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Volunteer gardeners keep the Alameda in shape

Pics by Eyleen Gomez

Volunteer gardeners are changing the landscape of the Gibraltar’ Botanical Gardens, proving an invaluable asset to the team in the Alameda.

Mark Podesta is the supervisor of the gardens but he is also in charge of the volunteering group that meets every Thursday.

The group volunteers on Thursday morning from 9.30am to 12 noon.

“We have so many projects in the gardens that we are doing at the moment and we are transforming a lot of different areas so the garden staff are tied up with those new areas planting,” Mr Podesta said.

“And, the actual maintenance side of things we have big areas that are overgrown and we are short staffed so we have the volunteers who come and clean big areas.”

“We do weeding, pruning, things like that. Tidying up areas.”

“At the moment we have many projects on so we would be totally overwhelmed without the volunteers.”

“There help is much needed and they are very happy to do it because they get a lot out of it.”

There are about 16 volunteers from a wide group of ages and different backgrounds.

“It is nice because everybody gets something different out of it and even me. It is nice to see an end product,” he said.

“I will take them to an area like this where the public see and it is overgrown. It is nice to come here, weed it all and we can say we have done that. And, the public enjoy it too.”

Most of the volunteers will know already what is a weed or a plant but in certain areas they will ask Mr Podesta.

In the area they were clearing that day features aloes and euphorbias, a straightforward job for the team.

The group usually focus on areas the public see first for the maximum impact.

With having the volunteers there they can achieve more in under three hours what a gardener could do in a day, thereby freeing up the gardener to take care of the more complex side of maintaining a Botanical Garden.

“It’s also very social, we sit down and have a coffee. They sometimes meet up as well. We have a group chat on WhatsApp. So it is lovely we are a little volunteer family,” he said.

If it is raining the work is called off as it was during the first Covid lockdown.

All equipment that is needed is supplied by the gardens, Mr Podesta recommends volunteers wear clothes they don’t mind getting muddy.

Ann Balestrino has been volunteering for six years since she finished working full time.

“It was fortunately by word of mouth from my son in law that I heard about volunteering in the Alameda Gardens,” she said.

“So I thought I would come along and give it a go and really I have been doing this all the time. It has been very enjoyable.”

She added she enjoys the chance to work outdoors.

“Working outdoors but also what I enjoy so much is being with a group of people because it is lovely,” she said.

“We do chat about the garden but we chat about all sorts of things.”

“So it is about sharing and being in the outdoors.”

When the day is done and she steps back to see the work that has been achieved, and leaves feeling very satisfied.

Janet Turner has been volunteering for two weeks, as due to Covid she could no longer continue her other volunteer work.

“So this is my outlet,” Ms Turner said.

“I get a lot out of it because I am in the fresh air, I am with a group of people who have a common interest. It is a social aspect as well as the energy that you put into the gardens.”

She also is trying to encourage others to become volunteers not just in the Alameda Gardens but all around the Rock in a bid to beautify an area.

“I love walking up the Old Town and it would be so wonderful if we could get people to respect our heritage and contribute something to the heritage even if it is just to whitewash their walls.”

“Look at the beautiful job Estapona has done that was very delipidated and now it is a floral extravaganza. Why can’t we have this here?"

“And, it is good for the environment to have plants growing and it is very uplifting.”

She suggests a ‘Gibraltar in bloom’ contest where neighbours get together to change their streetscape or their estate.

“This is our environment, it is where we live. It is very small but we could beautify it very very quickly.”

Lynda Church joined the group last year in April and loves gardening, even as a child she would help her parents grow their vegetables.

“I have always gardened and if I see a weed in somebody’s garden I will pull it out and put it in the bin,” Ms Church said.

“I just can’t bare it. And, another thing that drives me mad is people who don’t take dead heads off roses because they won’t get another lot of flowers if they do not take dead heads off. This is the case for a lot of flowers, geraniums too.”

“I just love gardening and I love being outdoors and it is such a nice group of people here. None of us knew each other before and we just natter and chat and I find out so much about how Gibraltar runs.”

Kirsteen Crawford has been volunteering for over three years and joined the team to be around nature.

“I love it,” she said.

“I did have a garden when I lived in Scotland but here in Gibraltar I have a terrace with a few plants on there.”

“I do have a small garden in Spain and I do enjoy that but it is just mainly for weekends so I can’t do a lot there.”

“But also being here means I learn about the different plants and I really enjoy that. Mark is very good and is very knowledgeable on all the plants and sometimes if there is extra plants he lets me take it home and I plant it. They are growing, I have an orchid tree that is very small but it is growing. I have a Chinese windmill palm that one is growing well and also ferns and a clivia which is still very small and I am waiting for it to bloom.”

“I do enjoy experimenting with the different plants.”

“But, I also enjoy the company here as well because they are a really nice group and we are all very friendly and later we meet for coffee and have a chat.”

Xenia Duarte has been coming to the gardens for so long she can’t remember.

“I have always gardened and coming here has given me the opportunity to learn more,” Ms Duarte said.

“To tie in with the seasons and to tie in with what I do at home to what they do here, all the different timings.”

“Because it hard in Gibraltar because we have a lot of English literature in our gardening books and it is not like that here. There is different weather and climate. For example the books may say put your tomatoes in now but for us it is way too late.”

She has a roof terrace at home where she is growing plants.

“At the moment I am a doing a course with the Botanic Garden in Edinburgh,” she said.

“It’s a herbology course so as part of my assignment I have to put together a physic garden, medicinal herbs so I am working on that. I went for Mediterranean stuff because that seems exotic so I am doing calendula, chamomile, lavender, rosemary and thyme we have to grow six from seed and six from cuttings. I am always taking nettles from here, rescuing them and growing them in my garden for teas and that kind of thing.”

On her work as a volunteer she gets great satisfaction from coming in with the team, cleaning up the area and leaving it clear.

“Everyone doing their own bit, step by step but then when it all comes together it is rewarding,” she said.

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