Everyday Changemakers: Gisela, Victoria Community Gardens

Listen to 1000 Better Stories on your favourite podcast app or here.

Our Story Weaver, Kaska Hempel, talks to Gisela de la Espada, a garden coordinator for Yusuf Youth Intitiative’s Victoria Community Gardens.

The story is the third in a 5-part series of weekly interviews with members of Dundee Community Garden Network (Grow Dundee) recorded this June, and an audio tour exploring the meaning and impact of community gardening. 

You can find a draft of the audio tour here:  


Tune in next week for a story from the Fruit Bowls Community Garden.


Kaska Hempel: Hi it’s Kaska, your Story Weaver. As promised today we rejoin my cycling visit to Dundee’s Community Garden Network’s open day this June. Last week I left Uppertinity’s Growing Spaces Group at the Dudhope Castle garden and continued down and up the busy streets onto Victoria Community Gardens at the foot of another park on Balgay Hill, a wooded twin to the bare peak of the Dundee Law.

By this time the sun was working its way up to the midday sizzle and my stomach’s rumblings insisted that it was definitely lunchtime. As I left the busy street to walk through the Victoria garden’s gate, I was welcomed by a hubbub of voices cutting through the traffic noise. Everyone was gathered around several wooden tables for the Big Lunch, a part of Eden Project’s nationwide initiative celebrating communities coming together.

I joined in the sharing of the feast and the chat, and watched as the volunteers made mini-flags representing their home countries. The garden’s coordinator, Gisela, explained that the flags were going to decorate their entry to the wheelbarrow garden competition before we headed to find a quieter spot for our interview…

Gisela De La Espada: We are from around the world.  The wheelbarrow is going to be with a story why we plant things as we plant. And also all the flags from where are we from? Over there so they, they are making their own flag.  Doesn’t care where are we from, which kind of food we eat. We are here to share, to enjoy, to be together, to have fun, to relax.

Volunteers: Hi, I’m Emily, um, and I’m from the UK.  Hello, I’m Saily and I’m from India.  Hi, I’m Daisy and I’m from Scotland.  Namaste, this is Bhushan and I’m from India.  My name is Rachel and I’m originally from the States.  I’m Barbara, I’m originally from Edinburgh, but I stay outside Dundee in Longforgan. Hi, I’m Vivienne, I’m from France.  Hi, I’m Davide, I’m from Italy. I’m Liz and I’m from Dundee. I’m Abir, I’m from Iraq. I’m Aya, I’m from Iraq.

Gisela De La Espada: My name is Gisela de la Espada. I’m from Argentina. I’ve been living in Scotland for five years. My background is very mixed, but I’ve always been connected to growing.

 We used to live with my family in Buenos Aires, which is a big city, in a flat. Um, so we always wanted to be outside, be growing food. So each time that we have an opportunity, we were going to parks, going to the botanics, and trying to grow small things. Um, I’ve been traveling quite a lot. I’ve been living in New Zealand for a year, and then in Poland for another year, and then I just arrived here.

I start everything being a volunteer in the Maxwell Centre during the lockdown. The lockdown was a hard time. We were just inside and one of my friends says, we’re going to be open because we offer food. So I started being a volunteer there offering boxes of food for the people. And after nearly a year of being a volunteer, I started to study my HNC in horticulture.

After that, uh, this job position came. I got the interview and I got it. Um, at the moment we have 16 volunteers, that are quite regular. But at that time, after COVID, it was zero. So it was a huge journey, um, from being a woman in a garden where I was young and when the people arrived, it was like, I want to talk with the manager or the gardener.

It was me. No, no, no. Like for real. It was me. So it was quite hard at the beginning because being a foreigner and they were like, I don’t understand what you say or can you repeat that for me? And then trying to judge if you have knowledge enough or not, it was quite hard.

This place, it used to be a bowling green and we turned the bowling green into a community garden. The name of the place is Victoria Gardens, and it’s a charity which um, it’s run by YYI, Yusef Youth Initiative, it’s a Muslim charity, and that’s not minor. Uh, many people they think that it’s just for Muslims, so at the beginning it was hard to get people involved, that they were, is this a private space, is this not, and now we have 14 volunteers.

Which are from everywhere. So it’s a super nice mix of people and also from different ages. The youngest volunteer is 16. And our oldest volunteer is 70. Uh, from women to men, all ages. So it’s, it’s a very nice mix of people.

Kaska Hempel: Can you tell people what the garden looks like right now?

Gisela De La Espada: Yes, now is the best time. Um, if you close your eyes, when you arrive, you can smell the nice scents of the flowers on the left side. And also if you close your eyes, you can listen how the eucalyptus goes around.

