Big Dreams

Small Spaces


Monty Don

Our blog...

We had a such a great time working with Monty and the whole Big Dreams Small Spaces crew. There were; times of stress due to time constraints, moments of pride and joy as we completed each step of the project alongside so many wonderful volunteers, occasions of laughter whilst we listened to Monty, and sadness as we remembered those not with us anymore. I'm writing this blog so that we can look back on what we achieved in such a short space of time and also so that you, the reader, can see the project from our angle.


Hover and click right to scroll through the pictures.

On our way to the first day of filming and meeting Monty.

The slope before

The University of Suffolk students help clear the space.

On our way to the first day of filming and meeting Monty.


Monty says 'give up now'!

Looking back at the slope I can understand why Monty advised us to give up before we had started. However, we knew that a disabled access, vegetable growing allotment would benefit our visitors to the wood considerably and were determined to build one. It was so important to us that the very people that we support, the people that would gain knowledge about horticulture and also the people that would benefit from its health giving produce, additionally gained skills building the project. This was about integration. We are incredibly grateful to the businesses that supported us, but we are especially thankful for their time spent working alongside some of our supported volunteers. Some with challenging mental ill health, some with behavioural and emotional difficulties and some long term unemployed, who had lost their way in life. These people benefitted greatly from helping to build THEIR allotment, THEIR green space where they can feel calm, respected and proud.

Andre (Director): 'You only have 4 months to complete the project, do you think you can do it?'

Us: 'Yeah, of course!'


                                                     June was mostly about clearing fly tipped                                                      rubbish, removing illegal drug syringes

 and empty alcohol bottles. Rob and I, amongst professionals

completed this and we are, unfortunately, quite used to it now. Until 2015 Brickmakers Wood was unmanaged, being used for illicit activities with decades worth of syringes, human faeces and fly tipped rubbish. This is exactly what our sister site in Sudbury, Suffolk was like before it was transformed into a beautiful and tranquil retreat. We have cleared 90% of the dangerous litter in Brickamakers Wood and 100% in the areas that we currently use for education, care and support.

Monty and the Eden-Rose Coppice gang helped to clear the ivy and non hazardous rubbish of the bank. This wasn't an easy task in the baking heat. Monty was very hands on and really got stuck in with us. We all ended up dripping with sweat and covered head to foot in dirt, clay and ivy.
Haven Power, Ipswich Borough Council and the Papworth Trust clients all helped with parts of the development. Additionally Ridgeons kindly donated all the timber for the raised beds. 
Click on the pictures to enlarge:
Monty's visit:
Monty visited Ipswich twice in June. On the 7th, it was our first filming day and I was very nervous about it. Robdad (my nickname for him - as sometimes calling him dad at work can confuse some of the children that visit our sites,) is quite used to it all and wasn't nervous in the slightest, which is good for me as it calms me down. Monty, albeit a wonderful, gentle and highly intelligent man, was quite disparaging about our project which only made us both more determined to achieve. We knew we were up against odds; being in a shady woodland, on a steep slope, with heavy clay soil, but when Robdad and I work on something together, good things happen.
It was his second visit on the 28th. Seeing all the ground work completed Monty was much more positive about it all. The Maple Building Services lads and Rob dug out more clay and Monty and I set about making our first Gabion. Neither of us knew the correct way to say it, which was hilarious. Was it Gai-be-on or Gab-i-on? Again, neither of us knew how to build the thing so we planned, designed, constructed, chucked away and made it again, together. Amusingly Monty and I acted out an American shopping channel programme advertising our constructed gabion. (Don't think that will have made the cut though). :)

Delphi and the Papworth trust Clients sharing a bite to eat in-between volunteering.



16th Towards building
16th Towards building

Haven Power helping to clear rubbish


Tobey filming Andy from Suffolk Tree Services


Andy from Suffolk Tree Services helping to clear a falling dangerous branch.


The fantastic Papworth Trust lads.

I                   July was mostly spent digging more compacted heavy clay. 

                    Using Monty's advice we decided to dig out as much clay as we                     physically could so that we could replace it with a more malleable and nutrient rich soil, given to us by the lovely Phil from UoS. Our boots were constantly covered in hard lumps of clay, making it difficult to walk and numerous times we fell over. We managed to get 2 raised beds completed and filled with soil.  We listened to Monty's advice and made sure we didn't stand all over the soil so as not to compact it any further. 

Haven Power visited us on the 21st July to help us build a replica gabion, in the same style as the one Monty and I constructed and planted. This was a team building exercise for the employees where they had to learn about plants, planting and raised bed making. Some of them having never planted before learnt a great deal. Click right for more pictures.


