… to here
In London the IRA broke all the windows at 10 Downing Street with a mortar bomb. In Bath a group of rebels sowed leek seeds.
Unemployment was well over two million and rising. At BOG everyone had a load of jobs.
The Community Charge (poll tax to you) was killed.On Lower Common West community gardening was born.
All of that in the first months of 1991, leading up to the official opening of the Bath Organic Group Demonstration Garden on May 1. That’s demonstration as in teaching, not the political sense, though the zeal of the pioneers needed to be stronger in those early years when, if you said you were green, most people thought you were inexperienced— or worse.
We have pitched the date of the birth of BOG at May1, 1991 because that was when the Mayor of Bath City dropped in to declare BOG officially a living thing. But the birth could have been registered almost two years earlier.
There are just as many dates we could have chosen as the conception of the BOG garden, though January 6 1990 (Twelfth Night) is the favourite. Then, on the day the earth is supposed to wake up to the new year, a couple of dozen founder members defied a cold drizzle to cut the first sods of what is now the community garden. Looking at the photographs of that event you could be fooled into thinking the earth would have been happier staying asleep.
After months of backbreaking double digging, clearing undergrowth, and with help from lots of green manure, on May Day, a year later, the garden was already beginning to look a bit like a sparse version of today’s plot.
But to begin the story even earlier, Bath Organic Group started 30 years ago in 1986. The current site of BOG’s garden was identified in 1988, a patch of 10 allotments on Lower Common West that nobody wanted because it was overshadowed by the conifers on the South side, was boggy, and was covered with the national collection of pernicious weeds especially couch grass. The first of John Brooke’s famous plant sales took place that summer, raising £450 entirely for BOG funds, while membership soared to 150.
Bill Brown took charge of double digging, and teams of weeders tried to evict the long-time residents. Then and now Bill is philosophical .’Weeds are the professionals and we are the amateurs. They never stop working and even now they are just waiting to take this space back. They never give up and we will never beat them.’
For the adults there was what proved a very enjoyable barn dance preceded by a good BOG bring and share blow-out. Which delayed the dancing. So for the next dance members were told: ‘This year we are offering only bread and cheese to leave more time for the dancing.’ The idea was so popular that the next dance was ‘cancelled at a late stage because of lack of support.’ Lack of cake more likely.
When BOG started it had been the only show in town and for miles around for anyone with green interests. By 1993 other green ventures – like the City Farm – were potentially diluting the pool of volunteers. In effect the good work the BOG pioneers had done to educate local people about organic ways was destroying its unique appeal. In 1991 BOG was the community garden in Bath. Now there are about a dozen organisations in and around the city that offer similar outlets for anyone keen on socialising and growing, and often they will be nearer to their home.
By 1997 the other end of the garden, a ‘dark and damp site’ (another bit of land the council couldn’t give away) was being planted up with ‘feathered maiden’ apple trees to create a community orchard, later absorbed into BOG’s empire.
Although there was low level theft and damage to the gardens throughout the years and occasional references to ‘unofficial residents’ presumably rough sleepers, it wasn’t until October 2004 that some fool set light to the original polytunnel, which was then by the beech hedge at the northern edge of the garden. Two more polytunnel covers have been destroyed (by knives) since then, an unwanted expense, but also a big interruption to the rest of the work of the garden when the mess has to be cleared up and a gang assembled (on a rare windless day) to put on a new polythene cover.
Security was the uppermost consideration when, in 2008, we decided to buy the shipping container dubbed the Shed of Steel (to distinguish it from the tin shed and the wooden one). Most of the money came from a whip round among members.
At the annual meeting in 2010 Kate Mills took over the Chair. It was also the year that we sought and won a big grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, £10,000 to spend on creating replacement ponds, wheelchair-friendly paths through much of the garden, a ‘teaching tent’ which has been more used for social gatherings, an apple press and cash for various educational purposes.
Two examples from this programme show how BOG members working together can achieve small miracles.
After a digger had excavated the hole the pond project involved two long days of hard work by some 16 people, spreading sand, laying a huge interliner and then the butyl. It had been a very wet winter but unfortunately the job was completed just as the rain stopped for six weeks. Wessex Water and local firemen saved the day eventually, pumping 50,000 litres of water into the hole in half an hour.
The second achievement was the building of the earth oven, a project that took several weeks under the guidance of Liz Clark and involved, on one particularly chilly morning, a team of Boggers walking barefoot in circles trampling a mix of clay, sand and straw to make the bricks.
That year the rickety tree bog was replaced by a new wheelchair-accessible composting toilet. Next door to it the BOG chicken club set up shop the following year in an impressive run with 12 bantams, created with significant financial help from Bill Brown.
The future for BOG looks good, but only if we keep focused. Remember Bill Brown’s words: ‘Weeds are the professionals and we are the amateurs … they are just waiting to take this space back.’ Let us hope the weeds are the worst of our problems.