Written by garden volunteer Charles.
I joined in 2018 for a number of reasons. As a sixty-something freelance consultant, I was not getting as much work as I used to. I had recently moved from Fulham to Barnes – in Fulham the garden was stamp-sized, in Barnes it is not enormous but worth working on. I wanted to develop some expertise as I developed the Barnes garden and volunteering at Fulham Palace seemed to fit the ticket. Palace garden volunteers do one day a week from 10.30 – 15.30 with an hour for lunch. I decided to join as a Tuesday volunteer.
To be honest, I found the first few weeks and months a little difficult. You come into a group of people who know each other and it is difficult at first to understand the group dynamics and how best to find one’s niche. But over time, the fact of working together means that one makes relationships, not necessarily close, but which embody the reality of cooperating to achieve shared tasks. As time has gone on the group has evolved, with various personnel changes, to become rather cohesive. We now have a WhatsApp group, started when we went into lockdown in 2020 because we could no longer meet, where all sorts of things are shared but it mainly concerns things horticultural or wild-life related (and most recently Wordle!). We also get together and organise a summer and Christmas party.
It has come to figure a bigger part in my life than I imagined it would when I started. I have made new friends, there is a comforting feeling of esprit de corps, and I have progressed from feeling like an outsider to being the representative of Tuesday gardeners in various Fulham Palace committees. Another bonus is that very often visitors will stop to talk and say what a wonderful job you are doing and how nice the garden is – which is good for the soul as one reverts to weeding the beds!
Have I learnt a lot about gardening? Well, yes. Not through much formal training, but through a process of osmosis from the other volunteers, the gardening staff and apprentices and just learning by doing a variety of different tasks every week. Fulham Palace is renowned for its echiums (Giant Viper’s Bugloss is the “common name”) and I am now growing them in our garden.
While I have been there, there have been several changes in the garden staff. When I started Lucy Hart, the head gardener, was the only “real” gardener apart from the three apprentices. Now we have Pete and Franziska, two senior gardeners, and the apprentices who have made a real difference in what can be done to maintain the garden to a high standard and progress its development.
I’m not a PR person but volunteering at Fulham Palace is something to be highly recommended if that is what you feel might suit you.
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