Volunteering at the Skip Garden
“What is the purpose of slugs?”
The gardener looked up at my question, her bare hands half buried in the soil of a plant tub.
“I know that worms are our friends in the garden, but what about slugs? What do they do?”
Her eyebrows scrunched up for a moment.
“They must have a purpose,” she replied, “Else they wouldn’t be there. Everything has its place in the garden. I can’t think what that purpose is right now though… Let me Google it.”
With hands still covered in soil she took out her phone and started Googling the purpose of slugs. I continued digging, pushing aside the damp earth to make room for a camomile plant that had up until then been living in a small pot by itself. I was re-homing it among tomatoes, baby chard and cosmos in a new planter at the Kings Cross Skip Garden, a community project not far from where I live. It is hidden behind Granary Square, opposite the Kings Cross swimming pond, and is home to a café, a potting shed, greenhouses and a chicken coup.
“Ok, so I can’t find the answer right now,” the gardener said, putting the phone back into her pocket and going back to planting, “But we’ll ask the Head Gardener later. He’ll know.”
I pushed my hands deeper into the soil. When I arrived to start my evening volunteering in the garden I was offered gloves.
“But I prefer not to use them,” said Robyn the gardener, “They say that there is something in soil that is also in antidepressants. I’m not sure if I believe that, but it certainly feels like it.”
As I felt the damp grit underneath my nails and the cool body of a worm wriggle past my fingers into the soil I felt inclined to agree. Living in London it is very rare that I come in contact with mud – good old-fashioned mud like the kind I made pies out of as a child. The smell made me feel six years old again and I felt flushed with the same sense of joy.
I have no experience as a gardener. Luckily experience wasn’t required when I signed up to volunteer.
“Are you a gardener?” the Head Gardener asked me when I met him later that evening.
“No,” I replied, “I know nothing.”
“Good, we like people like you. You’ll believe anything we tell you.”
And he was right – I was a very eager learner. I learnt the importance of pushing plants into the soil and watering them to settle them into their new home. I discovered how to build a bug hotel for insects and creepy crawlies. And I learned how to gently coax the roots of plants before bedding them in a new pot. At the end of the evening I was muddy and proud.
I never found out the purpose of slugs though.
Find out more about the Skip Garden here: http://www.globalgeneration.org.uk/skip-garden-and-kitchen-1/