Tony Freck comes from Birmingham and trained as a surveyor in Leicester. In 1983 he packed it all in and buying a one way ticket to Delhi, went travelling. He was away for three years and returning to London, worked as a handyman with Westminster Mencap looking after a dozen houses. There he was painting and decorating, building shelves and generally taking care of the gardens.
Around this time he became a regular visitor to Samye Ling and naturally gravitated to the greenhouse. He moved up in 1989 and was appointed Project Manager in 1991. Since then he has overseen its development from a basic agricultural plot to a traditional kitchen garden. His first main task was to overhaul the Old Greenhouse and has since organised the construction of new greenhouses and sheds, building composting areas, planting hedges and building dry stone walls. He also initiated and managed the Oakhouse project. Since 1997 he has led courses in Organic Gardening and oversees the day to day activities.
Tony wouldn’t claim to have a great interest in plants and doesn’t really consider himself as a gardener at all. But events seem to have conspired and he now has a wealth of local experience in the basics of beans, potatoes, bricks and mortar. He sees his role more as a manager, making the best of what resources we have and to lay foundations for the future. His arthritic big toe is a little crunchy but his knee is quiet at the moment, and the yoga seems to have eased the sciatica, so this year all being well, he’ll probably be re-roofing the Old Shed.
People come from all over the world and all walks of life to this remote place. The garden attracts many regulars and at times resembles a forum for Gardener’s Question Time with people discussing and exchanging experiences. Some people help out once a week, others the occasional weekend, sometimes an old face turns up who we haven’t seen for years. We recently had a visit from the BBC Radio Scotland Kitchen Garden team who turned up in the pouring rain but seemed to enjoy themselves nevertheless. Visitors are welcome to participate with all the usual seasonal activities, whether it is digging potatoes, stacking compost or simply a spot of weeding. We have a couple of local chaps with a plantsman’s knowledge who have brought some expertise to the
place, and by taking hundreds of cuttings and dividing up perennials we’re gradually beginning to build up a stock of plants that can survive the conditions. But as for the rest of us, we’re just picking it up as we go along.
The garden often has a distinctly Dad's Army feel to it. When Tony first helped out he was probably the average age, and now thirty years later is still probably the average age. The project runs training courses and has received Training for Work and New Deal placements e.g. under 25’s, ex-offenders and recovering alcoholics and provides work experience in a secure and positive environment. We have had single mums building up some confidence before returning to work. We also have a couple of lads from Trinity House residential home in Lockerbie, who are well chuffed with their horticulture certificates, rubbing shoulders with doctors and therapists needing to do something earthy. Everyone likes the idea of pottering around in the garden on a nice day but as a rule if somebody says that they’d love to come and help, then in all probability it will never happen. If on the other hand somebody comes along and says, ‘What can I do?’ then we’re in business. Rinpoche used to say that work was the best therapy, there can’t be too many colleges where the students have physically built the classrooms, workshops and library themselves. The site has wide pathways for wheelchair access and the borders and staging are at variable levels to accommodate those with a disability.
These days we seem to be in a building phase. Experience suggests mixing builders isn’t always too successful so we tend to try and give people individual projects they can see through to a completion. The variable nature of the workforce can mean we end up with half-finished construction work around every corner, but things usually work themselves out in the end. One alternative would be to close the garden for a couple of years and concentrate purely on the construction, but that would be a shame. Visitors often comment that there’s always something new to see, something different, and revel in the hurly burly of it all. So we’ll press on and see what
happens. But if you’re a builder or happy with general labouring, or would just like to pop along and help out in the garden, then give us a call.
DONATIONS AND SPONSORSHIP
A few years ago the project gratefully received the donation of a substantial commercial aluminium glasshouse and the plan is to divide it up and build half a dozen smaller units. The glasshouse comprised all the key elements of any new greenhouse, such as the roof trusses, purlins, glazing bars and glass. Clearly quite a coup, we will still though, require the more basic materials, e.g. concrete, timber, bricks and mortar etc, and regrettably these do cost money. In addition of course, there are also the general outgoings of a substantial garden.
The greatest need now though, is for steady manpower. We have lots of visitors who chip in and this is very helpful, but rather than it being piecemeal it’s good if somebody can stay a while and settle into a routine, get their teeth into something and maybe finish a project. This has worked very well in the past with volunteers seemingly with little experience, tackling a job and with some supervision, quite surprising themselves. There are a number of nice little projects in the wings just waiting for the right person to come along.
In 2003 we received a generous donation specifically to address this problem and the Phyllis Nairn Bursary Fund was established to provide financial support for horticultural students and general volunteers. A sponsorship of £100 would pay for a volunteer to stay and work in the garden for a week. Should you wish to give to this worthy cause, sponsor one of our volunteers or contribute to any of the specific projects; all donations will be gratefully received. Cheques should be made payable Rokpa Trust (Garden Project). Gift aid is available.
Samye Ling Garden Project
Tel: 013873 73764
Fax: 013873 73223
The Samye Ling Garden project is in partnership with:
(Formerly The Scottish Community Foundation)
The MacRobert Trust
The Society for Environmental Improvement Trust
Hugh Fraser Foundation.
Also, we have or continue to benefit from our connections with the organisations represented by the logos following: