Saturday, 20 June 2015

Great Food Festival and Gala

Space to explore

Becky Blanco, Steve Blanco and Emily Cutts

The Little House of La performing

Participating with and watching the performance

The Little House of La

Jessica Gladys Wolfson performs with The Little House of La and the audience become apes.

Merlin the hamster.

Trees to climb and knitted fruit and veg

Anna Fisk of Knit Wild

Crochet inspired by nature

Shiona McCubbin with her beautiful hand stitched crafts

The Green Party table

This summer has been a chilly one in Scotland with plenty of rain, which of course the grass, trees and most of the plants love. I don't mind showers but the temperature feels far too cold for the end of June!

Fortunately, the sun broke through the clouds for another successful free event at the Children's Wood and Meadow on 7th June. Visiting for a few hours in the afternoon, I captured a very small part of a whole day of fun activities; all organised and delivered by local community volunteers. I arrived just as the annual dog show was finishing which is very popular with the many people who regularly walk their dogs on the meadow. McDonald Vets supported this event with categories such as 'Best Trick for a Biscuit', 'Children's Favourite' and 'Waggiest Tail'. One little girl even brought her hamster for a walk who wore a homemade ribbon holster and yarn lead. He seemed quite happy sniffing about in the grass in the fresh air.

There were lots of stalls with local crafts, balloon animals, home baking, face painting, The Green Party, Maryhill Foodbank, and more. Knit Wild had their beautiful knitted and crocheted flowers, leaves, birds, fruit and veg on display with a very friendly knitter helping the children and others to have a go themselves. Many of these items can now be found decorating the woods and meadows. There was a 'Grow Your Own' and Composting workshop and a come dressed as your favourite fruit or veg fancy dress competition!

A great hit with the children were the band The Little House of La. They had the little ones hopping like bunnies, unraveling a paper doll chain and pretending to be Apemen. The Barrow Band were also lots of fun and were enjoyed by everyone.

There was a stall with information about the Council's plans to build on the meadow, with forms so that we could give our reasons for wanting the meadow and woods protected now and for future generations and how we have benefited from this special space. Recently The Children's Wood Committee have been working with an architect on a planning application of their own which would see the area developed further for community based events, recreation, education and as an organic growing space. In spite of the Scottish Government's support of outdoor learning it is still woefully inadequate in many schools, especially inner city ones. Supporters of the Children's Wood and Meadow have been doing a great job demonstrating the benefits of outdoor education with their regular classes and events. This involves training and specific knowledge and skills. It is not the same as letting kids run wild in nature, though of course that is very much encouraged too.

I love how much thought and creativity goes into the Children's Wood and Meadow themed events and appreciate all the time this takes. They are always very unique, so much fun and enable everyone to participate in building a healthy, inclusive, environmentally friendly place to live.

Saturday, 29 November 2014

'Tis the Season to Get Crafty

Ronnie's rustic wreath with sparkly red Acer leaves.

Practicing weaving the coloured dogwood stems.

Dogwood wreath bases and some Christmas cards made by foot and mouth painters. 

Trimming the dogwood stems.

Preparing materials for making wreaths in our outdoor classroom.

Woodlands Community Garden and Jimmy's rustic wreath with dried oregano flowers. 

Shaun's variegated and plain ivy rustic wreath. 

Ronnie proudly showing two of the finished wreaths.
Bringing evergreens into the home is a very old winter time tradition. The ancient Celts placed evergreen boughs over their doors and windows to ward off evil spirits. The Celtic wood priests, the Druids, used evergreens, holly and mistletoe as symbols of everlasting life during mysterious winter solstice rituals. Ancient people believed that evergreen trees and plants had magical powers that meant they could withstand the cold of winter. Pagans also placed evergreens in their homes but believed that cutting down whole evergreen trees was destructive to nature. The tradition of bringing a fir tree indoors to decorate comes from 16th century Germany. It is said that Martin Luther, A German theologian, was the first person to decorate a tree to celebrate Christmas. One chilly Christmas Eve he was out walking in the woods writing a sermon when he was struck by the beauty of a group of small evergreens sparkling in the snow under the stars. He wanted to share this with his children so he brought one into his home and decorated it with candles which he lit in honour of Christ's birth.

I love to be outdoors but the shorter, colder days of the winter months mean there is more time to work on craft activities and it's always fun to do with friends or with your children. It is lots of fun wrapping up warm and going on a hunt for natural materials to work with. There are many enjoyable Christmas crafts that cost very little to make that you can give away as presents or keep for yourself. The Common Knowledge Grow 2 group have been learning about rustic wreath making so that they can share what they've learned with their peers. We used willow and dogwood stems for the base of our wreaths because they are very bendy and are really easy to make into a circle.

