By Louise Yates
After a bit of a search for the garden entrance which has no signs up yet, I make it into the site, get given the obligatory Hi-viz jacket and head off to find the other volunteers. All around, people swarm with determination, all in Hi-viz, all so important they can't raise a smile. Buggies dash by, trade vans buzz past and the occasional truck squeezes into a space. Instructions are given and red-faced lackeys dash off, hidden under a teetering pile of boxes or crates.
The 'Bloom' garden is a riot of colour, celebrating the 50 year history of civic bedding; starting with the gaudy planting style of the 1960s, moving on to modern plantings and ending in a magnificent allotment patch of veg that kids particularly love to grow, as well as a patch planted by Charlton Primary School.
We arrive as the team is putting the finishing touches to the vibrant scheme, adjusting blooms and planting highlight flowers or painting the bed edging and sprinkling mulch. We meet the creator, the lovely Jon Wheatley, in battered felt hat; we get a tour from Terry the veg man, the driving force of Bloom South West. He's worked tirelessly to spread the word about growing veg in schools and is a font of knowledge on how to grow the perfect show specimen.
In our show T-shirts, we pose for aerial pictures taken from a drone. We are then quickly released from all duties and are free to roam!
We look briefly at a stunning garden inspired by Vesuvius, complete with dry ice to replicate sulphurous gases, then get arrested by the sight of a builder's bag full of plants, all rejected and clearly unwanted. We hunker down and start sorting through the jumble of poppies, marigolds etc that have been chucked out.
Jon appears behind us and we recoil Gollum-like from the pile, thinking we have crossed a line, but no! He insists we carry on. He then gestures to a mass of beautiful, healthy plants lined up behind the garden and offers us as much as we can carry of the stuff: sweetcorn, borage, begonias, tagetes and many more. I can’t believe my luck. I wish I had my car! I had no idea we'd get freebies before the show had even started!
So then back home, laden appropriately with Bloom treats to add to the St John's garden!