Three Inspirational Community Gardens

Only a fraction of the places you could look, because they are so many! What more do you need in searching for some kind of hope for humanity, because these gardens are amazing and they all exist because people worked hard mostly in their free time to create them. Just because they love gardens.

I’m half excited and half pure panicked about the thought of setting up our own community garden at the precinct. So much work, so much I don’t know. So I’ve been visiting lots of people and talking things through.

I know that’s not the same as doing it of course. Our first event to build some herb beds and plant some sack gardens is Saturday and I’m pretty scared.

Still, look at what is possible.

Cody Dock

This might just be my favourite — they have boats after all, and sit alongside the water and have an old routemaster puppet bus.Who can compete with that?

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Stephen Shiell working with local residents has built one hell of a beautiful garden in this very industrial space, a place of wonder even on a bitterly cold February morning.

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Dancing grasses, a splendid area of bog, an unexpectedly successful succulent garden that stunned everyone with its flowers

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A scattering of art across the landscape, like these wind pipes and a living woven fence of willow. I confess, I never knew this was possible with willow. I can’t wait to see it after it leafs out (though some of it has died back, something about the site or the preparation not having been quite to its liking, and this is the greatest lesson I have taken away from all of these gardens. You never really know what will happen and everything will still be okay):

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They have built these beautiful and very simple glass lids to some of the growing beds that we might want to consider for the end of this year so we can start some seeds early (a bit too late now sadly!):

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An incredibly inspiring place I can’t wait to return to, especially as they are working to further reclaim the pathway along the canal, with its ancient reed beds and stillness in the heart of the city.

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Poplar HARCA

Storm warnings were in force when Ana Mae Contreras showed me around several of the gardens on the estates, and despite that I got to see community building in action. Not much had happened at one of the gardens over the winter, so as soon as we started looking around people came down to find out when things were starting up again.

Nice.

As is the garden, built with strong scaffolding to grow kudu, a gourd popular in Bengali cooking:

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I am looking forward to growing some of this, and even more to learning how to cook it. They are in the middle of building a bottle greenhouse here, which I love (Stepney City Farm has a lovely one as well)

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They also have a nice and tidy composter, which might be useful for our gardens, though I think we have space for the more traditional kind and its much larger capacity.

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Just around the corner from here is a new orchard, which each of the fruit trees adopted and cared for by a family. I loved that, but my heart was truly stolen by an curious square of rubber set into the ground — turns out it is a trampoline, one big enough to hold three grown women sharing a moment of pure joy.

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Ten minutes away their youth project is working on their own garden — a different form of bed, and beautiful

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Walk down a narrow grassy alley perfect for hosting community cooks and food sharing, there are more immensely solid allotment beds:

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And this awesomeness still somewhat under construction:

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Woolwich Community Centre Garden

This was a little off the beaten track, but I went to an amazing training put together by the Greenwich Co-operative Development Agency on starting a community garden. I would highly recommend it. It walked us through thinking about everything we need to start a garden…this what we came up with

  • Space, soil, water, sun, gravel, compost
  • Raised beds for growing
  • seeds and plants
  • committed group to help start and manage gardens, but multiple opportunities for people to drop in and out, volunteer short term
  • process for access, managing security
  • meeting space, and place for planning building, crops, care
  • marketing to get people involved
  • fundraising, process to capacitate community to do the fundraising
  • budget
  • relationship with neighbouring gardens and city farms and allotments for resources and support
  • plan for statement of purpose as we can’t have simple allotments, how we might divide harvest, could we do some communal cooking
  • insurance

The training was about how we manage to pull together all of those things, and immensely useful.

The weather, as per usual, was freezing cold. It also rained.

Here is the garden at the centre:

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The best kind of compost system, and the kind we hope to build:

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A handy way to store things, especially all the bits you need to make bee houses:

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I would love to do a workshop building those. I’d also love one of these — a worm farm, useful for organic fertilisers, though I am as sold on nettle and comfrey teas.

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We definitely have a lot of work to do to be this amazing.

We’ve had more help from Caravanserai, Stepney City Farm, the Women’s Environmental Network and others still to get in touch with. There is so much happening around food growing and urban agriculture in Tower Hamlets, it is exciting to be a part of it.

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