Playing around with the gabions.

Sunny beds

Playing around with the gabions.


RHS Hyde Hall

On the 22nd Robdad and I were allowed out of the wood for a day, which was lovely, but we still spent half the day thinking of jobs that needed doing. Thanks to Matt and Sue for showing us around your wonderful gardens. Matt gave us some top advice. 

It was one of the hottest days of the year and as we walked around Matt’s allotment we could see the sunlight hitting almost every part of every plant. This wasn’t what we had to work with sadly. Matt discussed what NOT to plant in our allotment such as pumpkins, peppers and tomatoes for example, pretty much what his allotment was teaming with. (I will still try though, even if I have to move them around in pots to catch every bit of precious sunlight). And as with Monty we discussed the options of herbs and brassicas. Hover and click right for more pics.

Currants trained as a cordon

Rob walking around the beautiful gardens at RHS Hyde Hall

They had gabions too.

Currants trained as a cordon

On the 7th August Cllr. Mandy Gaylard arrived to hand a donation to the charity. We are so grateful to her as we could now afford the decking, making the site wheelchair and hospital bed friendly. Beardwell construction company donated their time and resources and worked alongside some of our supported volunteers. It was fantastic to see them working with the construction company. They gained work experience and their life skills were definitely enhanced. Haven Power joined us again for another team building day. They made some great pallet planters that were to be on the wall of the building opposite the allotment. By the end of August we had 4 full raised beds. We could really see what the final project was going to look like now.

The allotment

The site

Our supported volunteers

The allotment

Wild Food UK
What the programme didn't show was our wonderful trip to Ludlow. The Big Dreams Small Spaces team sent us off on a fantastic foraging course with expert guides Eric and Marlow from Wild Food UK. Part of my dream is to have an edible woodland filled with tasty and nutritious wild food from the ground layer right up to the tree canopy. I knew a few basic edible plants such as nettle, dandelion, lime leaves, wild garlic and garlic mustard but I really wanted to know more. The camera crew followed my very good friend Justine and I around a beautiful ancient woodland near Ludlow as we were taught about some wonderful and incredibly tasty forest food. Marlow and Eric were so passionate about teaching people the health benefits of getting into nature and foraging for food and also very skilled in their knowledge of what was seasonably available, where to find certain species and which ones were genuinely tasty. Their passion lies in finding, eating,  cooking or preserverving edible tasty food and my god they can make a tasty lunch. They also made sure that we were aware of the laws and the conscious choices to make when picking wild food. Furthermore, they drilled the safety aspects of eating wild food into us, throughout the day, and I will certainly never eat anything that I am not certain of. During and after the walk around the beautiful woodland we were treated to a number dishes. We ate the BEST wild mushroom soup and a delicate salad made with; chickweed, hairy bittercress, sorrel and garlic mustard. I tried wild chanterelle mushrooms for the first time which were served in a gorgeous pasta salad and lightly griddled on home made bread. Thank you, Marlow and Eric, for teaching us so much and for being genuinely so lovely. It is just such a shame they didn't show it on the show. If you get the chance to,  go on one of their courses as not only will you be taught a wealth of knowledge but you will meet two very nice people and have a fantastic day. Thank you to Lion TV too as we had a lovely trip to Ludlow and spent a great evening with Andre, the director and Tobey.
Click on the logo below to go to Marlow and Eric's website.

Eric, Justine and I after finding some beefsteak fungus. (Probably the strangest but most interesting fungus i've come across.)

Rosebay Willowherb

On top of Ludlow castle

Eric, Justine and I after finding some beefsteak fungus. (Probably the strangest but most interesting fungus i've come across.)


September and the final reveal

Lloyd's banking group came to help lay the decking.

Jamie finished the steps.

The wonderful Titchmarsh & Goodwin employees finished our donated sign.

Nearly there.

Beardwell construction company help us to install my homemade trellis.

Homemade decorations

25th decorations

The decking going down.

We definitely celebrated. Although we felt sad that it was all over.

Chatting with Ellen (our family friend that drew the initial design for the project) and Monty.

Me, Robdad and my sister Philippa.

