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Kill or cure? Plants as medicine at In Service Training day and social

Kill or cure? Plants as medicine at In Service Training day and social

Plants evolved to avoid being eaten – so most of them are poisonous – but that hasn’t stopped us making good use of their toxicity to create useful medicines.

North London Master Gardeners were fascinated to hear the history of plant-based medicine at their winter In-Service training day on Friday (December 11th). We were joined by colleagues from Garden Organic, and guests from TCV, conservation volunteers, for the day.



Our venue was Camley Street Natural Park, a wildlife oasis tucked away on the bank of Regent’s Canal in King’s Cross. The two-acre site, cared for by London Wildlife Trust, is a green lung in the centre of this huge construction site.

Listening to the lecture

Our trainer/speaker for the morning, Dr Henry Oakeley FRCP, has been Garden Fellow at the Medicinal Garden of the Royal College of Physicians, London since 2005 and for many years was a member of the Advisory Committee of the Chelsea Physic Garden.

Starting with the origin of plant based medicine, doctrine of signatures and the doctrine of the humours, we learned about drugs derived from  foxgloves, poppies and wormwood among others.

After a break we launched into modern medicines from plants, learning about the discoveries which allow us to have the range of effective drugs we have today; morphine for pain relief, chemotherapy and anaesthetics.

Learning about the digester

We followed our fascinating talk with a delicious lunch of vegetarian curries from the Wildwood Cafe, cooked using biogas from the on-site biodigester is used to cook food. Food waste from the cafe is then fed back to the digester along with locally collected canteen and office waste to produce…more cooking gas and fertiliser! Food waste is also collected from local cafes and restraurants and transported to the digester using a zero-carbon cargo bike.

Everyone appreciated their “green” lunch before we braved the drizzle for a guided walk around Camley Street Natural Park, including a look at the amazing digester.

Tour of the park

Fruit trees growing on a barge

In the afternoon Master Gardeners enjoyed a social hub get-toether, swapping experiences while making orange and clove pomanders to take home.


Feedback from the session

  • An outstanding speaker – and the afternoon session was wonderful, practical and theraputic.
  • A really good, informative day.
  • Fabulous! The courses are always good quality and link me into other people and resources.

Master Gardeners help people learn to grow food in Camden and Islington. They are volunteers, trained and supported by Garden Organic and work with people who would benefit from food growing, eg the socially isolated, users of mental health services, people living with a long-term physical disability and others. If you have a minimum of two years of food growing experience and a desire to share your knowledge, contact Liza to find out about becoming a Master Gardener.


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Free wildflower kits!

Free wildflower kits!

Master Gardeners enthusiastically took part in Kew’s Grow Wild programme last year, transforming spaces into colourful, bee-friendly wildflower havens. The good news is that you can take part again this year.

Kew has thousands of free seed kits to share. Last year, 56 volunteers received enough kits to share with nearly 2,000 people, let’s see if we can beat that and help create over one million square metres of wild flowers in spring 2016.

Get your free kits here: Order before midnight on 14 February 2016.

There’s also funding available from Kew. Up to £4,000! Master Gardeners are welcome to apply by 1 December 2015:

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Master Gardeners nail upcycling at In-Service Training workshop

Master Gardeners nail upcycling at In-Service Training workshop

What can you make out of scrap wood, abandoned pallets and disposable brewery kegs? Amazing things, as North London Master Gardeners found out at their latest In-Service Training Day on Saturday.

Our workshop leaders were Small World Urbanism, a collective whose vision is “to see a world where the streets are green and abundant with food, where people can gather and play, learn new skills and work with their hands. To re-use waste materials and find local solutions with local people that are practical and help implement them.”

They brought pallets, timber offcuts and power tools and saws for the Master Gardeners to learn the art of “upcycling” – or creating new and useful objects out of abandoned or unwanted items.

Many of the Master Gardeners volunteer in settings where there are no beds or planters for new food growers to use, so learning to create raised beds and boxes out of junk is a low-cost solution.

