Friendship stories

Dawn (centre) and Lesley (right) with local artist Lisa Made It (left) in Flower Lane

Dawn’s friendship story

Friends Dawn Weller and Lesley Newland have transformed a neglected alleyway near their homes with flowers. Here we learn about the positive impact this has had on their community.

Lesley and I both live on the Boundary Brook Estate, in Cowley, East Oxford. We became friends over 10 years ago when I moved to the area. Our shared love of gardening has helped our friendship grow. The local children call us the ‘Flower Ladies’.

We are both fortunate to have front and back gardens where we mostly grow flowers, although we have both grown a small amount of vegetables, such as tomatoes and cucumbers. I now grow 100% in pots and containers and have a good-sized polytunnel.

“We both enjoy growing most of our plants from seed and take lots of cuttings as well. We share these amongst neighbours and nothing goes to waste.”

A beautiful dahlia at the entrance to the alleyway. A bench has been added and more work will follow

The seven-metre-tall mural by local artist ‘Lisa Made It’ was unveiled at the end of October

In the spring of 2023, we had the idea of transforming a small strip of land that runs between Boundary Brook Road and Howard Street. The lane was a concrete alley that wasn’t very inviting. Our idea was to brighten it up with flowers and share the joy of plants. We registered with It’s Your Neighbourhood and got started.

We planted up the alley with hundreds of flowers and it’s since gone from strength to strength. Local children help with the watering, and we give tips and advice to passersby who have plants that are struggling or need identifying. Quite often people approach us and ask if they can join in, even if it’s just for a one off.

There are so many plants in the alley but three stand out. We used a mixed variety of sunflowers and they have been amazing. A blend of heights and colours have given us so much pleasure.

“Our canna lilies are spectacular, the foliage alone is so exotic and tropical, then we were rewarded with beautiful, brilliant orange flowers. Finally, our fuchsias, there were so many variations in shape and colour, each plant different from the next.”

The colourful painting features creatures requested in memory of residents

So taken were residents with the transformation of the alley that an idea emerged to use the alley wall as a giant canvas. More than 130 crowdfund donations and community grants paid for the scaffolding, materials and artist’s work and this idea became a reality. At the end of October 2023, a seven-metre-tall mural, by local artist ‘Lisa Made It’, was unveiled.

Lisa’s colourful painting features creatures requested in memory of residents, pets, a bespectacled slug, flowers, wildlife and fossilised oyster shells (which were found while digging in the area and dated at 153 million years old). We gathered with a large crowd of neighbours at the unveiling and a local five-year-old revealed the sign depicting her nickname for the alleyway, Flower Lane.

“Lesley and I are so proud of what has been achieved in Flower Lane. This community gardening project has inspired people, brought joy to our neighbourhood and brought us closer together as friends and neighbours. Gardening is most definitely a force for good.”

Dawn and Lesley’s tips

  • On crowdfunding:
  • Have a realistic amount you would like to raise  
  • Keep supporters updated on progress
  • If your project is local like ours, talk to people about your project and share the crowdfunding web address as many ways as you can on social media, posters, leaflets etc
  • On greening spaces:
  • Clear the litter and the area
  • You shouldn’t need to spend any money to start, take plants you are dividing from your own garden, ask your neighbours or head to social media for plants being given away

To find out more about Flower Lane watch this video made by Erika Harlos-Szendrey.

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The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity. We aim to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.