Somehow, over the 16 months I have been at mark-making*, I’ve become known as some kind of Monty Don protégé. It can only be put down to my enthusiasm around the subject of my allotment. This however, I can confirm, is somewhat of an embellished statement.
The seeds were sown
With the mm* rumour mill in full flow about my passion for gardening, myself and David – or, as we would now be known, Nick ‘Titchmarsh’ Tyler and David ‘Dimmock’ Souch, were tasked with finding a way to ‘engage the team in some down-and-dirty growing fun.’
It got us thinking about the quintessentially English flower show and how this could be adapted to encompass the annual mark-making* summer social. Traditionally, our summer social is a time to down tools and meet up with all our families for an afternoon of food, drinks and mildly competitive games. This year, however, would include the very prestigious mm* flower show.
We now had an end game to work to, and so the task was set. But how would we get the whole team involved? The most obvious place to start was with the five beautiful oak barrels that populate the courtyard as you approach our office.These had largely been neglected of late, and offered a great opportunity to improve the look of the courtyard for the mark-makers* and anybody who would be visiting the office.
Random teams, green dreams
The idea was quickly seeded that the team needed to be randomly mixed up into groups of three. They were then tasked with electing a team leader and coming up with a team name, which threw out some mixed results. We wanted to inspire some creativity, and so the budget was set at a mere £15. Teams would have to make decisions on how to tackle the brief. They could buy seeds and grow them on the office window sills, or they could opt to buy plants. But – as we all know – a modest budget wouldn’t go far at the local garden centre. Teams could also get thrifty if they wished, taking cuttings from plants at home, or upcycling materials for trellises and wigwams.
With the teams assembled and the names decided, it was time to pick the trugs. Three of the trugs are positioned on the north side of the courtyard and so, get more of the sun as it swings southward. The other two are situated against the south wall, meaning they have more shade. After some considerable grumbling from teams not wanting the shady spots, we decided that the only way to go was to draw lots for the trugs. Despite the shaded areas during the day, the courtyard possesses the perfect growing conditions, containing the heat of the day in the enclosed area much like a miniature walled garden. So all hope is not lost for those on the south wall. A bit of research into what plants perform well in these conditions, throws the mm* gold medal race completely open. With the teams now allotted their trugs and the whining quelled, everyone could begin the careful job of planning their planting combinations.
From weeds to wellness
There was a bit of work for David and myself to do to get the show on the road. Our newly-acquired B Corp status meant that we needed to think carefully about how we undertook the assignment. Firstly the trugs needed some new compost, so naturally we sourced organic material based on Earthworm-digested manure. Secondly, we needed to think about the watering, and how these five trugs were going to significantly increase mark-making*s water usage. Three new water butts were swiftly installed in order to make the most of the rain water. These did experience an initial drought but, thanks to the recent thunderstorms, have received a much needed top up.
The Courtyard project was never just about smartening up the office.
Gardening is amazing and has many more benefits than just making the place look nice.
The scheme has the potential to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, as well give a sense of achievement and boosting the confidence of those participating. Research shows that just looking at a green space can help us de-stress.
For me and David, the work isn’t done yet. As well as a few side projects tidying up the rest of HQ’s outdoor space, we began a regular newsletter satisfyingly named ‘Truglife’ where we share an array of information – from tips on planting sweetpeas, to knowing your annuals from your perennials, to how to encourage bees to your garden.
Every trug is well on the way and with just over a month to go, the competition is beginning to heat up. The team’s response to The Courtyard has been amazing, with each and every member taking on the challenge with enthusiasm. There have been secret planning meetings and lunchtime planting sessions aplenty. And, as the deadline approaches, it’s just not the trugs that are growing – the rivalry and banter are flourishing, too!
We can’t wait to share pictures of mm* in bloom later in the year.