Marketing consultant Sarah Hulyer (24) admits that moving to Northern Ireland from London proved a bit of a culture shock. Her biggest plus has been getting to know people and, with this in mind, she wanted to spread some joy across the community. Sarah spoke to AFF’s NI co-ordinator, Lucy Clarke, about how she created the ‘Flower Patch’…

“Franklin and I are one of those new-fangled long-term relationship couples who are now able to live in quarters,” explains Sarah. “I like to think this time living inside the wire is my test run to see what army life is really like! I’m so grateful to have made such lovely friends here, regardless of my age and current lack of children – unless you count our fluffy puppy, Stevie.”

Fond memories of growing flowers during summers spent with grandparents prompted Sarah to get started: “I
wanted to bring joy to families left behind while their soldiers deployed,” she explains.

“There was already a community garden on camp and after a bit of negotiation, I got permission to use the empty grass space and the Flower Patch was born.”

Special surprises

The idea started in January and 34 seed packets, 500 seedlings, 30 dahlia tubers and 38 square metres of flower bed later, Sarah and her team have left more than a hundred surprise home-grown bunches on doorsteps, plus countless more to the welfare team for welcoming new families and special occasions.

After many hours on the phone to granny learning what flowers were needed and when best to grow them, Sarah planned the layout.

“I wanted the paths between beds to be big enough to lay picnic blankets, and for people to be able to walk through,” she says.

Then came the worst part, digging out the beds. “Franklin and I started the de-turfing during his pre-tour leave. After he left and lockdown started, I met Zoe, the girlfriend of one of his colleagues, who became a huge part of the garden.

“She took my jumbled thoughts and project managed. “We spent many evenings socially distanced gardening and keeping each other sane.”

Getting involved

Soldiers from all ranks and regiments pitched in and in the period where lockdown eased, more families felt comfortable to use the garden. They’ve already taken cuttings and made plans for next year.

“We’ve faced many challenges,” says Sarah. “Everything had to be done in carefully planned shifts and all tools brought by individuals are carefully cleaned between uses. But the pandemic was also part of what motivated me to make sure the project was a success – because I knew that people would probably love a flowery morale boost
more than ever.

“I hope that it has spread some bright, beautifully-scented joy during an incredibly weird and stressful time,” concludes Sarah.

“We still have a lovely group of serving personnel who come to garden in both the veg side and the Flower Patch at the weekends! I’ve loved seeing the children come to learn about the science of growing, where food comes from, and of course playing with every worm they can find. And I think the adults enjoy the time out of their house, although weeding is normally the main job I give them – they still keep coming back for more!”

Community champion

Sarah is our winter community champion and wins a signed print from The War Poppy Collection by artist Jacqueline Hurley of POSH Original Art. Jacqueline’s collection is her personal thank you and tribute to our armed forces, veterans and their families; and a commemoration of those who have fallen or been injured in past campaigns. She paints to evoke emotion, reflection and remembrance in her unique and expressive style. To view the collection, visit poshoriginalart.co.uk

If you know a person with a military connection who works hard to improve your local community, tell us about them– email editor@aff.org.uk and read more stories at armyandyou.co.uk

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