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A summer tour of the Garden to mark our National Garden Scheme opening

It's June, and with the arrival of summer and our forthcoming National Garden Scheme opening on Saturday afternoon (8th June), what better time to re-introduce our wonderful Garden Gate Project. We're located in the southeast corner of Northdown Park, by Friends Corner in Margate, in an idyllic one-and-a-half acre walled garden which once supplied the fruit and vegetables to Northdown House. For around 25 years now, our therapeutic garden has provided a haven of tranquillity, support and opportunity for adults in the community with learning disabilities and/or mental health needs.

At this time of year, the Garden is beautifully fresh, lush and full of interest and potential wherever you look. As you enter the garden and turn left, your eye will be immediately drawn to a ring of three silver birch trees. Look up, and you'll see one of our hand-crafted, bird's nest style willow sculptures suspended horizontally about two meters above the ground, nestled between the trees. Beneath it, a naturalistic planting of foxgloves sways gently, their tall spires adorned with blooms in shades of soft pink and creamy white. These provide a colourful feast for bumblebees, who buzz contentedly as they collect pollen.

Progressing clockwise around the garden, you'll pass one of our seating areas where the benches and chairs are being scrubbed clean in preparation for the weekend. Continuing on, you'll arrive at our serene herb garden. Enclosed by fruit trees, blackberries and hop vines, its rectangular strip beds are dedicated to a host of familiar plants with culinary qualities such as fennel, lemon verbena and thyme. The air is filled with the fragrant aroma of these herbs, attracting a gentle buzz of bees. In one corner, a pink dianthus that we propagated from seed last year is now looking its best.

Moving on, past our brightly coloured rose bed, you come to our main cabin – the very hub of the garden. Here, we begin each morning with a stimulating cuppa and a vibrant chat about the day's tasks and much else besides. The cabin is equipped with a kitchen where we cook up our famous Friday lunchtime feasts. A log-burning stove takes the chill off those cold winter months, while a mini-library of horticultural tomes beckons for idle browsing. Behind the cabin lies our recently planted willow bed, which will soon provide us with a regular supply of weaving material.

Next up is our shade house on the left, a cool retreat decorated with hellebore blooms in spring and currently boasting gracefully arching fern fronds. Even potted tea plants perch perkily on the shelves, and come summer, bright red begonias will add a splash of colour.

Opposite is the entrance to our large polytunnel, the heart of our seedling propagation and growing operation. Stunning Bird of Paradise flowers and giant banana plants share the space with displays of cacti, succulents, and scented pelargoniums. Beds brimming with seasonal salad crops and tomato plants complete this verdant scene. When the sun shines, the polytunnel warms up a treat, providing perfect growing conditions. It even transforms into the ideal spot for our cosy Christmas lunch!

Directly behind the polytunnel lies our wildlife pond, a vibrant oasis teeming with life. Blue, yellow, and white irises currently grace the water's edge, while impressive bull rushes emerge from the depths. A gentle murmur ripples across the surface, hinting at the hidden aquatic activity below. In the far corner, our compost heaps stand diligently, transforming our green waste and kitchen scraps into nutrient-rich compost that feeds our soil. Beside them, a recently planted patch of sweetcorn reaches for the sunshine.

Following the path clockwise, you pass our inviting lime-covered, semi-circular bench and find yourself immersed in a mini native woodland of ash, birch, and hazel trees. Some teasels stand robustly beside a clump of wild strawberry plants, their sweet scent filling the air. 

A sculpture of six hollow yellow cylinders mounted on planted willow whips decorates the outer wall, set off by a charred background of interwoven ivy stems.  Various stumperies and decomposing piles of branches complete the route, adding a touch of wild charm. As you exit beside a somewhat incongruous canoe, planted vertically in the ground, the gentle sounds of birdsong might serenade your departure.

To the right, a captivating arched entrance of living willow beckons you into our smaller polytunnel. Here, at the far end, a vibrant tapestry of sprawling succulents unfolds, with aeoniums basking happily in the sunlight. 

The rest of the tunnel is dedicated to nurturing delicious salad leaf crops, juicy tomatoes, and aromatic basil. Running beside the polytunnel, our cold frames stand ready. Here, young plants are gently hardened off before taking their place in the garden, and many are available for purchase on our open days.

Next, turning right, you'll find yourself in the heart of the garden. Here, within the green metal railings of our pre-existing weather station, stands our green-roofed pizza hut. 

But look beside that, and you'll spot the exciting beginnings of something new – a uniquely designed citrus hothouse! Most generously gifted to the garden from its previous home in Stratford, East London, this promises to be a delightful addition. Imagine the fragrant aroma of citrus trees wafting through the air! I'll keep you posted on how we progress with its installation.

Between here and the route back to the gate where we started there remains the characterful woodshed that transforms into a Music Day rave space; the no-dig fruit and vegetable beds bursting with delicious food for the soul; the Art and Craft cabin where all manner of colourful creations are skillfully brought into being by our members; and no doubt an array of plants, trees, organisms and fascinating details even I haven't been fortunate to make the acquaintance of yet! But in writing this piece, I've realised it's impossible to get anywhere close to including all that the wonderful Garden Gate Project has to offer in a single tour.

Perhaps this glimpse has sparked your curiosity? The best way to experience the true magic of our garden is to come and visit us in person!

So, please do join us from 1 pm - 4 pm on Saturday, 8th June. All proceeds from the entrance fee, teas, cakes, pizza and plant sales will benefit The National Garden Scheme. Until then, happy gardening!

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