The hatch­ing of a plot to make

The Daily Telegraph - Gardening - - Front Page -

Pris­ons are not what they were. Long gone is the Vic­to­rian style bang ‘em up cul­ture. Th­ese days the em­pha­sis is less on pun­ish­ment, more on re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion. Small won­der, then, that the prison gar­den has taken off.

Af­ter all, if ever there was an in­stru­ment of grace, it is gar­den­ing. It forces us to slow down, re­flect on the world and teaches pa­tience.

The gar­dens at Dart­moor prison are the ex­em­plar of a suc­cess­ful hor­ti­cul­tural re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion project. In 2006, prison of­fi­cer Ivan Judd had an idea to trans­form the dis­used ex­er­cise yards of the old pun­ish­ment unit into veg­etable gar­dens to be tended by in­mates in the re­set­tle­ment wing. Judd ap­proached Busi­ness in the Com­mu­nity, who put in him in touch with the Eden Project. Jane Knight, land­scape ar­chi­tect at Eden, was one of the first on board.

She re­calls an early visit to see the site. “The yards were com­pletely tar­ma­cked, grey, and sur­rounded by gran­ite. They were re­ally grim.” Knight set to work de­sign­ing ar­eas of plant­ing that would in­spire. Some of her de­signs proved to be more in­spi­ra­tional than oth­ers. Her lay­out for a multi-sea­son gar­den un­in­ten­tion­ally took on a risqué edge. “I re­mem­ber th­ese two cir­cu­lar ar­eas of lawn that ap­peared rather provoca­tive when looked down upon from the prison wing above,” she gig­gles. De­sign aside, plan­ning what plants would go where was pretty straight­for­ward; gov­erned by ar­eas of shade and shadow and cool and warm ar­eas within the walls.

More com­pli­cated were the prac­ti­cal as­pects of the project. “Get­ting things into pris­ons is not easy,” says Knight. At first progress was painfully slow. Tools needed to be ap­proved. Out­door clothes had to be or­dered.

Gravel, wood, soil and ma­te­ri­als had to be bar­rowed in through a small guarded gate at the end of the gar­dens. But, by 2007, a se­ries of raised beds had been built, tar­mac had been re­placed by gravel, and trel­lis had been fixed to the wall. Knight has noth­ing but praise for the team at Dart­moor. “One of the great things we found we called ‘buried trea­sure’. Nearly all of the guys in the re­set­tle­ment unit bought some kind of skill to the project. One of the in­mates had run a mar­ket gar­den so he had a lot of knowl­edge; there were lots of car­pen­try skills too. We’d sug­gest cold frames for the walls and be­fore you knew it they’d pro­duce the most beau­ti­ful cold frames. There was clearly so much pride in what they were do­ing. Hav­ing worked in other pris­ons since, I now re­alise that we were in­cred­i­bly lucky with our first ex­pe­ri­ence at Dart­moor. I’ve since found that you can’t im­pose th­ese things.”

Seven years on and the gar­dens are now an es­tab­lished part of the re­set­tle­ment unit. It is hard to imag­ine them in their for­mer guise as soli­tary pens for pun­ish­ing ex­er­cise. Now filled with flow­ers, colour and bird­song, the gar­dens are quick to en­chant, nes­tled in­side the prison’s huge bleak gran­ite walls. In one yard, neat rows of raised beds over­flow with salad leaves, cabbages, bras­si­cas, beetroot and broc­coli. In another, ev­er­green climbers and fruit trees spill from the walls and a wig­wam of canes draws the eye up­wards to barred prison win­dows.

Along­side is a heal­ing gar­den con­tain­ing a cherry tree, flow­er­ing shrubs, daylilies and dwarf conifers; at its cen­tre is a sunken pond sur­rounded by flag iris and cro­cos­mia. Wa­ter trick­les from its foun­tain and a black­bird takes flight from atop a pair of or­na­men­tal gar­den boots.

“An in­mate came up with the idea and de­sign for the pond,” says prison of­fi­cer John Northam. “But he left, and only half-fin­ished it, so another lad took over.” A pause. “It was work­ing well till yes­ter­day – when the pump broke.”

The turnover of gar­den­ers is high. Projects started by one will of­ten be com­pleted by another. Such is the na­ture of the re­set­tle­ment unit, where 45 in­mates stay for up two years, pre­par­ing to re­turn to so­ci­ety. While on the wing the pris­on­ers at­tend

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.