Downham in South East London is built-up residential area today but up to WWI this was still open countryside. It is probably a little-known area to those living in the more fashionable and trendy parts of London, but I believe that development there has interesting lessons for us in the 21C.Read More »
During lockdown, Catherine, like many of us, suddenly found herself spending a lot more time at home, and in need of something to do to break up the zoom call schedule (I think we can all relate to the zoom fatigue!). What better way to do this than getting outside, exploring the local area, and getting involved with a charity? Catherine has kindly written about her lockdown experience, and how it inspired her to become an outdoors person.
“Like many people, I learnt a lot about both myself and my neighbourhood during Lockdown. One of the most significant things was discovering that just 10 minutes’ walk from the flat I have lived in for 16 years is a lovely little wood. That wood became one of my Lockdown happy places.
Let me rewind. It was the morning of 23rd April and I was heading to the park at the end of my road for a quick breath of fresh air before a day full of Zoom workshops. I bumped into one of my neighbours and her kids coming out of their house: ‘We’re off to pick wild garlic in the woods’, she said. ‘Which woods?’ I replied. ‘That makes me feel so much better,’ she exclaimed, ‘I felt so guilty when I discovered them last week. I have lived on this street six years!’ I have lived on this street for 16 years this week.
The following day (when I was blissfully free of Zoom calls!) I followed her instructions to go through the gateposts on the corner of Beulah Hill and Spa Hill: ‘The ones that look like you’re going to go into someone’s garden.’ Twenty metres or so on a beautiful tranquil path opened up in front of me and within seconds I was plunged into a green oasis that smelt of wild garlic and was noisy with bird song. I spent the next hour or so wandering around the woods, discovering the fairy houses and wooden carvings that have been the hard work of The Friends of Spa Wood.
Since then I have gone walking in those woods more times than I can remember. I soon realised that it provided a handy short cut to my partner’s house so I would cut through it on the way for garden gate chats and cake deliveries. I saw numerous dog walkers and runners and even spotted one person sat on a fallen tree working on their laptop.
I happened across temporary street art that just looked so amazing strung between two trees. One day I said to my oldest friends in our WhatsApp group: ‘I am off to the woods to listen to the birdsong,’ to which one of them quipped: ‘Is this your emergency message? Have you been kidnapped?’ I very much was not the kind of person who would go listening to birdsong, but listen to this – in the silent days of Lockdown the birds were magnificent.
At some point I took to Google to find out more about Spa Wood. I had heard of the Great North Wood and knew that my area of Upper Norwood (better known as Crystal Palace) and the neighbouring West Norwood and South Norwood carried its name. My Googling quickly led me to the London Wildlife Trust and their conservation work on 13 remaining patches of the ancient wood. Their Go Jauntly App showed me walking routes to visit these sites. I decided that one of my Lockdown projects would be to visit all the sites in the London Wildlife Trust project. On the 12th of July I ticked off the last on the list with a trip to One Tree Hill.
Well, I say the last. Actually I couldn’t visit the New Cross Gate Cutting site because it is restricted access, but hopefully before too long I will get there. That’s because after my visit to One Tree Hill I came home, signed up to be a member of London Wildlife Trust and am now a volunteer on the Great North Wood project. I run my own business, a storytelling agency called Mile 91, so I am lucky enough to be have the flexibility to be able to take time out to volunteer during the week. My first session was at Spa Woods and I will be there again next Friday. They’re easy sessions to get to as I only need to leave my desk 15 minutes before the start time. When work allows I hope to volunteer at some of the sites further afield and I’ll make getting to the New Cross Gate Cutting a priority.
At the start of 2020, if someone had told me I would spend a large chunk of my year walking around woods in South London and by the time September came I’d be a volunteer for a conservation charity I would never have believed them. But would anyone have believed what was to come at the start of the year? Discovering the woodland areas near me as been one of the great joys of this unbelievable year though and I am really happy to now be doing my small bit to keep them healthy for others to enjoy.”
Catherine Raynor is a founding director of Mile 91, a storytelling agency for people who do good things. She can be found on Twitter and Instagram at @catherineraynor. All images courtesy of Catherine Raynor.
Nathan, one of our Trustees, has been visiting some of our gardens, learning more about their history and the people behind them. This week he chatted to Marion, a professional gardener and florist, a City of London Tour guide specialising in green spaces, a member of Friends of City Gardens, an accredited guide for Smithfield market & The Temple, and one of our area coordinators. Marion also works at Vestry House, maintaining the garden. She spoke to Nathan about the history of the garden and how she became involved with Vestry House (unfortunately, she doesn’t share how she manages to fit all of that in!) You can listen to Marion’s interview on our website.