We were fortunate to have the inspirational surroundings of the Skip Garden at King’s Cross as our venue for the workshop.

The volunteers split into small groups to design their objects, each under the guidance of one of Small World Urbanism’s four trainers. After a health and safety briefing we were outside and ready to bring our designs to life.

Although the day started chilly and grey, Master Gardeners soon warmed up, learning the right way to break up a pallet and remove old metal strips from scaffolding boards. A little scavenge (with permission!) around the Skip Garden itself yielded some useful pieces of timber which were incorporated into the designs.

Pallets were fashioned into a chair, with added areas for planting, a wall planter, ladder, seats, a big raised bed and more. Not one finger was hammered and not one splinter suffered!

Volunteers worked together to improve designs, get round construction issues and hold planks of wood steady while they were being sawn.

Lunch was hugely welcome after such a physically busy morning, and the Skip Garden cafe did us proud with warm goats’ cheese quiche and wonderful salads of carrots, peanut and raisins and fennel and quinoa.

Feeling revitalised the Master Gardeners returned to their screwdrivers and saws and by early afternoon the broken pallets had been transformed into home-made seats, tables and planters.

For some volunteers it was the first time they had used power tools to create wooden structures and most found they were more confident at the end of the session.

“Exceptional day. This vastly exceeded my expectations. So very useful and inspiring.”

“I’ve learned to give it a try, don’t be afraid of power tools. Materials are everywhere”

“With a little imagination you can make useful objects from waste materials”

“It’s the best Master Gardener workshop I’ve ever done!”

“Very good idea for course!Keep looking for upcycling materials and use good tools.”

“Excellent. I can do it! And I am getting a jigsaw!

“The course was more than I expected. I feel more confident with tools.”

“Excellent – everything can have a use!”

“Very fun – great people – nothing need go to waste.

“I expected it to be enjoyable but it exceeded my expectations. I love upcycling wooden pallets!

Learn more about Small World Urbanism here

Master Gardeners are food-growing mentors, trained and supported by Garden Organic. Would you like to volunteer for this lively and rewarding role? Contact Liza

Read about other in-service training days here

5/9/2015 Upcycling Workshop In Service

5/9/2015 Upcycling Workshop In Service

5/9/2015 Upcycling Workshop In Service

Comfrey juice collector!

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Friday August 7th – Master Gardener social meet-up

Come and catch up with your fellow Master Gardeners! We’ll be at King Henry’s Walk Garden on Friday August 7th for our lastest social meet-up.

Look round the lovely garden, have a chat and hear what other volunteers are up to.

Bring any left-over plants, preserves or pickles or any seeds to swap – especially for late summer sowing.

We’ll be coming into glut season soon, so if anyone has a good recipe for courgettes or runner beans bring it along.

There will be drinks and light refreshments.

Once again some of the project partners on the Growing for Health Programme will be joining us. It’s a good opportunity to find out what goes on in some of the community gardens.

Time: 5.30–7.30pm drop in whenever you like

What to bring: A drink or light refreshment contribution

Directions: The garden is off King Henry’s Walk in Islington, London N1. Take the turning on the left of the adventure playground, and follow the pavement to the metal gate right at the end. Go through that gate into the garden. Click HERE for detailed directions.

Look forward to seeing you there.

This event is only open to Master Gardeners and Growing for Health project partners

PLEASE RSVP to to reserve you place.

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Summer Planting and Strawberries for final session on Clyde Road

Summer Planting and Strawberries for final session on Clyde Road

The morning grey skies cleared just in time for us to get everything ready for the main growing season. Before the session officially started, Ciaran and Charles were already setting up with an array of lush plants ready to go in the two communal beds.

We tidied up the bed on Fairweather Close, and got it ready for the summer plants. Denis and his brother were also on hand to help out on the bed, and draw some pictures to decorate the potting shed.

First went in a bean wigwag to support the runner beans, which had been growing in the potting shed for a while now. They’d started climbing onto each other, so we had a bit of fun gently separating them. Lots of nasturtiums went in around the base as a companion plant to deter the aphids from the runner beans.

