“We really enjoy going up to go up to the growing area; a year ago, we were putting cardboard down on the field to stop the weeds, and since then, we’ve had our first growing season, lots of produce and lots of ideas to grow more food in the village. For everyone that comes up, it’s such a good experience; we have a brilliant view and a very social space.”
Nestled on the upper banks of the Ale Water Valley with the Eildon Hills in the distance, this exposed but picturesque spot became a village-growing space with beds and a polytunnel less than a year ago. Susan from the growing group reflects on their first village growing season and shares plans for growing in Lilliesleaf in the future.
Liliesleaf is a 3 street village in the Scottish borders with circa 250 residents; the primary school catchment extends to the nearby villages of Ashkirk and Midlem. In 2018, residents formed Lilliesleaf Community Development Ltd, raised funds to buy the green unused land in the centre of the village and began to shape their village with the vision to create Leaf Green, a positive focal point and facility within the centre of the community for the future.
In 2021, residents got planning permission for a change of use from an agricultural field to ‘form an outdoor recreation and communal space/garden. Inspiration for the tunnel and garden area came from conversations between villagers who wanted to grow food locally and in an environmentally friendly way. “I’ve always been able to grow a few tatties in my small garden, but I wanted to grow enough for the year.” says Susan.
Consultation with everyone in this small community was essential. Various methods were employed to consult with everyone through word of mouth, leaflets through every door and at the Leaf Green AGM. Support from the villagers quickly led to a site visit and conversation between 16 village members and the Borders Greenspace Programme officer. The group received a £6.7k (Community Led Local Development) grant in late November 2022 towards garden infrastructure to take the project forward. Working to a tight funding schedule and a clear action plan, the growing group got to work installing rabbit-proof fencing with the help of the local unpaid work team, forming ‘no dig’ outdoor growing beds in the overgrown field, and researching the best growing structure for their exposed windy site. Linking in with local groups such as Greener Melrose and Abundant Borders, the group was able to contrast and compare different types of growing structures and their internal layouts and sizes. They settled for a 3mx8m ecopolytunnels in polycarbonate material and were advised on professional installation by the suppliers, funded with support from the community council. The tunnel has three ventilation hatches, which help regulate the temperature and airflow on hotter days whilst the garden group coordinates closing and opening the doors via a WhatsApp group. Water is supplied by two 1000-litre IBC (industrial bulk containers). Tile edging that collects water falling onto the tunnel and drains into the containers has been much more effective and cheaper than traditional guttering.
A local architect supported the group with the necessary drawings of the shed and tunnel for their planning application. They contacted the Borders planning team early on to confirm exactly what was required with their submission.
The growing group, with a core team of circa 8 communicate regularly through Whatsapp, and hold regular Sat workdays in the garden. Anyone unable to make group times can access the monthly garden task list in the tunnel. The group decided to keep growing simple in the first season and, in the tunnel, successfully grew tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, pumpkins and winter lettuce. One group member led on upskilling the gardeners in tomato growing, and another member from Virgina ensured donated pumpkin seedlings were a huge success, much to the delight of the school children. In their first growing season the group managed to grow enough fresh vegetables for themselves and surplus to share in the village, (for a donation), through a monthly brunch and fortnightly coffee morning. From this, they have developed an understanding of what people liked to eat and what they could grow. To date, leeks, early potatoes and tomato plants have been popular. They have plans to expand and be more proactive around surplus produce this year, so they plan to engage with villagers further on the best way to do this. “It is early days in our development and, as with the produce we are growing, we are developing in an organic way!”
P1, 2 and 3 pupils have taken on a growing bed and have helped with the planting of fruit bushes around the boundary of the growing area. The group is keen to learn more about hotbox growing in tunnels to help start seedlings and young plants.
They also intend to use the tunnel space in winter months to help overwinter some ornamental plants for village planters, extend the vegetable growing season and start seeds off early.
Recommendations for others:
Plan ahead for tasks, e.g. watering, opening/closing the polytunnel, what to grow and when. This helps us gauge what we can do and who will likely be available. We try to keep things relatively straightforward and expand gradually as we learn.
Lots of communication is vital so that everyone has the chance to be involved in planning and decisions. Keep updating the village as the Leaf Green growing area is for all of us and everyone should feel able to get involved.
To talk at an early stage to people who the tunnel may impact, we have houses near the growing area, so we talked to all the neighbours before we put the tunnel up and changed the position based on feedback.