Um, we have a rockery area with different flowers, different textures of colours, shapes. Then we have a pavilion, which is super bright. Pamie Bennett, she’s an artist, she’s doing graffitis for us and she was, uh, giving us very nice bright colour to the pavilion where we have a kitchen, a tool room, and a toilet.

And then we have our wild area, um, we are very into sustainability. So we know the importance of uh, the bees, um, as pollinators. So we have a wild area where we don’t mow the grass. And also we plant the flower seeds as well. Then we have two polytunnels.

And the temperature inside can be 50 degrees.

Kaska Hempel: Wow.

Gisela De La Espada: Yeah. It’s very hot. And what we grow there are things that they need to be inside. Like tomatoes, peppers, chilies, um, aubergines, grapes. It’s quite interesting that you arrive at a place like, do you have grapes in Scotland? Yes, we do. And then there are planters with so many different veggies and an orchard at the back.,

But also at the back, we have a doctor’s garden where we are sitting now. It’s a long line of raised beds where we have chamomiles. Then we have chives with the pinky flowers. We have mint with the purple flowers. Then we have sage with pink flowers. I mean, the idea here is all what’s planted in here it will be medicinal, all to help your tummy with the mint, or the chamomile, or get a better sleep with the chamomile, but also is full of peace. And we love that.

Kaska Hempel: So what would you say is your favourite area in the garden?

Gisela De La Espada: One is actually this one because we are in the opposite way to the gate, so it’s quite a bit far from the noise.

Today is Saturday, so it’s a bit noisy, but Sundays or in the afternoon is extra quiet and there is a lot of tall trees over here, so you can listen to tons of birds, tons of birds. And then the bees, the bees, they look at nice, nice noise all around, yes. And also we have a grotto, which, yes, one of our volunteers was in charge of clearing that area out, we have a hammock, and there is days like that today, which is quite warm, we can just go where is our secret space, And we have picnics over there, and we just hide from the sun when it’s sunny.

Kaska Hempel: When I say, biodiversity, what’s the first thing that comes to your mind?

Gisela De La Espada: Volunteers. We love that. Our biodiversity is our volunteers. It’s so impressed that all of us, our background is completely different. Uh, and everyone feels so welcome.

Um, we have volunteers that they’ve been recommended by the Green Health Prescription. So if they have anxiety or any issues that they can’t cope with, we have people here that are volunteers and you can see how, how they just change. From being at the beginning, I don’t want to be involved to be part of.

Uh, and it’s a good mix with all the other things that we grow because we have a pond. And when I was inside watering the, um, polytunnel I saw tiny frogs. So that’s part of our biodiversity as well. I say before we have tons of, uh, bees, we just mowed the grass over here, but it was two months where we didn’t mow the grass.

Um, many parts of the garden, they look wild. Because we want to bring biodiversity as well, and we know the importance of being surrounded by houses and have a space where they can just have some food. All the garden, it’s organic. We don’t use any pesticides. So we have birds, uh, we have other animals.

We really hope to have more. And that’s what we are working for, to have more biodiversity.

Kaska Hempel: And why do you think that’s important? In both senses, because you talked about diversity of people and diversity of creatures.

Gisela De La Espada: Yes, and we can talk about the same thing. So, in my opinion, COVID show us a couple of things.

The first one is how important it is to be together. How important is… When your brain is clear, when your mind is calm and be close to somebody that you just enjoy.

Um, but also show us, I remember being, when we were inside, that they were showing different places and the animals were out. Because they were like, yeah, that’s my place. And there is no cars. There is no people. I can just take back my place. And in unusual places, I will talk about Argentina, in the South, in the Patagonia, there were penguins walking on the street. And that’s what we are doing as humans. We are pushing them to their place that it was theirs. And here we try to say, you know what, we can live together.

We can live together as humans from different countries, different places, enjoy, but then the garden closes at three. And it’s all your place during the afternoon and during the night.

Kaska Hempel: It sounds like you’ve learned um, more about gardening quite recently. So, what would be a go to resource for yourself that you would recommend to other people if they wanted to learn, um, about gardening or setting up community gardens?

Gisela De La Espada: Depends of what you want to, for example, Trellis is a charity that, uh, they help with community. So if you want to set a community garden, they have exactly step one, step two, step three. So that’s a good resource to go.

Keep Scotland Beautiful. It’s a place where they can show us how to improve, um, to be more sustainable, to have more wildlife.

Studying at SRUC, the Scottish Rural, college, that’s, that’s a good idea, but also have your hands on, um, sometimes you don’t need to have a lot of knowledge to enjoy what you are doing and making mistakes.

