I’m surrounded by banana palms, an apple tree, pear tree, plums and fig trees with fresh spinach and chard brushing my ankles. Am I in the garden of Eden? Or maybe even the Caribbean? No, it’s the Acorn Café car park where I’m chatting with gardener Steve Ball.
Steve came to Jersey over 25 years ago as part of his traveling and started out doing seasonal farmwork, but his nomadic life ended here when he met Gillian, now his wife. When I ask Steve if he’s happy to be living in Jersey, he says, “I live and breathe the sea.” I’ll take that as a yes.
We walk around Acorn Enterprises where Steve works full time as a training and development coordinator and uses the therapeutic aspect of horticultural work to create a stimulating environment for his clients. “I started out wanting to be a teacher,” he says, then got his BA in social sciences, all the while doing a bit of gardening for his family and friends. When the position for Jersey Employment Trust at Acorn came up, it combined many of his passions and training.
The outbuildings, raised beds, garden walls, drainage, fences and scarecrows are all composed of recycled and donated materials, and most are made by clients with disabilities or long-term health conditions. One greenhouse is made from plastic bottles. A pallet-board storage shed has a functional window constructed from CD cases. We stroll up a wheelchair-friendly path to the allotment above the outbuildings where clients are taught to grow onions, potatoes, kale, beetroot, spinach, chives, artichokes, raspberries, white current, blackcurrant, rhubarb, sorrel and a variety of lettuces in ground-level gardens and raised beds. Many clients take home what they’ve grown, and the rest of the produce is placed in Acorn’s honesty box. “It’s a learning environment but also a place to benefit nature and benefit everyone’s wellbeing,” Steve says.
Steve hopes to demonstrate the therapeutic aspects of gardening to adult students across the road from Acorn at the Philip Mourant Centre where he will be teaching Introduction to Gardening on Wednesday evenings from May to July as part of Adult & Community Education for Highlands College. He wants to pass on his lifelong knowledge of gardening while emphasising that the process benefits nature and benefits each individual wannabe gardener.
The course will combine classroom theory and practical lessons and incorporate aspects of plant identification, propagation, garden design, soil management and the basic elements of planting—maintenance, beds, borders, wedding, pruning, etc.
For more information on Steve’s gardening course, visit HighlandsACE.com.