GREEN-FINGERED pensioner Dempster Smith has transformed overgrown wasteland into a tranquil haven.
Over the last five years, the 81-year-old has crafted a sensory garden at Racecourse Estate Community Access Point, in Houghton.
Impressed by the effort volunteers put in at the centre, Dempster started his project by offering to cut the overgrown grass.
And it wasn’t long before he decided to add his own personal touch, putting in hedging, flowerbeds, herb gardens and a fruit and veg patch.
Dempster, of Hetton, said: “It was overgrown with grass and dandelions and weeds, so I volunteered to cut the grass one day and it grew from there.”
“I really enjoy it and helping out. Gardening is great exercise and is better than me going to the gym and starting to pump iron.”
His efforts have paid off, with the garden scooping six gold medals in the Sunderland and Northumbria in Bloom competitions in the last three years.
“The garden looks so much better and it’s nice that people can sit outside and relax now,” the former pitman said.
“I’ve planted hedges and flowers to attract birds and butterflies and we grow apples and plums and other fruit and vegetables so it’s also educational for kids.”
The centre has also been given a cash injection from Awards For All to extend the garden further.
With a bit of help, the great-grandad-of-six plans on digging up a patch at the side of the building, to develop a herb garden.
The centre then hopes to put on healthy cooking classes, using homemade goods from the garden.
Dempster spends five mornings a week at the centre before heading home to sort out his own garden.
“I have a big garden at home so I’ve had more than 40 years practice,” he said. “I think it’s typical of pitmen, we all seem to enjoy gardening as a hobby.”
Ann Owen, of the centre, said: “I think it’s amazing what Dempster has done and he’s made a real difference.
“He puts in so much hard work and effort and deserves recognition for everything he has done.”