The station gardening group at Lewes railway station is celebrating 10 years of work in keeping the platforms and waiting areas looking lovely.
A poster showing the volunteers’ work is now on display at the top of the ramp by the ticket entrance.
Lead volunteer Mary Sautter (pictured) first became involved at the station because she already helped the Lewes Little Gardens scheme to tidy small corners of the town.
Through town councillors Ruth O’Keeffe and Stephen Catlin, the opportunity to adopt planters at the railway station came up and Mary offered to help.
She recalled: “We came to the station and found the bins were full of discarded beer cans and other rubbish. I said we couldn’t plant anything until we had cleared them out and got some compost – otherwise nothing would grow.”
Mary had previous experience as a fundraiser for the Friends of Lewes Victoria Hospital and she put her entrepreneurial spirit to good use.
The group didn’t have any money so she asked companies in the town to contribute to the cost of buying plants and gave them the chance to add their name to the planters with a paid sponsorship.
“All the businesses were keen and everybody was very nice. People signed up on the spot. It was a win-win because we obtained money for plants and they got to promote their business,” said Mary.
She also obtained split bags of compost from the tip in order to start work on growing plants in the various tubs and troughs.
The team, called Lewes Pots and Plants, started work in 2013. They then “adopted” the station through the Community Rail Network with a commitment to make it a welcoming, pleasant and attractive place.
The same system operates today with the annual contributions from businesses in Lewes covering the group’s expenses. All the time they devote to the station garden is free because they are all volunteers.
There is now a team of four people who carry out gardening work twice a week. They have their own potting shed, tools and supplies so are self-sufficient. They go about their work quietly and efficiently.
Mary added: “We do everything. We decide which plants to put in and when to change the displays. The nice thing is we don’t have any interference from anybody.”
Fellow gardener Sarah Boughton joined the group when she had some spare time after being a Nature Reserve volunteer.
She said: “I like the community activity and being outdoors. It’s enjoyable and something regular I can do. I also like being on the station and seeing the trains.”
The group work all year round and have plenty to do in the winter. There is no resting on their laurels.
Mary commented: “You’ve got to keep going and keep your eye on everything all the time.”
She has no formal gardening qualifications but said she had been keen on gardening all her life.
“You learn as you go along, you learn by experience. I don’t have a garden at my house in Lewes, just a few pots and a back yard. I regard the station as my garden and we take it over as our home,” Mary added with a sense of pride.
The team are environmentally aware and look for plants that require little maintenance and can tolerate dry weather. “We don’t put plants in that need a lot of watering,” she said.
There is also a former bee hive now used as a bug hotel to attract insects.
It is a sign of the success of the Lewes Pots and Plants that the group now grows its own compost in an area tucked away behind some of the flower beds. They are also giving back to the community because they split some of the plants they have produced to give to people.
And, explains Mary, there is an added community benefit from having a well-maintained and looked-after station.
She said: “If the station looks neat and tidy, people don’t drop so much litter.”
The group’s work has won the admiration of ex-rail minister and former Lewes MP Norman Baker who is now the chair of the Sussex Downs Line community rail steering group with Southeast Communities Rail Partnership.
He said: “Lewes station is one of the most attractive stations on the whole rail network. We owe a huge debt to Mary and her team who have managed this for years on behalf of the town. They are some of the great unsung heroes of Lewes and we thank them for their work.”
Lewes Pots and Plants in numbers
4 volunteer gardeners
10 years working at station
10 fruit trees
19 round tubs
40 metres of herbaceous borders