We love making mistakes. That’s how we learn. one day we were cutting raspberries that I have in front of me. Uh, and because we thought that it was the season and we cut all the raspberries back. So it was no raspberries that season and now everybody knows here. So we love, love to make mistakes and then you will never forget that.

Kaska Hempel: Yeah, that’s a good one actually. Oh, there are really nice ones, the yellow ones.

Gisela De La Espada: Yellow, yes, we have Autumn which are the yellow ones and the red ones.

Kaska Hempel: Um, okay, that’s going to be a silly one. Yep. Uh, if you were a vegetable, what vegetable would you be and why?

Gisela De La Espada: Wow. Um, I love vegetables. I think so I will be a carrot. When you sow a seed of a carrot, the seeds are extra tiny and you can get very tall carrots. But also the carrots are one of those veggies that the people don’t trust them. They are very good for your skin. They are very good for your eyes.

You can eat the stems in a salad or make a pesto with that. So it’s quite… versatile one. But also they are hiding under the soil. Yes, then, and then they can be funny, like when you just pull them out, it’s like surprise! I’m a funny carrot.

Kaska Hempel: Yeah, they’ve got shapes.

Gisela De La Espada: Yeah,

Kaska Hempel: Who or what inspires you in gardening or in personal life? Um, in working with, with community?

Gisela De La Espada: I came from a place where it’s very different from here as food wise.

And sometimes the people, they don’t know the huge possibilities that they have about growing. so I think so coming from a place where we are more creative, that inspired me quite a lot saying you have a tiny piece of land. grow something. Don’t waste going to the supermarket. The food doesn’t need to travel miles and miles.

You have that in front of your door. Um, so that inspired me quite a lot

Kaska Hempel: There is this emerging network of community gardens, um, across Dundee. How does it feel to become, a part of it?

Gisela De La Espada: Very proud. Very proud. Um, we need to work together many reasons. One is resources. Sometimes we think that we are alone, but we are not.

And it’s easy to work when you have somebody to support you. Um, because, I don’t know, you need advice. Because you are not sure about how to grow something. Because you need hands. I mean, all of us, we have the same idea about… Okay. We have our spaces. We can grow food. We can give that to the people away.

We can have people involved, um, and have a net. It’s clear about where are we going, which is we’re working together. We are making such a noise. Listen to us. Listen what we are saying. I’m very proud of being part of growing Dundee.

Kaska Hempel: That’s great. And the final question,

 I’d like you to imagine yourself 10 years from now, maybe sitting on the same bench or wherever your favorite spot is in the garden. Mm hmm. And just imagining what you’re going to see. What are you going to smell?

What are you going to taste and hear and feel?

Gisela De La Espada: Okay.

Kaska Hempel: And, share with the listeners, one memory from that future.

Gisela De La Espada: I would like to listen less cars, be more aware about birds, about the bees. about all the creatures that are in the garden. And,

yeah, smells flowers, jasmines, or chives. Chives, they’re amazing. Yeah, they’re huge. Um, I wish that would be many places like this one around the city. And I hope that that will happen. In 10 years that you are, I don’t know, each two or three blocks before was nothing and now even is a pot growing strawberries and you just pass by and pick a strawberry or you’re crossing the street and pick up an apple from a tree that will be That would be amazing.

Kaska Hempel: Let’s do it! Well, thank you so much for having a chat.

Gisela De La Espada: You’re very welcome. Thank you very much. Thank you very much.

Kaska Hempel: I did not feel like leaving Victoria Garden’s busy buzz and yummy food behind but it was time to head off to my next stop and second last on my list – Fruitbowls Community Garden on the other side of the Balgay hill. Look out for that Everyday Changemakers episode next Monday. 

In the meantime – check out the episode notes for the links to Victoria Gardens Facebook page and other resources, including a link to the wee audio tour of Dundee’s gardens based on this interview series.


Interview, recording and sound production: Kaska Hempel


Victoria Community Gardens (Yusuf Youth Initiative) on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/VictoriaGardensYYI 

The Big Lunch (Eden Communities) https://www.edenprojectcommunities.com/the-big-lunch 

Eden Project Dundee https://www.edenproject.com/new-edens/eden-project-dundee-uk 

Trellis Scotland (gardening for wellbeing) https://www.trellisscotland.org.uk/ 

Keep Scotland Beautiful https://www.keepscotlandbeautiful.org/ 

SRUC https://www.sruc.ac.uk/ 

The MAXwell Centre, Dundee https://maxdundee.org.uk/ 

Green Health Prescription Scotland https://www.greenhealth.scot/ 

Dundee Community Garden Network (Grow Dundee) https://growdundee.blog/