From bare ground to a wildlife haven : Brackley Care Home's astonishing green transformation

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At the grand opening of Brackley Care Home three-and-a-half years ago VIP guests, including MP Andrea Leadsom, were suitably impressed by the sumptuous interior design and range of facilities that even included a cinema room, library and community café.

However, like all new buildings in a rapidly developing area of town, the garden initially looked bare. Far from daunting the home's customer relations manager Julie Wilson, she saw it as a blank canvas, an exciting project for staff, residents and the wider community to get involved in.

With the summer of 2024 now bursting into life she is immensely proud of the bright coloured flowers, luxuriant growth and vegetables that have transformed the garden in Wellington Road.

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Julie said: "Starting from scratch at the end of 2020, we are delighted with what we have achieved. So many people have played their part, including the children from the local schools who entered our competition to design an area of the garden for visiting families."

Richard with Paul our gardenerRichard with Paul our gardener
Richard with Paul our gardener

The work really started early in 2021 when they acquired raised garden trugs and raised beds to grow vegetables and fruit in as well as a green house.

"We are lucky enough to have Paul who looks after our grounds for us at least one day a week, and he brought with him many bags of organic compost which we used to fill the raised trugs and beds," said Julie. "We decided from the onset that our garden would be totally natural, free from pesticides as well as weed-killers.

"Because we are using raised trugs and beds we hae not had a problem with carrot fly for instance, becauses the flies can only fly to a height of around 50cm or 20inches. We always alternate rows of vegetables with chives, garlic or spring onoins as welll as the odd row of marigolds as these are known to deter the bugs and pests as they are not partial to the smell."

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This year they were growing radishes, chives, basil, tomato plants, lettuce, rocket, spring onions, spinach and carrots, to name but a few. "Over successive years, our chef has picked the vegetables to cook and serve for our residents' Sunday roast," she said.

Mayor of Brackley, Cllr Sue Sharps (2023 - 2024) with the winners of the Brackley Garden CompetitionMayor of Brackley, Cllr Sue Sharps (2023 - 2024) with the winners of the Brackley Garden Competition
Mayor of Brackley, Cllr Sue Sharps (2023 - 2024) with the winners of the Brackley Garden Competition

"In terms of growing flowers, with the aid of our greenhouse and our gardener Paul, we will be growing shrubs, annuals and bulbs for flowers that can be harvested for nearly 12 months of the year. These will be picked for the home as well as for the dining rooms tables. We waste nothing and it is not uncommon to see our plants surrounded by broken egg sheels which are an ideal supplement and feed for outdoor flowers, vegetables and fruit trees," she said.

Using the raised trugs and beds meant that all of the home's residents, whether standing or in a wheelchair, had access to gardening. "When the weather is fine, they love to give their help and input with advice, watering, harvesting of vegetables and picking of flowers," said Julie. "Our aim is to not only feed the stomach but to feed the eye as well and thus far we are having a lot of fun and success in doing so."

Julie said the absolute foundation of a successful garden started with having really good soil which resulted from really good compost.

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"We have a double compost heap which we started about 18 months ago and our wonderful kitchen staff place all vegetable peelings there, which we then turn into compost," she said.

Richard standing in front of the raised bedRichard standing in front of the raised bed
Richard standing in front of the raised bed

"Paul our gardener built us a sturdy wooden structure out of recycled pallets and positioned the compost heap far enough away from the building, so that there would not be any adverse aromas. It was also placed to get a reasonable amount of sunshine and sufficient water from natural rainfall. He put up a recycled bamboo screen to hide the compost heap."

The perfect compost bin required a mixture of both green and brown materials as this led to a quicker breakdown of vegetation which in turn produced nutrients like nitrogen and potassium.

"For our green material we use things like uncooked fruits and vegetable scraps from our kitchen, weeds, leaves, twigs and lawn cuttings as well as used tea bags and coffee grounds. For the brown material, we use egg shells, toilet roll cardboard inners, cardboard egg cartons, shredded paper and hay/straw," said Julie.

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The Brackley team has also focused on encouraging local wildlife as without birds, bees, hedgehogs, foxes, an on occasion a weasel, the garden would be overrun with greenfly, blackfly, slugs and snails, which in turn would harm our flowers and vegetable plants.

Julie said: "We have linked up with Brackley Hogwatch which is an amazing charity that monitors, protects and rehabilitates hedgehogs. We have been furhter educated and learnt so much more about these amazing little creatures which eat insects and are extremely important in maintaining the balance of the garden ecosystem. We were lucky enough to have a hedgehog house donated to us and we have placed that in a quiet sheltered spot in our garden."

Over the past couple of years they had been encouraging birds to visit the garden and take up residence in nesting boxes which were decorated by residents and placed in sheltered places.

Julie said: "This year we have been rewarded with our own brood of Blue Tits and a family of Robins are currently nesting whilst some Pied Wagtails have just fledged from their nest which they built on the ground, hidden in the foliage. Our residents also decorated bug boxes which have been placed along our fence and these will encourage ladybirds, solitary bees, solitary wasps, spiders and wood lice which perform the necessary task of breaking down leaf matter."

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