For more than 10 years, the residents of COPE Galway’s Bridge House have worked to transform its garden from wasteland into a lush, sustainable garden which produces an abundance of fruits, vegetables and flowers.
Bridge House, located just a stone’s throw from the city, provides transitional accommodation for six men who are moving on from emergency accommodation and are not ready to move immediately to independent living. As you approach Bridge House on a typical sunny and showery Galway day, you can’t help but stop and take in the stillness of the lily pads floating on the water as you cross the bridge. The working garden and polytunnel, interspersed with local flora and fauna, are nestled behind the house, and emit a unique aura of calm.
The garden has been developed by the men who are currently living at Bridge House, and by those who have passed through the service since 2011 when it resembled an untamed field. Today the garden boasts an impressive variety of fruit and vegetables, from broad beans, potatoes, lettuce and tomatoes, to strawberries, plums and grapes.
Ben Igoe, Housing Support Officer at Bridge House explains:
“When deciding on garden projects we go with what the clients want. So if we have clients that like chillies, then we will try growing some chillies.”
“We often try some fun projects as well, just to see if they will work – last year we grew gourds, which are similar to pumpkins but are actually fruits.
A couple of the guys have done gardening courses, and with this knowledge we are now doing a crop rotation. When the food is ready the guys can use it to prepare and share meals together or it is given to clients’ friends and family or used as part of cookery skills programmes.” The produce is also shared with COPE Galway’s community catering service.
The Bridge House garden is part of Let’s Get Galway Growing, a network of community based gardening projects, where interested clients have the opportunity to forge connections with others. Let’s Get Galway Growing meetings provide a forum to share tips, trade seeds, visit and volunteer with other gardens, meet people with similar interests and take part in practical training such as first aid certification courses. Let’s Get Galway Growing also provides funding to help to develop the gardens.
Bridge House residents are currently creating a sensory garden. Ben elaborates, “we are aiming at developing an interesting and welcoming space with herbs and scented flowers and with a seating area which provides a relaxing place to sit. It is really for some of the clients who are not involved in the planting but may be more interested in sitting down and simply enjoying the space. We are potentially looking at keeping chickens next – I think it would be a great addition to the garden because some of the guys who might not be so interested in working with the soil might be really interested in working with the hens. With all of these projects we are turning Bridge House into a right little homestead!”
While the garden continues to grow both literally and figuratively, it is the residents’ dedication and varying interests that remain at the heart of its sustainability and evolution.