They like to put on a colourful display or two up in North Devon. Chrissy Harris finds out how the power of community planting is brightening up the region’s towns


Great British Life: Bideford's Little Green Town project has worked wonders. Photo: Lizz DobinsonBideford's Little Green Town project has worked wonders. Photo: Lizz Dobinson

Even something as mundane as parking the car is made more enjoyable with beetroot as a backdrop.

The first crop of young plants has just been planted out in a flower bed in Bideford’s Riverbank car park. They’ll join the sunflowers and wild strawberries in this little corner of bright edibles and floral plants, created and cared for by a team of community gardeners.

Little Green Town was set up four years ago as part of a drive to create more attractive, appealing and bio-diverse spaces for people to live, work and play in.

Since it started, the Friends of the Earth-supported project has seen teams of volunteers - many of whom are new to gardening -transform Bideford’s forgotten corners into bright, colourful havens.

‘It lifts the spirits, really,’ says Lizz Dobinson, who leads Little Green Town. She’s what’s known as a Postcode Gardener, funded by local people as part of a Friends of the Earth scheme to lead its budding 10xGreener project, which aims to transform towns and cities by helping people plant with nature and wildlife in mind.

‘Walking through any sort of neglected space brings the mood right down but you pop a few sunflowers or peas in there and it can really lift the mind,’ adds Lizz, who lives locally. ‘Bed by bed, we’ve taken on more and more patches of land. We’ve been working in areas that weren’t being used anymore just to jolly up these pockets that had been left behind.’

As well as making the town look great, the revitalised spaces serve as a community herb, fruit and vegetable larder.

People can pick and choose from a variety of homegrown produce, including courgettes, beetroot, strawberries, sweetcorn, sage and more.

‘What we are doing is very different from your traditional planting,’ says Lizz, keen to create biodiverse habitats as well as productive plots. ‘The areas look like community gardens. You might have your Swiss chard in there next to your peas, but it all works together.’

Many of the volunteers getting their hands dirty have limited gardening experience - but that doesn’t matter. They are dedicated to spreading a little green fingered joy across their home turf.

‘I’m the gardener so I can teach them all the things that they need to know,’ says Lizz, adding that schemes such as this are win, win. ‘The volunteers go home feeling good about their day. The people that live here can see that some love and care has gone into their town.’



Great British Life: The South Molton in Bloom volunteers with Sue Harrison (far right). Photo: South Molton in BloomThe South Molton in Bloom volunteers with Sue Harrison (far right). Photo: South Molton in Bloom

In South Molton, they’ve got community gardening off to a fine art.

In the space of just five months, the town went from overgrown and untidy to being the proud winners of the prestigious South West in Bloom Gold award. Floral fanfares don’t come much greater and ever since this victory, there has been a campaign of colour to keep South Molton looking fabulous.

Sue Harrison is the woman who first sowed the seed here, setting up South Molton in Bloom shortly after she moved to the area in 2021.

‘I was bored, it was Covid and I was stuck indoors because of all the restrictions,’ says Sue, who put out a query on Facebook to see if anyone was interested in joining her on a mission to improve the overall look of the town. ‘I immediately got some really fantastic volunteers on board – it was just amazing.’

The challenge was on to tackle the forgotten spaces in South Molton, some of which hadn’t been touched by strimmers or spades for the best part of two decades.

‘It was hard work,’ says Sue, a keen gardener. ‘Every single raised planter we went to in town was totally overgrown with weeds - you could barely see the planters. Everything that we tackled was horrendous!’

Undeterred, the team of volunteers ploughed on, backed by generous support and donations from local businesses who were keen to improve the urban landscape.

All the hard work was rewarded when South Molton scooped a gold award in the Royal Horticultural Society South West in Bloom competition in July 2021 - just five months after the town’s floral campaign had begun. Last year, South Molton won a second gold.

Since then, work has continued to maintain the flower beds and planters dotted throughout the town, including at the local community hospital, in the Mural Gardens, on street corners (look out for the ‘bulb lasagnes’ - layers and layers of colour in the town’s circular planters) and the memorial at the cemetery.

Up to 40 trees have also been planted near the town’s Gateway Path in honour of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee.

‘It looks amazing,’ says Sue, keen to rally more volunteers and support for such a worthwhile cause. ‘I just love it,’ she adds. ‘I just love seeing the town looking so bright and beautiful. The number of people that stop you and say: “You’re doing fantastic work”, or want to tell you how lovely everything looks. I get a real buzz from that.’

David Walker is managing director of local firm John Walker Insurance, which has sponsored one of the planters in the town centre. He says seeing South Molton bloom has been a pleasure to watch.

‘It’s been lovely to see the community spirit of the volunteers who go out in all weathers,’ says David, adding that his team regularly supplies the gardeners with coffee and tea if they’re working outside the offices. ‘The businesses here are grateful because it makes the town a much better experience for people to shop and do business in. It’s made a great difference.’



Great British Life: Barnstaple's wildflower spiral. Photo: Andy Robinson Barnstaple's wildflower spiral. Photo: Andy Robinson

Barnstaple is looking particularly well-loved and beautiful these days, thanks to its very proactive In Bloom team.

The community effort, involving several partnerships between the local authority, businesses and groups has helped to make Barnstaple a cleaner, greener place to live and visit. Projects have included creating a spectacular wildflower spiral in The Square, full of pollinator-friendly plants.

Volunteers have also been helping to tidy up and beautify the beds in the Strand, as well as improve the general appearance of the town's streets. There's even a 'Monday night hit squad', which carries out litter picking, weeding and even small painting jobs in the places in need of a bit of love and attention.

The town scooped a gold award in the last year's South West in Bloom awards and is surely on-track for another this year. Watch this pretty space...

More volunteers are always welcome to help the towns’ community garden teams.