Vestry House Garden is one of a pair of award-winning gardens, which are privately owned. The garden was originally created on the site of the 12th Century Churchyard of St Laurence Pountney and the College of Corpus Christi. Corpus Christi College was founded by Sir John Poultney who was Lord Mayor in 1330, 1331, 1333 and 1336, in the parish of St. Lawrence. His name was also given to the church. Both the church and the college were destroyed during the Great Fire of 1666 and were not rebuilt. Sir John Poultney’s house had been on the west of Laurence Pountney Hill. A number of fine late C17th and early C18th houses survive in this area.
This former graveyard consists of two raised garden areas, which are divided by a sunken pedestrian passageway to Martin Lane. The area to the north is believed to be the site of the church of St Laurence Pountney. Both gardens are planted with trees and shrubs and are contained by railings which date from c.1780. Restoration works were undertaken in the south ground in 2003 as a private residential garden of adjoining property.
The gardens combine traditional parterre planting with a more contemporary design which works its way around tombs and headstones. There is a secluded planted area, naturalistic in style, and containing nectar-rich flowers to encourage wildlife. A wisteria walkway and espalier fruit trees provide formality, while the textural hard landscaping contrasts with the perfect grass lawn. The garden focuses on increasing biodiversity within The City.
While the gardens are now private and residential, in 1370 the churchyard was used as a meeting place of Flemish weavers for the purpose of hiring. Weaves of Brabant gathered in the churchyard of St Mary Somerset. This separation was due to a disagreement between the weavers. We’re pleased to say that hiring practices have moved on since the 1300’s and we much prefer the ‘c.v via email’ route!
You can read more about the St Laurence Pountney Graveyards on our inventory
The Growing Kitchen and Wenlock Orchard are resident led, community food growing spaces on The Wenlock Barn Estate in Hackney. Volunteers have transformed three spaces on the estate from mown grass to thriving, organic, productive sites for people and nature. Residents have individual micro allotments in The Growing Kitchen and jointly care for a shared foraging area with soft fruits, rhubarb and the orchard. Both sites have become havens for wildlife and we have a healthy population of breeding smooth newts and common toads, along with an amazing variety of moths, butterflies and bees. The spaces offer the community tranquil, natural spaces to spend time in, grow their own food and meet their neighbours.
There is something very reassuring in the fact that nature’s processes continue without our intervention. The toads and newts spawned in the pond and the little toad tadpoles now have their back legs. It’s such a delight to be able to see them progressing through their life cycle and never fails to evoke feelings of true awe and wonder.
Meanwhile the berries are ripening on the fruit bushes, a mixture of strawberries, raspberries, black and red currants, gooseberries and one of my favourites, the jostaberry, a delicious blackcurrant, gooseberry hybrid, which is sweet enough to just eat straight from the plant. The first cherries were ready in May this year!
We’ve been feeding the fruits with homemade comfrey and nettle tea which works as an excellent feed rich in nitrogen and potassium, essential for fruit growth. Pretty stinky but when you know it’s doing the plants good, it’s bearable!
Watering has been a real challenge in the sunniest April on record, combined with those winds that further dried the soil. Mulching with wood chip and a good soaking with watering cans so you know how much each plant or tree is getting works better in lots of ways than the hose. We’ve had a watering rota but it’s been hard to keep up and the newer apricot trees in the orchard have suffered a little. Looking forward to some more rain! Can’t wait to taste the plums that are ripening in the orchard and watch the toadlets take their first steps out of the pond.
Emery Walker House is one of a terrace of mid-eighteenth century town houses on the bank of the river Thames at Hammersmith. Originally, access to the house was probablyvia the river and through the garden, but by the late nineteenth century the entrance from the terrace had become the main one. Thus we now have a garden which goes right down to the water’s edge.
We know that T J Cobden-Sanderson, bookbinder and co-founder with Emery Walker of the Doves Press, lived in the house until 1903. It was probably he who added the conservatory to the house and laid out the garden paths (we understand so his son could run his toy train round them). These are still in place today but the planting layoutoriginated with the next occupants of the house, Emery, and his daughter Dorothy Walker. Their plans were faithfully maintained by Dorothy’s companion, Elizabeth de Haas, who inherited the house and was its last occupant.
