Gill Smith and John Goodenough. Picture by Laura Holme.
WIGHT LIVING HOWARD Arnold — 'H’ to his many friends — is the almost constantly smiling face of a growing, highly social enterprise.
As the Care in the Garden community interest company ramps up its publicity to tell the Island what it is up to, 47-year-old Howard, from Ryde, will be the cover-man for the project. H is a symbol of the ethos of an enterprise formed by former social worker John Goodenough and his partner, Gill Smith.
H loves coming to a safe place where he can do what he can at his own pace.
John and Gill put together the not-for-profit company with the laudable aim of bringing the community together.
There are now various strands to the enterprise but the knot tying it all together is horticulture — of the therapeutic kind.
The base, Palmers Brook Nursery at the bottom of Lushington Hill, Wootton, is small and immensely friendly — a place where people who would probably have problems finding work can find a place where they can develop new skills at their own pace while being cared for.
At first, when Care in the Garden was established in 2012, it went out into the marketplace to seek people who wanted their gardens tended, people who would be pleased, too, that their few quid was making a positive difference.
Professional gardeners, volunteers and clients were melded together in gardening teams and, within a matter of three months, they had around 50 regular, supportive customers.
John and Gill have been twin driving forces of it all, putting in long hours and drawing out very little. John’s first personal financial goal is to earn enough to pay tax.
The immediate aim is to generate enough cash to sustain and grow the enterprise.
John recently had a whole weekend off. It was his first in five months.
"We are going through growing pains — as new enterprises do. We survive from what people pay us for tending their gardens, from clients’ personal budgets and from selling a range of plants and products," said John.
The enterprise put on a real growth spurt earlier this year when the owner of Palmers Brook Nursery, Zena Kershaw, offered the enterprise a home. There was a splash of publicity when IW High Sheriff Mary Case performed the official opening.
Care in the Garden had been operating from a small workshop and there was a real need for growing space of its own.
"Now, having the use of this site has enabled us to offer further types of work experience," said John.
"We have a fantastic team of volunteers too, adding to our three professional gardeners who really go the extra mile and give us a lot of time — and we are constantly looking at ways of expanding what we do," he said.
"Assistant gardeners can choose whether to go out gardening or stay on site where they can learn plant care, customer care and retail experience.
"Having the nursery also allows Care in the Garden to offer a respite hobby service to people with dementia, who are otherwise unable to continue with a much-loved hobby," John said.
This spring, Care in the Garden sold out its home-produced stock of plants but a supportive network of friends produced more in their own greenhouses and brought them along for sale.
"We have had a lot of support from people from Wootton, Whippingham, East Cowes and Newport, and we are keen to spread the word wider.
"Local businesses and the IW Chamber of Commerce, Tourism and Industry have been very supportive," said John.
John and Gill are always in the market for donations of plants, tools and equipment they can either use or spruce up and sell. They are also looking for people to give of their time and energy — any help at all, really.
Among the volunteers is retired electrician Peter Blake, who is nearly 81, and only gave up work 18 months ago. He thoroughly enjoys showing and helping clients, including H, how to make bird boxes and tables.
H also makes concrete garden products, a range which Care in the Garden is keen to expand. He is likely to be rewarded with a drink made by 52-year-old Michael Edwards, who does all sorts of jobs at the nursery and makes much appreciated cups of coffee for visitors.
Karen Bull volunteers with her husband, Dave, and was busily helping Marie Richards prick out seedlings.
The satisfaction of watching a tray of bedding develop and mature week on week is something Marie and her friends really enjoy.
"When they come back next week they really can see what they have achieved," said Karen.
Under a gazebo overlooking the allotment and polytunnel, a group from twin Shanklin residential care homes — Tile House and Highfield House — was enjoying a bit of light gardening and a good old chin-wag.
Seventy-one-year-old Basil Wilson returned to his roots as a nurseryman and was busily planting cuttings while retired police officer Bob Whitlock was in highly social mood — breaking into an impromptu sea shanty that soon had people joining in.
That was just one, tuneful, example of the relaxed atmosphere that a bit of light gardening and a cuppa in the sunshine — in good company — can create.