Six cherry tomato cordons were planted in deeply with some pot marigolds dividing them. These need training up canes so they thrive and are easier to harvest. A courgette plant went in after digging in some extra compost, as they are very hungry, but productive plants. Some bok choy seedlings also went in.

A few of the strawberry plants had started to produce fruit, so we mulched the ground around them to stop the fruit rotting and prevent weeds taking over.

Over on Elizabeth Cylde Close, Phil and Charles planted in a range of brassica plants – kales, calabrese, and some French runner beans and bush tomatoes.

It was great that Robert could also join us and we caught up with Kim and Litfiye!

This session was Garden Organic’s last on Clyde Road. The residents will continue to volunteer their time, support, and skills to keep the project growing. The residents will be holding weekly Saturday sessions this summer. Happy gardening!

“I wanted to say a really big thank you to an especially dedicated resident Ciaran and to Master Gardener Phil Guest who has been invaluable in his ongoing support for the project,”          Bex

Grow Clyde Road was a partnership between Garden Organic and The Peabody Housing Trust to launch a grower’s group among residents of the Clyde Road Estate in Tottenham, North London, made up of 122 properties.

The project consisted of a series of regular drop in sessions throughout the growing season covering a variety of growing topics like seed sowing, composting, container growing and exotic crops. The meet ups were led by sessional worker Bex Clarke with support from Phil Guest. Phil is a Garden Organic Master Gardener, one of a network of volunteers who will have years of food growing expertise to share. Residents also had the opportunity to share their food growing knowledge and enthusiasm with their neighbours.

The Estate is made up of a rich and diverse mix of residents from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds and the growers group was intended to be a way to bring the different communities together in a fun and interactive way through a shared passion for gardening.

 Read all the Clyde Road weekly blogs here































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Meet the new Master Gardeners

Meet the new Master Gardeners

A very warm welcome to North London’s new Master Gardeners, who completed their induction training at the weekend (16/17th May) and are now fully-fledged food-growing mentors.

The 21 keen volunteers are ready to start helping people in the boroughs of Camden and Islington grow their own food to benefit health, happiness and wellbeing.

Over two intensive days they learned about the volunteer role they will carry out for the next 12 months, the groups they will be helping, and had a thorough grounding in organic growing techniques.

The glorious, sunny weather meant lots of learning took place outside, in the lovely surroundings of the Islington Ecology Centre in Gillespie Road.


Garden Organic has been commissioned by Islington & Camden Public Health to deliver the Growing for Health project until 2016. Master Gardener volunteers will be helping residents in Islington and Camden learn to grow their own and by doing so become more active and connected to their community.  The target beneficiaries are users of mental health services, the socially isolated and individuals living with long term physical ill-health.

The new volunteers took part in hands-on sessions led by Garden Organic’s Anton Rosenfeld to enhance their knowledge of organic growing practices. There was a lot of debate and a lot  of laughs as they learned about what is acceptable in the organic garden.

On Sunday morning, Amarinder Vadera from Mind led a thought-provoking workshop on mental health and safeguarding vulnerable adults.

In the afternoon,  Master Gardeners Helene and Alison talked about the wonderful work they do with the residents of two hostels. Helene revealed ways of encouraging new growers through the colder months and Alison explained how she is transforming a tiny cafe space into a vibrant growing area for clients.

Green Co-ordinator Jess from SHP, one of our partners, talked about the different volunteering opportunities for Master Gardeners with SHP, which looks after homeless and vulnerable people in London. The new Master Gardeners can support individuals in their neighbourhoods, or choose to get involved in growing projects run by our partners, including Freightliners City Farm, St Lukes Trust, Global Generation, Urban Growth, SHP and others.

Amazing lunches were provided by Ximena from Hackney Growers’ Kitchen. Sorrel pesto, falafel, and delicious salads were much enjoyed by all. Huge thanks for your hard work, Ximena!












Thanks to Islington Ecology Centre for hosting the training weekend, to Helene and Alison and especially to Anton for horticultural know-how.

