Bon is the head gardener of the
Red Brick Building Community Garden in Glastonbury.
Her smiling face lights up my Wednesday mornings when I volunteer at the garden.
I have helped plant fennel, beans, kale and salad;
build a dead wood fence for attracting pollinators;
and create a rooftop garden for the recycling shed.
All great fun, outdoors with nature, and getting involved with the local community.
Bon shares with me her story of how she came to be head gardener of such an incredible project, and describes how it changed her life.
Since she was a youngster she felt that the way we live is unnatural. Bon came out of school with few qualifications through 'fighting the system'. She worked in an office for a while and then began working in an elderly home, where she loved listening to people's stories, and hearing what they have been through in life.
England was driving Bon ''bonkers'' and she wanted to explore other places and see what was out there. She travelled to Greece, adored it, but she still felt unsettled in herself. Upon returning she went to live in Tottenham, London. Perhaps not the best choice as it was only a few years after the Broadwater Farm riots, which you can read about here. Bon lived in a squat for some time, where she could feel the struggle of the people around her. These were people without a place or purpose, many with drug addictions, again very disconnected from themselves and the natural world. Bon conceived her first child and moved to Worthing when her daughter was 8 months old. Later she spent a year in France and had her second daughter.
Before going to Greece Bon fell in love. She adored the man and considered it a perfect relationship. One day he disappeared and she didn't hear from him for 8 years. After she'd had her second daughter, he got in touch again and it turned out he'd been in prison for attempted armed robbery. He came out of prison a very different person, dramatically changed from a soft 17 year old to a violent, angry person. Bon decided to rekindle the love affair, and consequently endured a violent relationship.
Bon tells me that it was creativeness that got her out of it. She went to college and completed an access course in art and design, and later a degree in ceramics. She spent two years making ceramic eggs.
It was working with the earth and the sacred egg shape that sparked a massive healing process, and helped her reconnect with herself and the earth. Many people who go through violent relationships have their confidence battered, and Bon felt hers return through her art.
And then, she says ''I fell in love again, stupidly!'' Bon went to Yorkshire and had 2 more children, who kept her very busy. Then they moved back down to the West Country. Bon spent a year training to be a gardener, and then did an apprenticeship, working in people's private gardens. She says her real connection began when she started at the Red Brick Building Community Garden. Here she connected to people as well as the earth, whereas while gardening privately she felt disconnected from society.
Two and a half years ago Bon started working at the Community Garden. The structures were already there, but there were no groups or real 'community'. She started up the gardening club first, which happens on Wednesday mornings and is open to anyone. Sometimes a lot of people come, sometimes not. Spring tends to be a good time for volunteers, as people want to start planting and learn the basics of how to get a garden going. There is also the Orchard Vale club for adults with learning difficulties. Bon loves watching other peoples' interactions with them. As individuals these people are so in themselves, and are happy to get on and do anything. Bon says ''If I'm in a low mood, I come down here and they bring me up straight away.''
The 'Mind' group will begin in September every Friday afternoon. The idea of this group is gardening for mental well-being. Bon describes how people sometimes dip in and out of volunteering when they feel low, and how much it supports them to potter around and plant seeds. One lady had lost her mother, and a memorial bench was put up for her here. This lady felt the garden saved her life at times, as she could come here, be around people but not have to interact too much, be part of something, and watch something grow. It is a magical process to watch plants grow. Living with the seasons brings you back to yourself.
The space is fantastic for children to connect with this cycle within themselves, as Bon has discovered with the Home Education group. The children love watering and having water flights, picking flowers and making perfume, and making connection with earth and plants. This is a very free flow group, as they do one structured thing such as planting seeds, and the rest of the time they potter around doing what interests them. And the adults love it too, of course!
Bon says that is both the gardening and the people that make her feel more satisfied, connected, and happier. For much of her life Bon has been isolated: she brought up her children on her own and chose jobs where she could work solo. Being here has changed her in many ways. Being in the middle of two different neighbours: Zigzag on one side, full of Bohemian free spirits, and the Red Brick Building (photo above) on the other, more commercial but still creative, Bon feels its like a microcosm of the world.
The Community Garden also runs workshops. In the Pond Building course they learned how to create large and small ponds, about the ecosystem of ponds and how they feed wildlife. The Planting for Pollinators course covered the decline of honey bees and how support them; solitary bees, hover-flies and other pollinators; and how to create habitats for them. My own first session volunteering here was creating a deadwood fence (photos below) that encourages pollinators, birds, mice and other creatures. The Soil School gave information on how to look after soil and the microbes and animals within it.
The Community Garden is closely connected to the group Feed Avalon, and together they run a 2 week permaculture course at the 5 acre garden at Compton Dundon. The participants get a qualification at the end of it. They will also run a mushroom foraging course there in November, in the ancient woods that the gardens back on to.
Bon loves how these 3 aspects work together: the Community Garden, Feed Avalon, and Compton Dundon. She feels supported on so many levels and able to ask for things, which is something she has never had before. Bon feels that this supportive community spirit is a huge part of her recent growth.
The Avalon Wildflower Park across the road is all about creating habitat for pollinators, highlighting the lack of wildlife around to support bees. There is a plan to put a hive up there, with no frames as they won't be taking any honey. It will be an empty hollow in which the bees will make their own structure, like in a tree. The aim is to get back to basics, watch and observe the bees without interfering, but still be responsible for them and check for disease.
The food grown in the Community Garden gets picked and given to the people that work there. There is not enough space to grow food for supplying a business, although it may be possible with the mushroom farm that will be created soon. Bon likes the idea of getting mushrooms out into the public and informing about their health benefits.
She says she would love the council to give her 20 acres of land to create a growing school, where schools groups could come. She believes getting children interested in the natural cycles is an integral part of their personal growth.
Bon is excited in that she sees everything coming together this year, and increasingly she feels an 'interconnectedness' with everything. It's now more than a thought pattern, for her its that deep feeling of 'knowing' we are all one. It's within nature that you feel it on a physical level. Bon says she feels more on an even key with herself. Becoming vegan helped, as she feels a lightness that wasn't there before. And she feels mentally 'lighter' as well, having fewer negative thoughts.
She feels so privileged to work with so many wonderful people, and to see them get so much joy from flowers and nature. Getting to know everyone around has helped her to break down barriers on a personal level, opening up and allowing herself to be vulnerable.
She says ''I feel very blessed.''
We talk for a while about pain, victim-hood, trauma, and 'fighting the system' and how the only real way to make a difference is to work within yourself. When that peace becomes a natural feeling, others will pick up on it too, and in some small way it changes them.
Then Bon gives a fascinating insight: that in nature there is no pushing against anything.
''It just gets in there without you even knowing, and then its got you!''
We sit and watch the bees, birds and butterflies flitting around the sunflowers,
all of them completely in the moment: no worry, resistance, or pain whatsoever.
Get involved in up and coming events: www.feedavalon.org.uk/
Info about the gardening club: www.feedavalon.org.uk/projects/red-brick-building-community-garden/
'Like' the Red Brick Community Garden on Facebook HERE