Green Stories from The MERL Garden: Summer

Discover what the MERL gardening volunteers and community groups have been working on this summer

In this latest update from the MERL garden team, Cathy Smith, our Garden Volunteer Coordinator, highlights some of the work that has been going on in the garden over the summer months. This is part of ‘Our Green Stories’, a Museums Partnership Reading campaign exploring environmental issues through collections at The MERL and Reading Museum. 

It has been a joy to see families having fun exploring the garden through trails and games as well as enjoying our special summer holiday events, and it is thanks to the work of our volunteers and community partners that our garden is such beautiful place to be for all our visitors.

Find out what they’ve been up to…

The logo for Our Green Stories.

Wednesday Weeders

The MERL’ s garden volunteers or “Wednesday Weeders” have been working as hard as ever managing the vegetable beds and the herbaceous areas in the garden. Additions of green manure and our home-made compost earlier in the year has meant that the soil is in good condition and volunteers, community group members and schools have harvested peas, lettuce, potatoes, cabbages and beetroot.

We are looking forward to crops of French and Runner beans, maincrop potatoes, kale and swede. Our plants look remarkably pest free so far….we do not use pesticides and ladybirds seem to be doing a great job on the aphids! Vine pruning is always a big job but tantalising bunches of grapes are being revealed in the process – we are just hoping for enough sun to ripen them. Our mulberry tree is always very abundant – mulberry jam is wonderful! If visiting, don’t forget to have a wander to the quieter areas of the garden, via the lovely herbaceous borders and explore plants traditionally used for health and healing.

A sign in the MERL garden describing the volunteers' sustainable gardening methods

Growing Communities

Ladies from Alana House have been growing edibles and ornamentals in their raised bed – the garlic is nearly ready for harvest and calendula and sunflowers have made bright and cheery cut flowers.

Reading Mencap’s Hear Our Voice group have planted a showcase Insect Friendly Garden, demonstrating take home techniques for supporting beneficial insects, so important in the pollination of our food crops and in maintaining healthy, balanced ecosystems in gardens. Here’s an example: to combat slug damage, the group planted a ring of “sacrificial” lettuces around their pea seedlings which the slugs and snails ate rather than enjoying our peas. There is plenty more information about designing an insect friendly garden on signs in the bed itself – come and see how its done!

A hand-written sign in the Insect Friendly Garden planted by the Hear our Voice Group

Cranbury College pupils nurtured a large plot this year, supporting their school topic “Plants and Minibeasts”. Lots of watering (of plants and themselves), soil exploration and tasting has gone on including comparing the taste of homegrown and shop bought strawberries. Sugar snap peas and potatoes were taken back to school along with bunches sweet peas for the classrooms.

The Cranbury College plot in the MERL garden

Reading Community Learning Centre students have focused on plants that could be grown in small spaces (including windowsills) and that could be used in meals at home…it’s amazing what a difference a few fresh herbs make. We are all excited about harvesting a very large radish called “Mooli” which should be ready in the autumn.

The Reading Community Learning Centre bed in the MERL garden

There is a wonderful display of colour in the new Dyers’ Bed – all the plants, including Safflower, Madder and Dyer’s Chamomile, were grown from seed and nurtured by our wonderful Ways into Work Intern, Daisy. They were then planted by Colour Visions – an art project working with Compass Recovery College – who will use the dye in their work.

Bright red flowers in the dyers' bed in the MERL garden

A little piece of The MERL

And finally, many of you are now a part of our growing communities as you bought lots of plants from the stall in the garden. We’d love to see how your MERL plants are getting on, so do let us know and look out for the next sale in the Autumn.

The summer plant sale in the MERL garden
Banner showing the icon for Sustainable Development Goal 15 Life on Land, the question 'What can we do?' and Museum Partnership Reading's Our Green Stories logo
A sign in the MERL garden - 'plant nectar rich flowers - see the RHS plants for pollinators list
Plant nectar rich flowers - see the RHS plants for pollinators list

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Discover what the MERL gardening volunteers and community groups have been working on in the MERL garden this summer

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