Comments from the new Master Gardeners

‘Thanks again to you and Anton and everyone else who made it such a fun and fulfilling weekend’

‘The training was amazing!’

‘Thanks for the weekend, it was well organised and informative.’
‘Amazing, inspirational; Delicious; Fantastic.’

‘Far better than I could have imagined.’

‘Very good support, I think it will be a great opportunity and experience.’

‘Exceeds my expectations and seems very well organised and resourced.

‘It was a really fun weekend – I loved having the outside activities on Saturday – Anton is a great speaker

‘The new Master Gardeners have started adding their profiles to the website. If you are looking for support growing your own food, Click here for the interactive map, Find your Local Master Gardeners.



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Countdown to Induction Training for new Master Gardeners

Countdown to Induction Training for new Master Gardeners

North London’s new group of keen Master Gardeners will be completing their induction course next month in the inspiring setting of Islington Ecology Centre.

The weekend of May 16th and 17th will see the latest volunteers getting the lowdown on organic growing and learning how to inspire their communities to start growing their own food. They’ll also be getting to know each other, and starting to build a supportive network.

The weekend will see presentations from some of our current Master Gardeners who will talk about the amazing work they have been doing over the last year. The volunteers have been helping residents in Islington and Camden learn to grow their own and by doing so become more active and connected to their community.  Beneficiaries have been predominantly  users of mental health services, socially isolated and individuals with long term physical health issues.

The new volunteers have been identified and recruited over weeks of outreach in the two boroughs. They are all enthusiastic and experienced gardeners and great ambassador for the benefits of growing and eating your own food.

After their induction weekend, our new volunteers will leave with an action plan and and personal resource pack including polo-shirt, manual and organic growing encyclopaedia, and full support from Garden Organic and coordinator Liza Scholefield. They will  take up placements with community food growing project in either Camden or Islington.

Master Gardeners will be out and about at events across Camden and Islington, so look out for the stall and come and say hello.

Ongoing training will take place over the coming year as well as social get togethers to build a vibrant network of volunteers providing peer to peer advice and support

Background: The Growing for Health project is a partnership with Camden & Islington Public Health, with the aim to support vulnerable adults in becoming healthier and happier citizens.  Partners include: Freightliners City Farm, St Lukes Trust, Global Generation and Urban Growth and others.

Setting out a stall workshop

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Garden Organic’s Master Gardener Programme wins national award

Garden Organic’s Master Gardener Programme wins national award

Garden Organic’s Master Gardener Programme is celebrating success after scooping the prestigious national ‘Education and Learning’ award, at the Local Food Awards.

Competing against education and learning projects from across England, Garden Organic impressed the independent Local Food Panel with their model for cascading growing knowledge, backed by a central resource – in the form of an online network. They received their top prize at the awards ceremony at The Lowry in Manchester.

Philip Turvil, Master Gardener Programme Manager, said:

“We are delighted that Garden Organic’s Master Gardener Programme has won such a prestigious award to celebrate the achievements of our volunteers and our team’s approach to finding and supporting such enthusiastic growing mentors.

“The Master Gardener Programme delivers wide-reaching benefits that go beyond just growing food. It’s also about a healthy lifestyle, community and improving the environment.

“We don’t want to just train Master Gardener volunteers the best way of growing a lettuce for lunch. We want to show them how to pass this information on to others in the community, to share their passion and experience so that everyone is learning from each other and feeling the benefits. It’s fantastic that this award recognises all the work that goes into achieving this. Thank you to each Master Gardener, our local partners, and Local Food.”

Mark Wheddon, Local Food Programme Manager, said:

“The Local Food Awards are a unique opportunity to celebrate and reward the dedicated people who are delivering some of the excellent projects we have funded. All of our projects deserve recognition for the work they do, but we are delighted for Garden Organic on their success at the Awards.

“Their inspirational work to create a team of mentors who share knowledge across the board with support from an online network, saw them edge ahead of their competitors.”