Dorothy kept a diary and copious notes as to what she planted in the garden which the Trustees of the house use to keep the planting as much to her choices of plants as possible.
Recently, Trustees and volunteers have been doing a lot of work on the garden as it had become quite overgrown. Thisled to the unearthing of a rockery (very fashionable in the 1930s) and renewing of some of the planting based on the diaries. Among the flowers Dorothy chose are white campanula, violas, Sweet Williams, delphiniums, asters and lupins, together with lavender and roses, the latter underplanted with cyclamens, now thick on the ground in spring. One of our volunteers was able to source an unusualdahlia which Dorothy loved called Baby Royal, which flowers prolifically in late summer.
At the same time one of the beds was almost completely cleared and we thought it would be appropriate to devote that to plants with an association with May Morris, William Morris’s daughter, who was a neighbour and a good friend of the Walkers, living next door at no.8 for many years. She was a greatly accomplished embroiderer and designer and gave theWalker family two embroideries now displayed in the house. Like her father, she drew on both cultivated and wild plants for inspiration and some of these are included in the west bed: honeysuckle and horn poppy recall the two wallpapers she designed for her father’s firm Morris & Co.; roses and lilies are accompanied by pinks and peonies, alongside common daisies and ragged robin. In the spring the bed is full of narcissi, violets and forget-me-nots, accompanied by more exotic parrot tulips.
In early summer a magnificent wisteria covers the back of the house and extends along the garden to the pergola beside the river. And inside, coming in through a hole in the wall of the conservatory is a very fine vine, believed to be grown from a cutting from Hogarth’s garden in nearby Chiswick.
Thus a small suburban garden is packed with choices and memories of a family which had close associations with the Morris family, who lived a ten-minute walk along the river at Kelmscott House.
Lockdown has eased slightly, but we’ve never been more relieved to have an open space to escape to in the middle of London.
The Alara Permaculture Forest Garden was started by Alex Smith, the Alara founding director, to create a sort of Garden of Eden amidst the hustle and bustle of King’s Cross, and it has truly become a safe haven.
The garden is often used as a peaceful place for employees to enjoy their lunch away from the endlessly busy world of our cereal manufacturing factory. As they are considered essential workers, this sort of solace is really welcomed. Luckily, they do not have to go very far, as the factory is encircled by the garden and a yacon tuber plantation.
The garden was meant to be featured in the upcoming Open Garden Squares Weekend in early June. However, due to the current Covid-19 situation, the event has been postponed and we hope one day we will all be safe to mingle in the leafy oasis without fears of getting ill. It remains a lovely place for the public to find serenity in the current climate. If you wish to visit, simply call the Alara office (020 7387 9303) and inform a staff member so that proper social distancing measures can be guaranteed.
TIPS FOR YOUR GARDEN
Alex will be planting an array of produce in the upcoming weeks, taking full advantage of the glorious weather we’ve been promised. This will include potatoes, pumpkins, chard, tomatoes, kale, chillies, courgettes and yacon. If you have limited space at home or have to make do with using pots and planters, chillies and baby tomatoes are great plants to tend in this sort of environment. They are both aesthetically colourful and you can pot them with the knowledge that you’ll also be able to enjoy your own produce once they’re ripe. Any herbs could also be a great option if space is a problem.
Our garden usually sees a great amount of apricots and loquats, but for some reason, we don’t seem to be in luck this here. In contrast, our fig trees are full of fruit that are already large and they should be ripe and ready by early July. We can’t wait!
We feel that our permaculture garden provides place of calm and continuity in an incredibly disorderly tumultuous time and we are endlessly thankful to have access to it.
A Core Arts Project
At Core Landscapes, we transform temporary sites into green havens to promote positive mental health for all. During Lockdown we have a skeleton staff and volunteer rota maintain our roof and street gardens and have shifted all learning engagement online. When the lock down began we worked quickly to create a series of “how to” films on all aspects of horticulture films, spotlights on wild plants and seasonal garden updates. We are supporting our beneficiaries with calls, texts and whatsapp groups to share gardening information and to keep in touch with everyone and aim to deliver plant + compost packs to them in the near future. The films are fully accessible via our website link www.core-landscapes.co.uk
Core Landscapes began in 2009 and has moved 4 times across 3 East London Boroughs since then. We’re currently situated on a roof in Hackney next to Core Arts’ award-winning mental health charity after relocating from Whitechapel last year.
