The Green Legacy – Guernsey

Education Garden
Part of Nigel's Education Garden where balance (5050) is the guiding principle

Nigel Clarke tells its story...

To understand where someone is going, it helps to know the direction they are coming from.

Nigel ClarkeI was brought up in Northern Ireland and my main memories of the first ten years of my life are: access to the countryside, nature, tidying neighbours' gardens, helping my friend on his father's allotment and school.

At sixteen I joined the Junior leaders and went to an army camp in Oswestry, Wales. I had a medical discharge after a couple of months. Most people are born with three rows of bones on each finger. My left hand only has one row of bones. I passed the medical to join the army but the decision was made, so I had to leave. I started work for the Ministry of Horticulture at Loughgall in Northern Ireland This was meant to be two years practical experience and then on to Horticultural college. I joined the army to see the world and that was still in me. I travelled to Guernsey with the full intention of it being the first stop of an exciting adventure around the globe.

I worked mainly for growers in the tomato industry. I met my wife Ross and never got any further. A gorgeous Guernsey girl, lovely people and a beautiful island - who could blame me?

I rented glass, rented some more, finally bought Queux Manor and grew tomatoes commercially for a number of years before the industry collapsed about 26 years ago. There were multiple reasons for the collapse with which I won't bore you. I'm practising living in the moment and mindfulness – and have been fairly successful at it – so I've managed to delete most of those dark days from my memory.

That wasn't the way I was thinking at the time. If you can't or don't want to do something for yourself, then do something for someone else. I could do that. Create a floral island? Why not? There was a need; education was the key. Twenty thousand plus houses in Guernsey, with two hanging baskets outside each one, meant forty thousand planted arrangements. Ten pounds each equated to four hundred thousand pounds and that was only for the summer. Nice business, but I had already grown tomatoes at an industrial level. I didn't want to prostitute my plants any more. I could teach people how to do it themselves, let them experience the enjoyment of watching plants grow. Yes, I could profit, but it would be from knowing I had made a difference.


Over the years, Guernsey truly has become a Floral Island. Floral Guernsey started about three years after us, followed by Floral groups in each Parish. Exciting times. It's amazing what can happen when everyone works together for a common goal.

Living streetOver the years, all workshops at Queux Patio Plant Centre were free. People who attended would offer donations and we would
give the money to the Hospice, Woman's Refuge, Children in
Need or whatever charity was relevant at the time. It made sense to buy native shrubs and trees with this money and give them away at no charge to be planted in places accessible to the public.

The project was green, it would leave a legacy, it was in Guernsey – and so Green Legacy Guernsey was born, purchasing trees with one hundred per cent of money donated. We set up a website, and almost instantly we were approached by Parish Floral groups to provide free trees. (The image is one of Green Legacy's newly planted 'living streets'.)

Trees are trees: all purify the air, they are good for our health and are beneficial to humans and wildlife. Or so I thought. Please remember, in my defence, my background is tomatoes, horticultural basket plants and shrubs. You don't see many oak trees in patio containers.

Imagine my shock, after giving away native trees, including silver birch, to discover from an newspaper article that in London silver birch had flowered early and their pollen was causing havoc with schoolchildren who were on school half term. Green Legacy Guernsey, by supplying the wrong trees to be planted in the wrong place could potentially make people ill. Ignorance of the law is no excuse. The law I'm referring to is the law of unforeseen circumstances. I now knew that silver birch had highly allergenic pollen, so how, if someone had a asthma attack from a birch I planted, or in extreme cases, died, could I honestly argue that it was unforeseen.

I needed to find out more and I made contact with Tom Ogren, a world authority on pollen and author of Allergy Free Gardening. Tom is the creator of the OPALS table – Ogren Plant Allergy Scale. This is an invaluable rating system that measures the potential of a plant to cause allergic reactions in humans. (Tom reported, only last week, that the scale has now made it into Wikipedia!)

Education was vital to creating a Floral Island and the same rule applied to leaving a healthy Green legacy for future generations. Tom agreed to come to Guernsey and do workshops at the Plant Centre. He also offered all the money raised at the workshops to go to Green Legacy to purchase the right trees to be planted in the right places. This is not as easy as it sounds, but it is possible.

Looking for frogs
Education workshop - looking for frogs in the pond

Tom is selflessly putting years of research into the public domain, simply because he wants to make a difference. In our case and for thousands of others, he is. Tom is the brains behind the Society for Allergy Free Environmental Gardening and I'm proud to be associated with him and to be a part of it. Amazingly, despite hundreds of associations listing the most allergenic native trees on the internet, these trees continue to be planted in highly Wiggly wormspopulated urban areas including Hospitals and School playgrounds. We hold the Quality badge for Learning Outside the Classroom so Allergy friendly school playgrounds is of particular interest to me.

Recently we had a Wiggly Worms Tiny Tots workshop at the plant Centre, with approximately two hundred men, women and children aged four and under. All adults, I'm sure, wanted to introduce their children to an allergy friendly amazing world of plants and nature.

In Tom's book, Allergy Free Gardening, Dr Walter H Lewis says "It makes no sense to plant highly allergenic trees or shrubs close to where we live." He is right, and with education, it won't be long before it will be difficult to argue, that someone's pollen related allergy or asthma attack was down to unforeseen circumstances.

You can find all of Tom's books on allergen-free gardening here on Amazon in the UK and here on Amazon in the US.

Education garden walkway

First published May 2014

Articles on allergen-free gardening


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