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