A bloomin’ good idea: Oxton’s Secret Gardens celebrates 20th birthday digitally in face of coronavirus

A much-loved gardening event in Oxton is turning digital to raise vital funds for charity – and inspire green thumbs in the process.

The Oxton Secret Gardens, an annual event launched by the Oxton Society in 2001, have attracted thousands of visitors from across the country and raised over £320,000 for local charities.

In the run-up to the event’s 20th birthday celebrations, volunteers worked ‘painstakingly hard’ to create 38 gardens for the public to explore and enjoy.

Thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, the gates to the gardens are firmly shut – yet not all hope is lost for the Secret Gardens under lockdown.

Kevin Donovan, who has lived in Oxton for 30 years, was one of the many volunteers who suggested creating a virtual tour of the gardens. 

Kevin explained: “The Secret Gardens is a wonderful event that takes place every May and attracts thousands of visitors.

“All public events have had to be cancelled because of the pandemic, but I decided that if people couldn’t come to the gardens this year, then the gardens would come to them.

“The garden owners have spent a lot of time and effort preparing for the Secret Gardens of Oxton so this way people still get to see the result of all their hard work – albeit online!”

Lockdown in the UK has meant more and more of Wirral’s residents have been turning to gardening as a form of relief.

Research commissioned by Jeyes suggests 55% of all residents in the North West have been enjoying more time in gardens since lockdown. Yet surprisingly, 40% admit to not cleaning or taking care of gardens properly.

Our previous report on gardening in the North West revealed how new gardeners have been reaping the benefits, raking up gardening books, magazines and even making use of planners to hone their new-found craft.

In Lesley McGarrity’s eyes, events like the Secret Gardens help novice gardeners’ grow in confidence’ while learning news skills.

Lesley said: “I think and hope our event this year will interest people, given many of us are now spending a lot more time in our homes. I hope people will enjoy the gardens, which have taken a long time to build, and that people will feel inspired by creativity.

“We want to inspire the hidden ‘green thumbs’ who are stuck in lockdown. Gardening is so good for your physical and mental health. As well as being a distraction right now, gardening is something everyone can enjoy, no matter what your background. It gives people a target to aim for, and you don’t have to be an expert. 

“”What’s more, it is social. If you’re sat in the front garden, and a passer-by compliments your work, it bridges the loneliness gap. It truly can open up your world in lockdown.”

Lesley McGarrity, The Oxton Society.

Best of all, although people cannot see the gardens in person this year, perhaps seeing the gardens online will get people to reflect on their skills and realise: ‘I can do that too.'”

The ‘Oxton’s Virtual Gardens’ Facebook page will be made public from 10 am – 5 pm on Sunday 10th May, and will be opened Oxton Liberal Democrat Allan Brame.

An array of videos and pictures taken by garden owners and residents will be posted to the page, alongside a series of talks and entertainment.

The virtual gardens are free of charge, and in previous years, monies raised from the festival have benefited a variety of local charities, such as local hospices, women’s shelters and youth clubs.

Funds have also been used to support local improvements, such as Christmas lights, tree-planting and installing hanging baskets. 

However, organisers are raising funds for the Wirral Foodbank – a local organisation providing essential support to vulnerable residents across the borough during the pandemic.

There are a total of 15 food banks on the Wirral, and last year alone, more than 15,000 approached local food banks for support.

With the pandemic, the number is expected to rise, so the Oxton Society are eager to lend their support.

Lesley said: “It is an uncertain time for so many of us, and individuals across the borough may be suffering in silence.

“We hope, by holding the event, we can provide something that will help bridge the gap, so that we can all benefit. Every donation counts.”

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