You may already have seen the plant sale signs in the High Street. Officially, at least, spring is on its way.
I’ve often wandered down the High Street, casually noting the tubs and hanging baskets. “That looks nice,” I may say. OH (my Other Half) will agree. A brief discussion about civic pride, how good the town looks, ensues. I never much thought about the work that goes into the floral displays. If I had, I would have seriously underestimated it. Not any more.
Having seen the Bloomers in action, I can vouch for their dedication. The Bloomers work with bags of enthusiasm and military precision. They need to. Greening Cricklade is a big task, one that the town’s 2011 success in the Britain in Bloom competition has made harder in some ways. There are standards to maintain, expectations to meet, all at a time of diminishing budgets and resources.
So how are the Bloomers meeting this challenge?
First off, 3000 seed plugs are on their way to the Bloomers HQ. (The Bloomers meet in the walled garden at the back of Lloyds Bank). A team of volunteers will log the plugs’ arrival, label them, and transfer them to poly tunnels. However, that’s just the start of things. A rota of volunteers will visit the plants twice a day (on frost watch and watering duties). Then there’s the planting out, watering and maintaining the containers. There are spreadsheets and planting schemes.
Secondly, the Bloomers are making fundraising plans. They’re big on sustainability, growing their own plants where they can, making the containers as low-maintenance as possible. Local businesses sponsor the planters and the Council helps with the watering. However, they need money (and volunteers) to continue. It’s not just for the flowers either. The Bloomers spearhead other projects, like the Big Tree Plant (a one-acre wood and wild flower meadow at Fairview Fields).
In the past, the Bloomers have received some grants (from the Town Council and Area Board). However, they also rely on their plant and produce sales to raise money. Chris Atkins is busy renovating a cart (donated by A G Robinson & Son). Chris hopes to have it working in time for the Cricklade Town Festival, when it will join the Bloomer’s restored milk cart, loaded with produce for sale. The Fritillary Tea Rooms (open weekends from 6th April to 28th April) is another source of income.
Apart from funding, what is the Bloomers’ biggest challenge? Anita Barratt, their chairperson, doesn’t hesitate. “The weather,” she says. “And keeping momentum.” The Bloomers rely heavily upon their volunteers. The Bloomers meet twice a week in season (Saturday and Wednesday mornings). However, there’s no minimum commitment. All help is welcomed, and you don’t have to be green-fingered.
The Bloomers were instrumental to the town’s success as Britain in Bloom’s Champion of Champions in 2011.
Where will they be concentrating their efforts this year?
They will not be entering Britain in Bloom again this year. Instead, they will be taking part in the Royal Horticultural Society’s It’s Your Neighbourhood Scheme. The campaign supports local community groups in cleaning up and greening their immediate environment. There are three pillars; community participation, environmental responsibility and gardening achievement.
Unlike Britain in Bloom, groups don’t compete against each other. However, it’s not a soft option. Assessors from the RHS will visit, provide feedback and assess how well the community has met the three goals. It’s a bit like Ofsted for community gardeners, with five levels of achievement (Establishing, Improving, Developing, Thriving and Outstanding).
It’s great to win competitions. Nobody should underestimate the achievement of winning Britain in Bloom. However, as the old adage goes, it’s taking part that really matters. And you’ve got to hand it to the Bloomers. Cricklade looks a lot nicer because of their efforts.