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Friday 19 January 2018

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Rita lives in the same Victorian house on Chamber Street in Dublin where she was born. On Saturday, she wheeled her walker through the gates of the Weaver Allotments to talk to her new gardening neighbours.

It was the open day for the community garden where volunteers can come twice a week to plant, weed and harvest. On Saturday, visitors and regulars mucked in to get more than 50 plants, a mixture of flowers and food, bedded into the soil.

A group of boys came to help. They stayed for most of the afternoon, as thrilled as kids usually are to be getting their hands mucky and helping out. They left with cauliflower, spinach and swiss chard to bring to their nans for tea.

The Community Garden is a halfway house for someone who wants to grow things without taking on the commitment of an allotment. Twice a week, on Wednesday evenings and Sunday afternoons, people are invited to work in the garden. It's a small but growing number.

It's sociable and satisfying to find yourself digging next to someone who until a few hours earlier, was a stranger. The idea is to share the produce as well as the work. The Weaver Allotments community garden has yet to produce a bounty of food, but by next summer that should be well under way.

I talked to Donna Callan, chairwoman of the Santry Community Garden, a project that is a year into its ambitious plan. The four-and-a-half-acre walled garden is the original kitchen garden of Santry Demesne. They have around 150 volunteers who each pay €20 a year to be a member. "An awful lot of them are sleeping members," Donna explains. "But around 20 people come to garden at least once a week, and a further 10 to 15 people come once a month."

This summer they concentrated on the vegetable section and planted 120 heritage fruit trees with sponsorship from the international Trees for Cities project. Fingal County Council has supported them and now that the polytunnel is built and compost is up and running, they should be on their way to be self-sustaining.

Donna has been amazed at the sense of belonging that has grown up around the garden. "We've people who were farmers, an architect, all kinds of people have turned up. We'd love more experienced people because this is such a huge project."

And how do they divide up the spoils? "We pick whatever is in season and put it all out on a big table near where we sit for a cup of tea after gardening. People pick whatever they want. Nobody takes the p**s and brings a wheelbarrow. They all just bring a small shopping bag. If you garden twice a week you get to take home whatever produce you'd like twice a week."

She expects the numbers to dwindle in winter but gardens are forgiving of fair-weather support. There will be less weeding, watering and harvesting in winter and then in spring people will come back to it.

Santry Community Garden, which is in the heart of Santry village, is holding an open day on Sunday, August 28, between 2pm and 5pm. Visitors are encouraged to bring a picnic and a rug. See santrycommunitygarden.ie for more information.

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