Find out more

Master Gardeners Rodney and Sue with the award!

About the awards

The Local Food Awards are an opportunity to recognise, reward and celebrate some of the hundreds of outstanding community projects that Local Food has funded since the programme opened in 2008.

All 500 Local Food projects were invited to enter the Awards in four categories – Small Grants, Community Food Growing, Education and Learning, and Enterprise. Shortlisted projects were put before an external panel in September, and the winners in each category were unveiled today during the Local Food Celebratory Event at The Lowry in Manchester.

About the Master Gardener Programme

Since 2009, the Master Gardener Programme has received funding from Local Food to develop a practical model for a volunteer support network to encourage and mentor people and communities to grow fruit and vegetables in their gardens and on local communal land.

This has involved the recruitment of a co-ordination team based in Warwickshire, London and Norfolk, who have trained and supported 475 Master Gardeners who have given 18,500 hours to promote home food production. The volunteers have impacted on the lives of 4,300 people in mentored ‘households’ and another 52,000 people through workshops and other support for local groups.

Today, thousands more people are benefiting from growing food with Master Gardeners thanks to commissions to start networks in new areas

Get in touch

Master Gardeners celebrating with the Award

Local Food Certificate and Trophy


L to R: Graham Smith presents the Award to Garden Organic’s Philip Turvil & Kate Newman

150 people from Local Food projects gathered at the Lowry, Manchester

Who’s who?

  • Garden Organic ( is the UK’s leading organic growing charity dedicated to promoting organic gardening in homes, communities and schools. Using innovation and inspiration, the charity aims to get more people growing in the most sustainable way. Garden Organic delivers through renowned projects such as the Food for Life Partnership, the Master Composter and Master Gardener schemes, and the work of The Heritage Seed Library.
  • Volunteer Master Gardeners benefit communities with food growing advice. The enthusiastic mentors are fully trained and supported by Garden Organic. People taking part in the programme show significant health, social and environment benefits after 12 months involvement and continued positive lifestyle change after 36 months involvement.
    The innovative Master Gardener Programme began in 2010 with funding from the Big Lottery Fund’s Local Food Scheme and Sheepdrove Trust, together with local government in city and rural populations. There are now mentor networks in Warwickshire, Coventry, North London, South London, Norfolk, Medway, Lincolnshire and Somerset. Garden Organic aims to develop and sustain these programme areas more nationally to follow the success of Garden Organic’s Master Composter network.
  • Local Food ( is a £59.8 million programme that distributes money from the Big Lottery Fund (BIG) to a variety of food-related projects to help make locally grown food accessible and affordable to communities. It was developed by a consortium of 17 national environmental organisations, and is managed by the Royal Society of Wildlife Trusts (RSWT).
    RSWT is a registered charity incorporated by Royal charter to promote conservation and manage environmental programmes throughout the UK. It has established management systems for holding and distributing funds totalling more than £20 million a year.
    The Big Lottery Fund
    ( is the largest distributor of National Lottery good cause funding. It is committed to bringing real improvements to communities and the lives of people most in need, awarding over £4.4 billion to health, education, environment and charitable causes across the UK since 2004.

Read more Master Gardener news or get involved

More from Garden Organic


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New project to get all schools in London growing!

New project to get all schools in London growing!

All schools in London are invited to get involved in a fantastic new project to support every London school to use food growing to boost learning; encourage healthy and sustainable choices; and connect communities.

This project, led by Garden Organic and supported by the Big Lottery Fund and the Mayor of London, brings together organisations from across the private, public and voluntary sector to build on the great work being done by schools already growing food and to kick start food growing in those not yet involved.

The project partners will be working with new and experienced food growing schools, providing resources and advice; developing skills and expertise; and connecting schools with community volunteers and businesses.

They are asking all London schools to complete a short survey to find out if and how food growing is currently used, and what support would be most useful. There is a chance to win £200 of gardening equipment for your school and a meal for two worth £50, and the first 200 schools to respond will receive 100 Morrisons Let’s Grow vouchers.

