more than ever. The live grow alongs were a time to tune in, sow seeds of hope together and have a giggle in the process.
Looking back on this time, life was quite challenging. I had a 6 month old baby and had no family help around due to the lockdown restrictions. The Make It Flourish Together Lives without realising it brought such joy into my life. Encouraging others to give growing a go and demonstrating how easy it was to grow flowers whilst growing together made growing so much more important.
This January I had an ‘it’s now or never’ moment… I had an idea which I guess was a seed planted during the lockdown. An idea of starting ‘Make It Flourish Together’ Meet up group! A time to physically sow seeds together with people. Again this was something completely new to me… I had never been part of a community group before but the passion to want to do this was so strong and I had to follow it through. I had a local community space in mind and it was the only space I had in mind as it fitted perfect with the groups mission. The Riverbank walk at Great Dunmow, which is owned by St Marys Church, Great Dunmow. A beautiful space next to the river where you can explore and appreciate nature. The permission was thankfully granted to start the community group here!
The group started in February, we meet every Thursday morning at 10am rain or shine to sow along at the riverbank. We take our wheelbarrow down the gravel path with all the supplies to grow. So far we have sown Sweet peas, Cosmos, Zinnias, Asters, Calendula, Lupins, Foxgloves, Hollyhocks, Delphiniums, Campanula, Achillea, Wallflowers, Geum, Amaranthus, Honesty and now currently sowing our hardy annuals such as Ammi and Orlaya and more sweetpeas and lupins!
It really is mad to think how much we had grown. Everyone is welcome to the group, you simply bring just yourself. There is a mix of ages from Mums with young children to retired and our eldest grower is joyful John a 98 year old WW2 veteran.
The group is sponsored by Mr Fothergills seeds and SylvaGrow Compost. Each week we have a selection of different flower varieties to sow of the weekly plant focus. It was so incredibly important to have the best seeds and soil for the group. Sowing great seeds in semi ok compost would not give the best results to grow. This was not an option… It had to be the best peat free compost on the market. I had been growing myself with SylvaGrow for 2 years, since using it I couldn’t compare it to other peat free composts I had previously tried. The germination rate from using the both Mr Fothergills seeds and SylvaGrow was always above average. With my comos, zinnias and sweetpeas I got 100 percent germination on all my seed cell sowing! Seed cell sowing really does teach you about germination rates especially when you sow 1 seed per cell.
An opportunity was asked to me at a gardening event earlier in the year. I was asked the question “Would you be interested in designing a beautiful border for a BBC Gardeners’ World Autumn Fair?”
At the time I thought ‘I would love to, but me?’ I have zero garden design experience… I had art directed TV sets but never anything with plants apart from my own personal garden!
The application was sent to me alongside the garden brief… Straight away after reading the brief of ‘My garden Escape’ a vision was in my head. A garden bursting full with flowers. I submitted the design and application and pretty much forgot about it until a few months down the line when I received the congratulations email from Horticultural Director Bob Sweet.
Straight away I set a mission for myself and the meet up group… A mission to grow our own annuals for this BBC Gardeners’ World border. The next Thursday we met I gave the group cosmos and zinnias to grow for the garden. This ended up becoming a real community project.
Every annual in the garden was grown by myself and the meet up group. Grown by growers from different growing backgrounds but nearly all were beginners. The Cosmos especially became the real superstars of the border garden. The garden was enjoyed by the public over the 3 days and had special guests sitting on the bench such as Gardeners’ World’s Adam Frost and Francis Tophill.
The garden plaque read.
“This is a garden to experience the joy of growing flowers, a space to totally
immerse yourself in nature, taking time to enjoy flower creations and all that
is flourishing alongside our wildlife. It is a showcase of the flourishing plant
varieties we have grown from seed at the weekly meet-up group.
Designed to take you on the journey to the riverbank space in Great Dunmow
where we meet and sow seeds. We wheel a wheelbarrow down a gravel path
with all our supplies. The bench was made from a fallen tree that we passed
on the way. It has become a time of sowing seeds of hope and there’s
been much joy in the process.”
Never in a million years when I sowed my first seeds of hope did I think these seeds would one day grow into a new passion for community growing. Designing a Gold award border for the BBC Gardeners’ World show was the real icing of the cake this year. Adam Frost also awarded the garden the People’s Choice ‘Best Beautiful Border’ voted by the public. The border garden was a real group effort and it wouldn’t of been possible without the Make it Flourish Together meet up group growers. Not only did the meet up group help grow all the annuals, together we planted every plant to create the vision. Together we all created the ‘Make It Flourish Together’ garden.
The garden is to have a forever home in our local community where all generations can learn how to build a colourful garden from seed. Studies have shown pollinators have greatly decreased, the hope is to address this situation by encouraging people to enjoy growing flowers in their own gardens and using the community garden a place for everyone to enjoy.
If you are reading this and you are new to growing flowers. Maybe you love gardening but have never grown from seed. Give it a go! It will become the best hobby you will find, but it comes with a warning sign which is you won’t want to stop growing!
Kevin Smith, Cara and Adam Frost Peoples Choice Award