Dogwood is often grown for winter colour in the garden because of it's beautiful bright red, burgundy and lime yellow stems. Only the one year old stems have the bright colours so shrubs should be cut a few inches from the ground every year to encourage new growth. They are very tough and hardy and are planted in many public places where they grow into large shrubs. I noticed the council had trimmed back a large patch of dogwood shrubs near my flat a few weeks ago, so all I had to do was collect the cuttings from the ground. Instant, free crafting material thanks to the council!

We used florist's wire to attach sprigs of evergreens such as holly, ivy and fir. I had already prepared the red Acer leaves by painting one side with some watered down PVA glue with bronze glitter added, leaving them to dry overnight, then doing the same with the other side. Acer is a deciduous tree species whose leaves turn beautiful colours in Autumn before they fall off. They don't last as well as evergreens so the PVA helps to stop them drying out and losing their colour. We cut the dried oregano flowers from a bush in the garden - which is a good reason not to be too hasty with tidying up dried stems! Red raffia and garden twine were used to makes bows and to make a loop at the back for hanging up which adds to the rustic charm.

Common Knowledge Grows 2 will have a stall at the Southbrae Winter Fayre in Jordanhill G13 1TX on Friday 12th December 10am - 4pm. We will be selling wreaths and other handmade crafts and goods. It looks like a great event: you can watch a video about it HERE.

Oh and if you are ordering any Christmas gifts on line you can raise money for CKUK or over 55,000 other good causes and it does't cost you a single penny extra when you register with You can shop with over 2,700 well known retailers like Argos, M&S, eBay and Amazon. Whenever you buy something on line the retailer makes a donation to your chosen good cause!

Saturday, 22 November 2014

My new job with Common Knowledge UK

Posters designed by Marilyn Slavin, Director of CKUK.

John and James digging compost.

John and I in the Woodlands Community Garden.

Shaun, John, James, David, Jimmy and Ronnie with the finished bird boxes at Fortune Works Drumchapel.

Ronnie and James at the Botanic Gardens and James' logo design. 

I love the expression "what's for ye will no go by ye" which I have heard all my life from various family members. It takes the stress out of making plans in life if you believe that if something is meant to be it will happen. I have had the odd experience many times now of having a thought of something I need and then I get it. When I was looking for gardening work in Glasgow I thought I really need some outdoor walking boots if I'm going to do this. A short while later I walked into a charity shop and saw a brand new pair in my size for sale. Before moving back to Glasgow I hoped I would be able to continue working with vulnerable adults doing gardening. When I researched centres where adults with learning difficulties could work they were all outside the city and since I don't drive I was concerned I would find it difficult to get to them.

Through social networking I found out about some of the community garden projects happening in the city of Glasgow. Once you connect with one it is easy to learn about more. Many of these places have only existed in the past few years. There was nothing like this when I lived in Glasgow seventeen years ago. I was thinking about settling in the Woodlands area and was delighted to discover the Woodlands Community Garden which was created by a group of dedicated people in a gap site between Glasgow's famous tenement buildings. So before we even moved back here I was following their events.

By summer 2014 we had been settled in our new flat for six months when I saw a job advert for a gardener to support adults with learning difficulties at the Woodlands Community Garden. I couldn't believe it and really hoped I would get the job. I was really glad that Mark and Vashi wanted to meet me at the garden to interview me as I am so much more comfortable outdoors! The organisation is called CKUK which stands for Common Knowledge and was set up by Marilyn Slavin to provide the best quality learning, information and experiences for people with learning difficulties who are at the heart of all the work. Marilyn also set up the first on line social networking site specifically designed for and to be used only by people with learning difficulties. She did it one year before Facebook was set up!

I am delighted that I have been able to continue my own learning by joining this fantastic organisation as well as bringing skills that I have gained from all the projects I was involved with in England. The job has many aspects to it. As well as the practical sessions we do in the garden and other locations, we have group discussions to plan activities, we go on day trips, give presentations, practice garden crafts, plan events such as a stall at a Christmas Fayre and document the experiences with photos and stories. Everyone in the group can take part in all of these activities.

My experience of depression has meant that for long periods of time in my life I have been unable to take part in many life experiences most people take for granted. It has taken a lot of work for me to make the changes I needed to make and to learn the skills I need to be the best that I can be. There is always room for improvement. While I can't know what is like to be another person I can use the experiences in my life to try and understand another person.

