Launched yesterday, this year’s Gardeners’ World Live at the NEC promises to be one of the summer’s best days out. And at the heart of the show Mary Griffin finds a multi-million pound project to boost Birmingham’s grow-ityourself revolution.

The BBC’S flagship gardening programme means business.

Gardeners’ World Live has launched its five-day programme including a Royal Horticultural Society flower show, a range of display gardens and experts from Monty Don to Carol Klein and John Torode to Mary Berry.

And right in the centre of the action is a £3.1 million project to get Birmingham growing.

Funded by one of the world’s largest food companies, Mondelez International (the new name for Kraft Foods since a re-brand last October), Birmingham’s Health For Life programme is a five-year scheme, targeting communities surrounding the Cadbury factory.

At Gardeners’ World Live, programme leaders have created a 40ft by 26ft display to demonstrate how any small back yard in Birmingham can be turned into an edible garden, which has won a silver medal from the Royal Horticultural Society. The group is now delivering free seed packets to 10,000 homes across Bournville, Weoley, Longbridge, Northfield and Kings Norton at the same time as developing an app showing how to sow the seeds, when to plant them out and how to harvest them, as well as giving a range of recipes for each homegrown vegetable.

Each of the five wards in south Birmingham is getting its own community allotment where gardeners can share their skills with newcomers to muck in and tuck in.

The programme is also targeting schools with more than 30 primary and secondary schools getting £6,000 each to develop their own grow-your-own plans, a timely boost as horticulture is next year set to become part of the national curriculum.

Spearheading the project are The Conservation Volunteers, an organisation that helps communities to reclaim green spaces by running “green gyms” that bring people together to improve pockets of their community and get a work out at the same time.

Debra Nixon, West Midlands operations manager for The Conservation Volunteers, who has designed the display plot at the NEC, says: “There’s a generation that has lost the knowledge about growing their own food and we want to work with people with those skills to help pass them on to others.

“We want to train people in leadership, health and safety, using tools and horticultural skills, so that they can take over the running of those community sites, planning community harvests, barbecues and events where growers can come together to cook and eat their produce on site.”

Debra’s aim with the garden was to show how a small space that could be found behind any terrace in the city can be both attractive and productive.

Greeted by a colourful scented border of flowers to attract bees and butterflies, visitors pass a small brick wall with strawberries growing out of the top and find three raised beds brimming with leafy green salads and vegetables, while beans snake their way up bamboo poles behind.

A picnic table sits in a shady corner opposite a half-shed-half-greenhouse where small orange trees are growing in the heat. A border of fruit trees and fruit bushes form a hedge behind a small pond.

And all this fits into a garden that’s probably not much bigger than your living room and it has been created by volunteers in a series of green gym sessions.

Tahaira Ali, who is now rolling out the green gym programme to secondary schools in south Birmingham, reckons gardening should be considered a form of exercise, saying her green gym sessions can easily rival a session on a cross-trainer or treadmill.

“It’s definitely an alternative to a standard gym,” she says. “People get a real work out.”

The display shows how a typical Birmingham back garden can be transformed
The display shows how a typical Birmingham back garden can be transformed

A study by Dr William Bird, who founded the first Green Gym in Oxfordshire 15 years ago as a way to encourage his diabetic patients to take more exercise, found that the health benefits of physical activity can be just as easily achieved through moderate exercise (such as brisk walking, cycling, swimming and gardening) as through traditional gym exercises and aerobics, which appeared not to add any further health benefits.

He compared the heart rate of people spending two hours in the green gym with that of people spending two hours doing step aerobics and found that green gym participants kept their heart rate higher for longer, with the step aerobics tailing off.

He concluded: “There is a similar rise in heart rate with both the Green Gym and step aerobics. However, participants in the Green Gym were less aware that they were exercising than with step aerobics and were happier to continue for longer in order to finish the task.”

Tahaira says: “It’s a known fact that being outdoors doing physical activity is a great alleviator of depression, seasonal affective disorder and a whole range of other problems.

“There’s also the bonus of what you can do with the food you’ve grown.”

She added: “One chap told me he had spent the last three years with this leaflet about The Conservation Volunteers, saying ‘I should really get involved with this’. Finally he picked up the phone and came out, got involved in green gym activities and he felt such a part of that local group.

“He was very timid and shy and he’d had some mental health troubles, but after six months he’d really got his self-confidence back and was getting out interacting with all sorts of people and doing all sorts of things.

“All that’s completely aside from the physical benefits.

“We know it works because he’s come to us and said ‘This has actually changed my life’.”

Whats on

Gardeners’ World Live runs until Sunday, alongside the BBC Good Food Show Summer.

Saturday’s session has already sold out for both shows.

The five-day programme will include presentations from all the biggest names in the gardening world in the Experts’ Theatre.

Foodies will be inspired by a special session on Friday afternoon when Great British Bake Off legend Mary Berry shares her favourite ways to turn home-grown produce into mouth-watering treats.

The Kitchen Garden will see a series of gardeners and chefs explain how to get a feast out of your back garden, with Birmingham’s own Glynn Purnell taking to the stage on Sunday.

There will also be a clinic giving advice on the principles of garden design, and an Interview Stage where visitors can quiz stars including chef James Martin, Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry, and Masterchef’s John Torode and Gregg Wallace.

One hundred nurseries can be found in the RHS Floral Marquee and a dozen show gardens lie outside.

Tickets for Saturday’s session have already sold out.

Historic Ludlow
Historic Ludlow

The secret’s out as the green-fingered unlock their gates

A group of gardeners in Ludlow are preparing to open up and reveal their secrets.

A dozen private gardens are opening to the public for one day this weekend, with visitors receiving a secret map showing their locations.

Organiser June Knight says: “Ludlow is a very old medieval place so there are a lot of town walls and narrow streets.

“We started off 20 years ago calling it Ludlow’s Secret Gardens because you wouldn’t know they were there.

“It’s always in a very defined area so there’s no great distance to walk.”

Tickets come in the form of a map with a list of names and addresses of gardens.

June says: “Sometimes we have courtyard gardens, which are very small but very attractive, or we have large open gardens and long gardens.

“There’s such a diverse mix and they are all beautifully kept.’’

The event was set up by locals to raise funds for Ludlow Assembly Rooms, the market town’s community arts centre.

Secret Gardens will run from 12-6pm on Sunday.Tickets, costing £6.50, are available by visiting, calling 01584 878 141 or writing to Ludlow Assembly Rooms Box Office, 1 Mill Street, Ludlow, SY8 1AZ.

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