Whether your school is growing food or not, your response is very important, and the project partners would be very grateful if you could spare 5-10 minutes to complete the survey, at:

To get involved or find out more about the project please go to

Read a Story about a master gardener supporting a school

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Garden Organic’s National Volunteer Masters come together to celebrate growing people and plants

Garden Organic’s National Volunteer Masters come together to celebrate growing people and plants

Garden Organic has hosted its National Volunteer Masters Conference 2013 bringing together composting and growing mentors from across the UK to celebrate their achievements.

More than 215 Master Gardeners, Master Composters, Local Food Project Co-ordinators, Seed Stewards and other likeminded volunteers attended Garden Organic’s Ryton Gardens site on September 28 for a day of activities to celebrate the work and achievements of the Masters Volunteers network.

A series of themed workshops took place across the day with subject areas including community composting, wildlife gardening, soil science and fruit growing advice.

Roger Key, Garden Organic’s Chair of Trustees, said

“For over a decade, Garden Organic has trained and supported volunteer mentors. This dedicated network of volunteers benefit communities across the country.

“The conference is a celebration of their achievement and an opportunity for us to acknowledge the dedication, inspiration and enthusiasm of the volunteers in delivering growing and composting activities into their communities and networks.”

Guest speaker Professor Chris Baines, a Garden Organic Ambassador and campaigner for urban nature conservation, provided an inspirational speech on the nature of the future highlighting the actions required now to protect our natural environment.

The National Volunteer Masters Awards Ceremony saw individual and group achievements across the Masters Volunteer Network recognised and rewarded within four key categories – Achievement Award, Master Award, Innovation and Social Media Award and Group Achievement Award. Read about the our 2013 award winners here.

Feedback from conference delegates

  • “Really well organised, brilliant venue, staff were so, so lovely”
  • “A very inspiring day! Shame it went so fast! See you next year.”
  • “Really enjoyed it, meeting people, speakers, groups and Ryton is lovely.”
  • “Wonderful presentation from Chris Baines.”
  • “Quite intense – lots of information crammed in (but good)”
  • “I genuinely didn’t realise there were so many ‘Master Composter’ or similar projects around the country so it was really helpful to see the bigger picture.”

Wonderful group of lively volunteers gather at Ryton Gardens.

Inside the group photo!

Early morning calm before 215 guests!

Garden Organic’s head of programmes, Margi Lennartsson addresses the audience

Garden Organic’s chair of trustees, Roger Key thanks the volunteers

Garden Organic’s new chief executive, James Cambell meets volunteers over tea and cake

Organic gardening expert, Pauline Pears leads a training session with volunteers

Coffee cups become plant pots

Masters with hens…

Workshop led by Ryton head gardener, Andi

Cutting the official conference cake…!

Group photos

New ‘Hens@Home’ mentors trained by Garden Organic at the National Volunteers Masters Conference 2013

Volunteers and co-ordinators involved with Garden Organic’s Sowing New Seeds project in growing spaces around England

Co-ordinators from Local Food projects gathered for a special workshop with Master Gardener Programme manager Philip Turvil (far left) as part of a Shared Learning Exchange visit. Co-ordinators were joined by lots of their volunteers


Volunteer Master Gardeners offer food growing advice to local people and communities. The volunteers are fully trained and supported by Garden Organic, the UK’s leading organic growing charity.

This programme is funded by the Big Lottery Fund’s Local Food scheme, Public Health, Local Authorites and commercial firms in eight areas, Warwickshire, North London, South London, Norfolk, Medway, Lincolnshire, Somerset and HMP Rye Hill. For more information visit the Master Gardener website at

The Master Composter Programme is an initiative where Garden Organic work with community volunteers to promote and support home composting. Volunteers undertake a training programme in composting and issues surrounding organic waste management.

They then carry out activities in their local community to raise awareness and participation in home composting. The programme is carried out in collaboration with local authorities and WRAP (Waste and Resources Action Programme). For further information about the programme go to

Read more news from the Master Gardener Programme

Read more news from Garden Organic

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