I knew nothing about gardening before starting Twilight Gardening, the fortnightly volunteering scheme that the Skip Garden runs from March to November, writes Libby Page, now a regular Twilight Gardener. I had visited the magical garden several times before, and always felt it was an oasis against the backdrop of glass and steel in Kings Cross. So when I learnt about the scheme I thought I would give it a go.
I’m so glad that I did. The gardeners welcomed us with such enthusiasm that it was impossible not to learn so much. Each evening a small group would be lead by one of the gardeners in a different activity, and at the end of the night we took part in a show and tell, each describing what we had done and what we had learnt.
I never knew that strawberries were such intrepid plants. I learnt about the runners that they extend in order to find new places to grow (or to seek world domination, as I like to think of it). I learnt about ‘pricking out and potting on’, I learnt the names of all kinds of new vegetables that are grown in the potting shed, and perhaps most importantly I learnt the joy-giving benefits of getting your hands dirty.
It was also a great way to meet new people. Every two weeks we chatted as we gardened. I loved hearing the motivations of the other volunteers. Some were beginners like me, others had gardens of their own or dreamt of gardens from their childhood that they could no longer have in the city. And at the end of every evening we washed the mud from our hands and sat down to enjoy a home-cooked meal from the wonderful Skip Garden chefs.
Twilight Gardening quickly became the favourite part of my fortnight. Even when I had a stressful day at work, or it was raining and cold, I always wanted to go to the garden. Once inside, the stress fell from my shoulders and the rain couldn’t dampen me.
It encouraged me to take an interest in gardening away from the Skip Garden too. Over the summer my balcony, that had previously been bleak and bare, became gradually filled with plants. Seeing the first bee on my lavender, and tasting the tomatoes I had grown, were some of my favourite moments from the summer.
In our final session of the year, we huddled in the warmth of the winter yurt and planted ‘tulip alarm clocks’. They are pots filled with tulips, daffodils, crocuses and snowdrops – buried in the soil in the order that they bloom. When the tulip rises it will signal that spring is here – and that it is time to go back to Twilight Gardening.
It has been several months since I planted my tulip alarm clock and helped at the garden. The winter has felt long and dark. But a few weeks ago I spotted something magical on my balcony: the first snowdrop bursting from its pot. The single white bloom filled me with so much hope that I could have cried.
That’s what Twilight Gardening has done for me: it has helped me to see that even in a city like London, and even in the middle of winter, there is nature and beauty to be found. I can’t wait to get back.