Herbert Art Gallery’s new Community Garden bringing much needed greenery ‘concrete’ city centre

A community garden at Herbert Art Gallery & Museum has sprung into life thanks to a collaborative effort between CV Life staff and local community groups.

The garden, adjacent to the Jordan Well side of the building, has been a work in progress for around 12 months, with raised flower beds put in place earlier in the year.

Local group Coventry Urban Eden (CUE), whose aim is to ‘green up’ the city centre, planted a host of flowers and plants which have now emerged making the garden a colourful haven in an area of the city without much horticultural qualities.

The efforts have caught the attention of West Midlands-based gardening company Hozelock, who were so impressed they donated a number of different watering products to keep the plants and flowers nice and hydrated through the summer months.

Though the contents of the raised flower beds are sprinkled with life and colour, the facades are still wooden. This is set to change with some specially-made Coventry blue tiles created by local homeless charity Crisis.

The garden is a real community effort. As well as CUE and Crisis, the Herbert is also collaborating with Warwickshire Wildlife Trust and West Midlands Combined Authority, both of which have provided funding.

This vital financial injection has allowed partnerships to flourish, including with Foleshill Community Centre, Kairos, Grapevine, Coventry University and St Mary’s Guildhall to name just a few.

Discussing this, Lisa Ford, head of Learning and Engagement, said: “It’s been a rollercoaster. We’re not gardeners, our backgrounds are in art and history so we’re not experts. This means working with other organisations is so important.”

But Lisa admits there are other benefits to the garden being such a collaborative affair.

“We want to bring loads of community groups into this space and let them have ownership,” she explained. “We really want to make people feel like this is their place, a common ground where different people can connect together.

“You can really find peace in nature, taking a seat in the shade, watching bees going into flowers – it calms you down instantly.”

Discussing what sets the community garden aside, Lisa continued: “It’s special because it’s in an urban landscape – there are lots of concrete buildings, so having a little bit of greenery definitely helps create a sense of peace amongst the noise and the bustle.

“Here at the museum we are a place of sanctuary where people feel comfortable and relaxed, helping with mental health and wellbeing. We want people to feel happy coming to us and the garden can be a big part of that as it connects people with nature and gives another reason to engage –  when visiting a museum you see the outside first so this is a really nice way to welcome people.

“So we also want to see art in this space. We want to fill it with colour and spark creativity – it’s really a fantastic blank canvas to do that.

“It’s a grand scheme with grand ideas but we’re doing it with baby steps. We envisage a lot of creativity – planting and growing but also connecting to and cherishing the city’s heritage through the plants we grow.

“We’ll be planting heritage seeds, woad so dye can be extracted which links us to the Weavers Guild and St Marys – we really want to build that into our plans.

“But  there is the need of our communities as well – food poverty, cost of living, so we have ambitions to start growing food. We’re a bit are limited due to space, but what we do grow will be given back to communities.”

Community engagement coordinator Amanda Haran said: “Our community garden has been a real passion project of mine. Being able to collaborate with so many different groups has been fantastic.

“Seeing it bloom into life in recent weeks has been such a joy and I’m so happy to know that this garden will serve Coventry’s communities for years to come.

“I’m very grateful to Hozelock for their donation as it will help us grow and build on what we’ve already achieved. I’m also so grateful for the support of groups such as CUE and the many others who’ve helped make this a reality.”

Discussing CUE’s involvement in the garden, member Linda said: “Coventry is quite concrete, it hasn’t always been, I remember Broadgate being very green and the precinct being full of trees. But a lot of that is gone, and people are crying out for somewhere in the city centre to sit or have their lunch or meet mates.

“I think lockdown made people aware of the importance of greenspaces – they can have a huge benefit on mental health, it brings people together and that’s before you get to the environmental benefits.”

Pip, also a member of CUE, added: “We want to do anything that brings a bit more life and colour back into the city. We have a bit of greenery, but we need much, much more. Especially when the weather is warmer as it helps regulate the heat.”

Discussing the donation from Hozelock, Pip added: “Donations like this are essential because without water, this garden simply won’t exist, so these products make that easier and it also means anyone is able to do it.”

Charlie Allen, digital content lead for Hozelock, said: “These community projects are really important – gardening is obviously so beneficial for people’s health but it also creates a sense of community.

“Coventry is quite grey so places like this can brighten it up a bit. The garden looks great, some sunflowers growing and other bits, it’s looking really good. You can see the impact it will have on the community and people who don’t have these kinds of spaces at home.

“Helping projects like this will hopefully encourage people to get into gardening and learn new skills and meet new people.”