Big-hearted firms give Jon's garden a makeover
"If you knew how happy I was... Well, you wouldn't be able to print the words I'd use in a newspaper!"
That was the elated reaction of a Devon stroke-survivor sitting amid the mayhem of an ongoing landscape gardening project yesterday as he watched his overgrown prairie being turned into a miniature paradise.
Former taxi driver Jon Mason won a dream garden makeover worth thousands after gaining first prize in MyBuilder website's 'Win A Grand For Your Garden' competition – and teams from all manner of local businesses have been at his Sheepwash home all week making the transformation.
Jon, who was only 47 when he suffered a debilitating stroke, posted a heartfelt plea for a new garden on the website and earned 765 votes from members of the public plus the top prize of £1000 towards life-changing improvements to his out-of-control plot of land.
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But his story somehow leaked out and big-hearted local businesses pitched in to supplement the website's prize with donated materials.
Now Jon's massive garden makeover, worth over £4,000, is being completed free of charge.
"All the old stuff has been dug out and flattened and made ready – and the patio is already down," said an ecstatic Jon as workers continued the transformation yesterday.
"Someone has painted one of my sheds for me and the turf is being laid as we speak.
"I tell you what," he mused. "This garden was unreal before the work started on Monday. It was completely overgrown. I couldn't go out there.
"I don't know anything about gardening, but I've been watching this lot and I'm really getting into it," Jon added. "It's therapeutic – I've started looking up various plants and things on the computer and this is going to become a big interest for me."
As for winning the original prize Jon commented: "I've never won anything in my life and I haven't got the foggiest how I got that many votes.
"Friends must have put it on their sites. I just put it on Facebook and thought I'd only get 50-60 votes, the next thing it went crazy. I'm really grateful to everyone who made this happen. Amazing!"
The 51-year-old lives on a potentially lovely country plot, but previous tenants had let the garden run wild. Vermin nested in the long grass and the uneven, overgrown lawn was a hazard for Jon, who is paralysed down his left-hand side.
He's not physically capable of carrying out any heavy manual labour himself and living on disability allowance meant he couldn't afford to pay anyone to help either.
"I did a swap into my bungalow on the understanding they would do my garden... this is their version of it being done," wrote a despairing Jon in his winning post. "I don't know whether to laugh or cry..."
Given Jon's unique circumstances, the mybuilder team realised their £1000 was only going to scratch the surface of his problem, so they swung into action.
Helped by one of their registered local tradesman – Andrew Greenhill, of Andrew Greenhill Landscapes in Hatherleigh – they put the word out locally and a number of companies stepped in with donations. Builders' merchant Travis Perkins from Torrington is supplying patio materials – Tarka Housing, the association that owns Jon's bungalow, is getting it maintenance team to put up and paint his nearly new shed – and Jack's Patch Nursery and Garden Centre is donating pots and plants, while HTC Turf is helping with the lawn.
Eagle Plant has supplied a free digger, Okehampton and Crediton Skip hire has removed rubbish and Morrisons supermarket is making sure Jon can keep it all going by donating an easy-wind hose and pull-along bucket, along with some fruit trees and herbs.
"It's amazing how local firms have got behind our project," says mybuilder CEO and founder, Ryan Notz. "It just goes to show what community spirit can achieve and what a great business sector we're in. Tradesmen and trade businesses do make a big difference to our society and don't always get the recognition they deserve."
Watching the work in action yesterday, Jon told the WMN: "My health is terrible, to be honest – I can walk about 30 feet, and that's it.
"But somebody has donated a garden bench and I'm going to be able to go out there, relax, and chill out," said the father of three who had a narrow escape when two blood clots affected his brain and he spent a couple of months recovering in hospital.
"I'm also going to enjoy learning about gardening," he grinned.