The group tackles the overgrown garden in Kells.

Kells group’s bid to restore garden to productive glory

The Kells Community Growers Group has been chosen as the Meath participant in the Get Involved 2015 competition. A major renaissance is underway at the substantial walled gardens at Headfort House in Kells thanks to this enterprising group of volunteers, The aim of the group is to restore the garden to its former productive glory, repair and use the greenhouses on the site and to create a growers’ co-operative in Kells, helping to create employment in the area. An official opening of the project took place in June by Junior Minister Damien English, along with Cllr Sarah Reilly. Early in the last century, Headfort House was supplied with its fresh fruit and vegetables from the substantial walled gardens in the grounds. Over the last several decades, however, the walled garden had become a tangle of overgrown weeds, brambles and grass and the once fertile greenhouses were lying empty and forlorn. Now, thanks to The Kells Community Growers’ Group, the garden is beginning to take shape, although there remains enormous work ahead as it was very neglected and overgrown before work started. One of the people behind the project is Lill Coyne, who got together with a group of volunteers about two-and-a half years ago and, with the help of Angela Murphy at the Kells People’s resource Centre, started looking at various sites around Kells on which to set up a community garden. They approached the Headfort Trust about the use of the walled garden at Headfort House and reached an agreement for the use of the garden by licence. With the help of a grant of €5,000 from the Community Foundation Ireland and other private funding, the enthusiastic volunteers moved into the garden in December 2013. Chairperson Patricia McAlernon explains that, as well as growing their own fruit, vegetables and even flowers, they are also prepared to look at other activities, including animal husbandry and may introduce hens and pigs to help turn over the soil.

Leading the Headfort operation (from left) are: Rod Synes, supervisor; Patricia McElernon, chairperson of Kells Community Growers; Lil Coyne, vice-chair; Philip Moran, Meath Partnership, and Dermot Dix, headmaster of Headfort School.
Leading the Headfort operation (from left) are: Rod Synes, supervisor;
Patricia McElernon, chairperson of Kells Community Growers; Lil Coyne,
vice-chair; Philip Moran, Meath Partnership, and Dermot Dix, headmaster
of Headfort School.

This year, they have applied for Grow It Yourself (GIY) funding and they also plan to apply for EU funding from Leader. As the extensive work continues, the group hopes the Headfort Trust will avail of funding to help with restoration of the four greenhouses. Patricia explains that they plan to sell their produce on Fridays and Saturdays at a market in Kells and to supply hotels, restaurants and private households. “We are a community group and we plan to set up a co-operative to sell our produce and eventually create employment,” she says. Over the longer term, they even envisage renting farmland in the area. Lill is the project facilitator and horticultural expert behind the project. She believes the community growers’ group will provide jobs to people who would enjoy working in the sector. The work they have already begun is aimed at increasing biodiversity in the garden and already they are growing vegetables, fruits and salads, as well as flowers which attract bees and butterflies, and birds who keep away pests.

Scott Smith, James McCormack and Paul Dennis working on the garden project earlier this year.
Scott Smith, James McCormack and Paul Dennis working on the garden
project earlier this year.

They have already sold some of their produce to Clonabreany House in nearby Crossakiel and at the Hay Festival in Kells. The group is being provided with two beehives by a local beekeeper and hopes to eventually have their own hives to help with the pollination of the apple trees and, of course, in order to produce their own honey. Headfort School, Dermot Dix, is delighted with the project, pointing out the garden had lain derelict for a long time. “When I was a child in this school, the walled garden provided produce for the school,” he recalls. “It was sad to see it going down and it is great now to see its restoration.” ‘Get Involved’ is a way for local communities to work together to improve their own lives, create local jobs and protect the environment. It is an initiative developed by 51 local newspapers throughout Ireland.

The aim of the group is to restore the garden to its former productive glory, repair and use the greenhouses on the site and to create a growers’ co-operative in Kells, helping to create employment in the area