Tucked behind a small, arched gateway in the alley between Church Road and Abbey Place, the Physic Garden is one of Faversham's real gems.
The Abbey Physic Community Garden, to use its full name, is a treasure the town is both proud of and lucky to have. And this month (June 2019) it celebrates its 25th anniversary with the opening of a new 'silver' garden, laid out with silver and jewel coloured plants.
With around 5,000 visitors a year, the garden provides support for people with physical and mental health issues, as well as being open to the public. The garden packs a lot into half an acre with a suite of distinct landscapes, each demonstrating sustainable gardening and providing spaces for people to sit and enjoy the natural surroundings.
But, even as it celebrates a quarter-century of healing and improving local lives, this much-loved Faversham institution faces a funding shortfall. Established as a charity in 2007, the garden is supported largely by grants. But with its biggest current grant coming to an end in September, the garden's income will soon be significantly reduced.
“We're reliant on fundraising, donations and sponsorship, but mainly grants,” says Sarah Harvey, APCG Chair of Trustees. “So we're always looking out for the next one. But they're few and far between and it’s getting more competitive now.”
It’s imaginative, unique, community initiatives like the Physic Garden that make Faversham so special. Recently featured on the BBC’s Gardeners World, the garden attracts interest and visitors from far and wide. In the Eye’s humble opinion, helping support it financially would be a more appropriate use of local taxpayers’ money than bankrolling costly vanity projects. But that’s another story...
The wider world is catching on to the therapeutic benefits of gardening on physical and mental health. But this is something that Faversham's Abbey Physic Garden has been demonstrating for 25 years.
“There's now more evidence than ever about the benefits that the Physic Garden offers and we are getting more referrals from people wanting to take part in our activities. We have GPs coming here during training, donating a bit of their time but also learning about what a social community project can achieve. They can refer their clients here which is great but unfortunately the money doesn't come with the clients.” says Sarah, a trustee for four years with a background that includes a doctorate in mental health policy and a love of gardening.
The Physic Garden story began when Chris Ives and Rory Thompson, volunteers with the National Schizophrenia Fellowship, took over a tangled mess of weeds in 1983, transforming the space into a safe, calm refuge focused on improving health and well-being.
The garden now has around 200 members and on a busy day, around 35 people will come in to meet old and new friends, enjoy some gardening, cooking or crafts and leave behind the stresses of the outside world for a few hours.
“Some are vulnerable, some just a bit lonely and wanting to connect with other people,” says Sarah. Tackling loneliness is a major focus for the charity. “Loneliness is something that we can all do something about in Faversham. We want to connect with other community groups in the town, using our combined skills and resources to give people the help they need.”
New ventures for the Physic Garden include beekeeping, a chicken coop and efforts to reduce the use of plastic, as featured recently on BBC's Gardeners' World.
Garden Manager Suzanne Campbell, says: “There are many more people who could benefit from the activities and the community support we offer at the garden, so we are extending opening hours and adding new activities such as the Men's Shed, Happiness Café, a singing group and pottery.”
“We're adding more and more stuff to it now,” agrees Sarah Harvey. “We've even got a French conversation class! The Happiness Café has been really good, Steve Bartholomew, the former chair, runs that. It's so lovely. People come and have a cup of coffee and focus on happy things and not negative thoughts. It's about getting people into a positive mindset.
If you would like to volunteer, become a member, or find out how to support Abbey Physic Community Garden, contact the team at:
Faversham Abbey Physic Garden
Tel: 01795 539915