Tucked away at one corner of Victoria Park is Growing Concerns, our local, leafy garden centre. We talk to Caroline Walker who runs Growing Concerns, to discover how this social enterprise has become a thriving local business.
Growing Concerns is part social enterprise part traditional gardening centre. ‘We always knew we wanted to be commercial, we have to live, but social enterprise is at the core of what we do and we still run this business as not-for-profit. Any surplus revenue we make goes towards Clarion community training programmes.’
In 1998, Growing Concerns started as a residents gardening club and, over time, it became much more. Working with local housing association Clarion, Growing Concerns was able to provide training sessions for members of the local community as well as maintenance of shared community spaces.
Today, the commercial side of Growing Concerns has almost totally taken over, but people are still able to use some of the other services. The team at Growing Concerns are delighted to still have the support of Clarion meaning they can continue with the grounds maintenance of their properties in Bow, as well as provide some landscaping services for private clients.
In 2000, Growing Concerns became a garden centre, rather than just a community gardening group and moved onto the site it is on today. From then on, it became more and more shop-like. It started with one container that was used as a shop as well as a staff room for the maintenance team and over time, has expanded into the bountiful garden centre it is today.
The shop aspect of Growing Concerns is so busy today that sadly they cannot offer trainsing sessions anymore, but as Walker explains, ‘We will always offer people advice to the best of our capability.’
A team of volunteers work in the back garden alongside the full-time staff and all the employees in the growing team are from the local area.
‘This is one of the main reasons people love us and come back again and again’ explains Walker. ‘We are a local independent garden centre for local people and we always try and find time for people.’
‘Part of our ethic for helping people in this area is that we do try and keep our prices down. We might not compare to a market stall, because obviously we are in a different bracket, but if you were to compare prices with other garden centres, ours are much lower.’
As well as hiring local people from the area, Growing Concerns also supports any community gardening projects in that they give advice and can sometimes offer them a discount on products they need.
Head to Growing Concerns to pick up any gardening supplies you need from soil and tools, to pots and bird feeders. They have a large selection of outdoor and indoor plants including herbs, cacti, fruit trees, succulents, bedding plants, architectural plants, house plants and weird and wonderful air plants inside the shop. Walker’s favourite plant at the moment is the Geranium Nodosum, a must for dry shady areas.
In the future, Walker hopes to expand the shop and garden centre, but in the meantime, she says, ‘We have a couple of things up our sleeve, so watch this space.’ While you’re waiting, check out Walker’s favourite local green space, St Stephen’s Park off Old Ford Road.
Walker’s top tips for new gardeners? ‘If it is in pots or on balconies, as many local gardens are, it’s still important to weed so you don’t encourage things like vine weevil. Also never think that you are overwatering – I think people think they’re watering enough when they put a cup of water in, but you have to see it pouring out the bottom of the pot.’
She’s probably too busy, but if you do catch Walker on Roman Road, she’ll either be in Thompson’s Hardware Store or Paradise Cycles, her two favourite places on the Roman.