What I find the most interesting about the model that Marilyn has set up is that when we have a variety of experiences with another person we can get to know them so much better. I now know that James is very skilled artistically, David is good at delivering a presentation, Ronnie is good at focussing on a task and seeing it through to the end, Jimmy is good at working on his own initiative and helping others, John loves pruning, Shaun likes coming up with new ideas, Andy takes some great photos. They all care very much for each other and demonstrate this all the time. Everyone has the opportunity to thrive.

I really enjoy my time with the Common Knowledge Garden Group. It's a job that distracts me from life's worries, is challenging and makes me feel useful and creative. When we work respectfully and compassionately with others we add to our abilities.

CKUK (Common Knowledge)
Woodlands Community Garden

Saturday, 21 June 2014

The Worm Carnival

What do you do when 95% of the local community surveyed don't want a green space built on but the council have already decided to put new housing there? You start a campaign. That is just what Douglas Peacock did back in 2008. A massive clean up job was started with around 30 volunteers removing over 60 bags of rubbish, broken glass, needles, old sofas etc. It's hard to imagine all these years later because the Children's Wood and Meadow is one of the most stunning wild places to visit in the city of Glasgow. Along with other community created green spaces such as the Woodlands Community Garden it is a place we regularly visit for fun activities and for my son to play, relax and learn about nature.

We moved back to Glasgow last August and I now get really excited about the West End Festival events that are held here because they are so much fun! Last weekend we cycled to the Worm Carnival. I always make a bee line for the healthy barbecue food, then it's straight to the cake table. I don't eat cakes very often and I don't have time to bake so it's a treat to sample some of the delicious delights created by local children and adults for the baking competition. I've never had rhubarb meringue tart before. It was amazing. James Morton who was the runner up in The Great British Bake Off t.v. show came along to judge the entries: lucky guy!

We watched award winning Eco Drama Company perform "The Worm - An Underground Adventure" which was very funny. There was an up-cycling bird box activity, face painting and a pop up cafe run by Garrioch Roots. My son and I did a nature hunt together. We had a list of items we had to find around the meadow such as 6 different kinds of leaves. In one overgrown area of long grasses there are some barrel raised beds full of summer herbs, veg and a few weeds. It is the sort of area you don't see in parks because it looks 'messy'. But I couldn't see a single pest anywhere, everything was incredibly healthy and strong. This is an example of a balanced eco system where predator and pest are in equal amounts therefore no harmful chemicals need to be sprayed. The bees and butterflies, whose numbers are reducing at a shocking rate, were loving the large patch of clover. We saw lots of red-tailed bumble bees: Bombus lapidarius along with the better know yellow striped bumble bee: Bombus hortorum. We really enjoyed doing the nature hunt and it meant we had a tour around the whole site and were able to see so many amazing things in each of the different areas as well as stopping to chat to people, "isn't it great how you meet so many people when you come here" said a new friend.

It can cost a fortune finding entertainment for children and with the ongoing austerity and economic downturn having an affect on us all, this event and the many others you can attend here for free keep families happy with no cost to the council.  The local schools are now benefitting by having a space to grow vegetables and take part in outdoor learning activities, which the Scottish Government has been promoting for some time. This has been and continues to be an excellently run campaign; thank you to everyone involved. It is the love and commitment of the local community and everyone who visits that makes the Children's Wood and Meadow a unique and special place in the city. That is worth preserving.

Support the North Kelvin Meadow Campaign!
A lovely blog about Urban Pollinators

Saturday, 31 May 2014

Mushrooms in the Park.

My son spotted a massive crop of mushrooms growing on a felled tree stump in the park. I'm sure they're oyster mushrooms, though I've only every harvested white ones before. One of my mushroom books says there are varieties that aren't good for eating, mainly because they aren't very tasty. In other places I've read that there are no bad mushrooms that can be confused with the oyster mushroom. So I'm not sure. I hope someone who knows more about mushrooms can tell me. Because there are plenty more to harvest! Isn't the spore print beautiful.

*UPDATE 16th June: I believe they are the bitter oyster mushroom which are inedible but glow in the dark apparently and in traditional Chinese medicine it is used as a styptic to staunch bleeding and is known as a purgative. I have only every eaten foraged mushrooms that I know 100% are edible such as puff balls and ceps and I did harvest and eat oyster mushrooms that were much whiter than this and were delicious. Always worth checking, I'm sure I have thrown out some rare delicacies because I've not been sure but better to be safe. I haven't found any mushroom experts since moving to Glasgow. I always checked my finds in Hastings with a neighbour who is a chef who uses a lot of native foraged wild food in his recipes. I plan to go on a mushroom identification course as there are a few that are run in Glasgow.*