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    Winners announced in Refugee Garden Competition

    Running in parallel with the world famous RHS Chelsea Flower Show this week, the Lemon Tree Trust has announced winners of a garden competition run across five camps in the Kurdistan region of Iraq. The Lemon Tree Trust supports gardening initiatives in refugee camps as a way to restore dignity, purpose, and cultural identity among refugees, and this year’s garden competition attracted close to 1,000 entries. Mirroring their garden competition in Iraq, the Lemon Tree Trust is exhibiting a show garden at the Chelsea Flower Show in order to showcase its work to a global audience.

    Since 2015 the Lemon Tree Trust has been working in Domiz camp in Northern Iraq, which is home to 26,000 Syrian refugees. It started the garden competition as a community activity to engage with people living in the camp and it quickly took root, with residents embracing the sense of competition and pride that it brought. For many refugees, gardens are a meaningful way to connect with their lives prior to being forced to flee their homes, helping to bring some beauty, normality, and comfort to their harsh living conditions.

    In the first year, 50 families took part in the competition, and in the second year the number of entrants tripled. This year, there were 918 entries across the five camps. After the judging took place, the winners were announced this week in parallel with gardeners receiving awards at the Chelsea Flower Show.

    Stephanie Hunt, founder and CEO of the Lemon Tree Trust, says: “The participants of the garden competition have shown incredible ingenuity and resourcefulness to create such fantastic gardens out of so little. The great enthusiasm and response we have had to this competition shows how powerful gardening is as a way to give individuals and families a sense of peace and purpose, as well as grow communities.”

    Using their limited resources, the residents of the camps have created a wide range of gardens, incorporating readily available materials such as concrete, steel, and breezeblocks. Water features are an important element of many gardens and items such as tyres, plastic bottles, and tin cans are repurposed as planters. The array of plants typically found in the gardens focuses as much on ornamentals that bring colour and beauty as edible crops, and includes roses, grapes, jasmine, honeysuckle, figs, lemons, pomegranates, herbs, sunflowers, marigolds, and succulents.

    Mikey Tomkins, director of urban agriculture at the Lemon Tree Trust, was in Domiz camp this week helping to judge the garden competitions. He said: “The number of garden entries this year has been outstanding. We have thoroughly enjoyed visiting each and every one of them, all of which are testament to the dedication of gardeners across all five camps to creating green spaces to find solace and grow food. Our congratulations to the winners, and all the entrants who deserve recognition for their creativity and ingenuity to garden against all odds. These gardens represent a grassroots movement, and through the creativity of refugees, the local government and NGOs and UNHCR are now embracing home gardens and urban agriculture as an essential part of camp planning and crisis response.”

    Stephanie Hunt continues: “A garden competition is a powerful addition to other NGO efforts that provide critical basic needs for refugees. The simple act of gardening has given us a way to connect directly with refugees and allow them to feel valued again as an individual.  We believe that gardening should be brought to the forefront of crisis response because the sooner you plant trees and put seeds in the ground, the sooner people can begin to feed themselves, experience aesthetic beauty, and restore their dignity.”

    Inspired by these refugee gardens, the Lemon Tree Trust has created a garden for the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, showing the unexpected beauty that is found within refugee camps. Designed by Tom Massey, it is the first refugee garden to appear at the prestigious show. Imitating features from the camps, it incorporates an ‘innovation wall’ filled with everyday objects such as tin cans and plastic bottles used as containers for vertical planting, as well as a drought tolerant planting scheme and an Islamic inspired fountain.

    Home gardens also have a huge impact on home cooking for refugee parties from Syria who have a proud tradition of using fresh food and herbs, some of which are not available locally. Residents of “Domiz I” camp staged a cooking competition this week to celebrate their culinary traditions, with over 40 families preparing traditional dishes for the whole community to enjoy during Ramadan. Each dish came not only with a flavour and a dedication to a presentation, but also with a story; a story of trying to preserve a rich tradition of food in the face of migration and being displaced. The community came together after sundown to enjoy breaking fast together, and dishes were judged on presentation and taste.

    Aveen Ibrahim, community outreach officer for the Lemon Tree Trust who is based in Northern Iraq, said: “Coming together as a community to break fast during Ramadan and to share food with all our non-Muslim neighbours and friends was an absolute highlight of our week. Judging the garden competition entries was difficult enough this year but judging the incredible cooking was even more so. Luckily, we had some help from UNHCR Iraq colleagues who all thoroughly enjoyed the evening. It has been a perfect way to join in the spirit of the Chelsea Flower Show festivities here in Kurdistan.”

    To find out more about the work of the Lemon Tree Trust, please visit: www.lemontreetrust.org

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