I've found it really difficult watching the plight of refugees fleeing their homes to escape such awful conditions in Syria
Inspired by the Cook for Syria campaign - a collaboration of chefs and refugees - Claire Reid, head gardener at Hestercombe, Somerset, has launched Grow for Syria bringing together gardeners, producers and others moved to want to act to help Syrian refugees.
Although the new initiative is in its infancy, Claire is determined to make a difference hopes to see Grow for Syria really taking off over the next few months.
"I've found it really difficult watching the plight of refugees fleeing their homes to escape such awful conditions in Syria," she says. "After talking with friends, we all agreed that we wanted to actually do something that wasn't just making a payment to charity where we couldn't see what good we were doing.
"Those conversations inspired me to set up Grow for Syria and to use my own skills to try and help vulnerable refugees who are living unimaginable hardships.
"The project aims to raise money and awareness for Help Refugees and support the amazing work that that organization carries out. We looked at our skill base (mainly all gardeners) and our friendship groups to see what we could achieve and how we could raise funds.
"A project called Cook for Syria had already really inspired me. They had collaborated with chefs and refugees to create a cook book of Syrian-based recipes. I loved the fact that the book was producing something positive and sharing cultures.
"The book has been a sell-out. I think that reaching out through food and gardening, basic everyday pleasures that bring people together, to build communities really works. And so Grow for Syria was born."
It is estimated that 11 million Syrians have had to flee their homes since the civil war began in March 2011. Further to that there are around 13.5 million who are in desperate need of humanitarian aid within their own country. Many have faced atrocious conditions, extreme temperatures, walked across inhospitable terrain or braved crossing the ocean to find safety for themselves and their families. With little or no belongings left, let alone money to buy food, these refugees rely solely on the help of others and the generosity of people like Claire and those who make donations.
Acting as a garden adviser for individuals and offering consultation, Claire's fee goes directly to charity. She's also been busy contacting seed companies for donations: "Several companies where happy to give me their seeds. These packets have been handed on to various individuals and groups with the idea that they will sow and grow the seeds and then either arrange their own plant sales to sell on the plants, or pass the plants back to me to sell on," she explains.
Local gardening clubs across the South West have also been involved by supplying leftover packets of seeds and extra pots of seedlings that they don't need, and plants that are being divided, dug out, or propagated can all be sold in a plant sale for Help Refugees UK.
Claire adds: "It's exciting. I've met some amazing people through the project, many of which feel the same as me. We have already had a seed swap and sale in Wiveliscombe in Somerset and we have a number events coming up across the South West over the next few months."
On Sunday, 28th May 2017, Grow for Syria will be attending the Stoke St Mary Soap Box Derby, and selling plants. Also Claire will be answering gardening questions for a donation.
On Sunday, 18th June 2017 Jan Waters of JW Blooms and Claire representing Grow for Syria will be hosting a special Gardeners' Question Time event with a panel of experts on hand to answer your questions. The panel includes Claire, head gardener at Hestercombe, Damien Mitchell, head gardener at the National Trust's Lytes Cary, Sarah Venn, of Edible Bristol, Ashley Wheeler, vegetable grower at Trill Farm, and Danny Burlingham, head gardener at Forde Abbey.
For more info visit www.jwblooms.co.uk
You can follow Grow for Syria on Instagram @growforsyria
Otherwise if you want to help please get in touch by emailing Claire on firstname.lastname@example.org
Laura Briggs is the UK reporter for The Ecologist, you can follow her on Twitter @WordsbyBriggs