Talking to monty

September was a bit of a race to finish everything in time for the planned 'Big Reveal' with Monty and the TV crew. At the beginning of the month there was so much to do still and both Robdad and I were panicking a bit. We had the beds constructed, the plants planted, but still there was the decking to get down, the disabled access sorted and the place tidied and ready for people to start using it. It got to the point where both of us were so exhausted that we couldn't even speak. I must say a massive thank you to Dad here. He really is my rock (Cliché - but true). When we are together we genuinely make each better people and I love him for that. When he told us that 'he too' had cancer, it brought back so many memories of when mum broke the news of her terminal illness over 10 years ago. He recently got the all clear and I cannot put in words how wonderful that is and how grateful we are to his oncologists, family, friends and his partner for looking after him. There has been so much cancer in our family; grandmothers, aunties, mothers, fathers and great grandparents it can sometimes make you feel that you are fighting a brick wall. But when I see Robdad healthy and working so physically hard, at 65, it gives me hope and i'm sure being connected to nature and having a positive outlook on life has had something to do with his vivaciousness. 

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Some of Monty's tips

  • Because of the heavy clay soil and the slope we were working with, Monty strongly suggested that we install a French drain to alleviate the problem.

  • The shade was a huge factor in determining what we grow. To expand our variety of plants we had create more sunlight.

  • Red currants and White currents do better in shaded areas.

  • Slugs and snails will go for unhealthy plants first. Ensure that your soil has the correct nutrients for healthy growth.

  • Leafy greens such as chard, spinach, kale and cabbages grow well in shade.

  • Lettuces don't grow well in full sun.

  • Never stand on your soil as it compacts it down making it  harder for your vegetables to grow.

Can you help us to restore
Brickmakers Wood

Matt's Top Tips

Matt was growing and training his currants as cordons. He advised that this would enable the little sunlight we had to reach each currant and enable faster ripening. We are trying this with some of our white and red currants. I’ll let you know how they get on next season.

Matt had a fantastic display of Borage and Comfrey. He advised us to grow both as they will tolerate some shade.

Did you know...

  • Borage leaves have a mild cucumber flavor and can be eaten as salad leaves or gently steamed as a substitute or addition to spinach. The flowers look incredibly beautiful in frozen in ice cubes to add to drinks.

  • Borage is a fabulous source of nectar for bees and other insects, and will encourage them into the garden/allotment. This means that whilst they are in your green space the bees may just decide to have a quick feed from your other plants and pollinate those for you too. Pollinators are important and we must protect them.

    • Click on the link below for more information on this...

  • It can also be used as a green manure – The plants deep taproot sucks up health giving nutrients. Rather than throwing it on the compost heap, just dig it back into the soil and it will disperse the nutrients into the soil when the plant composts. This means healthier soil, rich in in nutrients and deeply aerated earth.

  • Comfrey and Dandelion do the same thing.

Marlow and Eric's hints and tips

The following is a list of healthy edible wild plants that Marlow and Eric suggested would grow in most places. Even those with poor soil conditions like Brickmakers Wood. Click on the pictures for a link to Wildfood UK's expert descriptions and uses for.

•    Wood Avens

Wood Aven's roots can be used as a substitute for cloves. They can also be used in the same way cloves are used for toothache. So if you'r e in a woodland and you're struck with tooth ache, look for some wood avens and rub the root on your bad tooth.

The leaves don't taste of much but can be used in salads. Alternatively you can deep fry the leaves, which puff up in a fun way. Not very tasty apparently but fun to try.

•    Hairy bittercress



Hairy Bittercress is delicious in salads, but can also be used in soups or pesto's. It's so great, in fact, that it is one of Wild Food UK's favourite edibles.

•    RoseBay WillowHerb



RoseBay Willowherb leaves are edible when young. The flowers are great in salads but don't taste like much. Also the young shoots can be cooked like asparagus. The leaves edible when they are picked young.

It's quite easy to identify and is hard to confuse with any other plant due to its unique leaf vein pattern. The leif veins do not touching the edges of the leaves.

•    Wood Sorrel


There are over 800 varieties of wood sorrel and according to Marlow and Eric 'Deppie' is the most beautiful version.

We picked and tried this on the day and it was very tasty. It has an apple, citrusy flavour and is quite addictive to eat. However, it should not be eaten in large quantities due to it containing oxalic acid.

•    Chickweed - Once my nemesis and now my best friend.


In my opinion this is one of the easiest wild edible foods to identify.

It looks a tiny bit like oregano but it has a unique mohikan of hairs running along one side of the stem and it pretends to have 10 petals, but actually has five double petals so is difficult to confuse with any other plant. I love this edible and now let it grow freely.

Can you help us to regenerate Brickmakers Wood and support people with cancer or a disability?

Please donate what you can by clicking on the link below.