We work with people who have been referred to the project via health and social care professionals and also with community, support and corporate volunteers as well as the wider community and general public. We also support other community green projects with advice, support and training.
Whereever we are situated the project always has an orchard, teaching space, medicinal plants, pond, food growing area as well as a wide range of flowers, shrubs and other trees – all movable and container grown showcasing that the sky’s the limit with container growing. We demonstrate that just because you may not have much space or actual ground to grow into, you can still garden and create gardens to promote your mental health and wellbeing through gardening.
For more information – follow Core Landscapes at
Phoenix Farm in White City
We hope you all had a lovely Easter from all of us at Hammersmith Community Gardens Association.
One member of our team is still caring for the plants and animals at Phoenix Farm in White City, while our volunteer gardening sessions are postponed, to keep everyone safe. One of our amazing volunteers, Lydia, made a short film of Phoenix Farm over the Easter weekend. We hope you enjoy this 90 second video of peacefulness and calm as much as we did! Here is the link to the video:
This month, our head gardener, Cath, has had a lot to do in the garden! She has been busy sowing a huge variety of seeds in the greenhouse, such as: tomatoes, courgettes, pumpkins, French beans, coriander, basil and outside she has been sowing broad beans, sunflowers, peas, carrots, lettuce, rocket and spinach! If you are looking for some fun, food growing and nature craft ideas you can check out our website http://www.hcga.org.uk or sign up to the HCGA newsletter:
Over the last week, we have given away over one hundred free ‘growing kits’ at Ravenscourt Park (outside the cafe) and on the White City Estate! Next week, we will be giving away more growing kits in Queen’s Park Gardens.
Keep an eye on our Twitter page for updates: @HCGAGardens. Inside the growing kit you will find sunflower seeds and other vegetable seeds, instructions on how to sow and plant them, small pots, compost and ideas for things you can grow at home from your store cupboard or from your food waste. Happy growing!
We have also launched our annual sunflower growing competition so if you would like to enter, sow some sunflower seeds now! You don’t need a garden, why not grow them in pots on your windowsill?! Follow the instructions below to help
Growing Space is a not-for-profit project of Arcadia Charitable Trust. We are transforming underused church gardens into edible teaching gardens for surrounding schools and communities in West London.
We believe that it is important for everyone, but especially children to interact directly and consistently with nature and to engage in the practice of growing food. This can be especially difficult for those living in urban areas.
Growing Space secures the location in the long run and coordinates the usage of edible teaching gardens for schools and communities. In 2019, we have built gardens in two locations: one at Christ Church Kensington (in W8), the other one at St-Helen’s North Kensington (in W10).
We provide ongoing support to partnering school staff as well as arrange workshops for the broader community during weekends and school holidays, all while ensuring that the garden is looking lovely year-round.
Through the use of those beautiful green oasis, participants come to understand the importance of looking after the soil and are encouraged in healthy eating habits as they enjoy sampling the fruits of their labour.
During the Covid-19 lockdown…we have not had the pleasure of welcoming our regular school groups, but we have enjoyed the help of local volunteer families and children from Victoria Road Montessori, Bassett House School and Thomas’s School, who have come to sow seeds, plant, weed and water the gardens.
We have also been fortunate enough to invite children of NHS doctors and nurses from Bassett House School (featured on the pictures, Ollie and Elisabeth) to explore and work in our Growing Space at St. Helen’s North Kensington.
All fruit and vegetables harvested during this time have been given to local families and our host churches to be distributed as needed.
We also welcomed a family of foxes who found the tranquility of our garden the perfect place to shelter a brood of four kits! They have happily now moved out into the broader world and just in time, except for our little Feisty!… a young female cub, which we had to rescue as infected with mange.
She is now in a safe place and being cared for with antibiotics to fight the disease. She should be back on her feet very soon… hopefully in a few weeks!
We will continue to monitor the current situation with Covid-19 and will again offer our fun outdoor workshops to the community following government guidelines and protocols from August.
We would encourage everyone to begin a small garden at home, even if that simply means putting a pot of herbs in a windowsill. The fragrance and flavour of a herb such as thyme, rosemary, mint or oregano can lift the spirits any day!
Tips of the month:
Its time to propagation your herbs! You can also cut back your mint right to the bottom once this summer to allow a second growth to happen during the summer! Harvest also vegetables planted in the early season. Our potatoes will be very soon ready to be harvested, which the children will love to help with!