Guest blog: Candy Blackham, Area Coordinator for the Docklands

We are delighted to welcome Candy Blackham to our guest blog. Candy is Open Garden Squares Weekend Area Coordinator for the Docklands, one of the team of volunteers upon whom OGSW depends. Area coordinators represent and coordinate groups of gardens in designated geographical areas across the capital. Her blog paints a wonderful picture of the Docklands area.

All photographs (c) Candy Blackham


I was in a dark place, feeling very isolated, when I found a call for volunteers to work with Open Garden Squares Weekend. I sent off the application form, chatted to a nice lady over coffee, and hey presto – I was an Area Coordinator! I had to ensure ‘my sites’ were ready for a successful OGSW and I thought I might contribute by taking photos, so I set off to meet the gardeners. I was new to volunteering – I had always been in full-time work – and had no idea that I was at the beginning of a personal and very rewarding journey. It seems I have gained a great deal more than I have given, not only from the gardeners, but also from my fellow Coordinators.

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I had walked London with Bradshaw’s Handbook to London, 1862, and so I was familiar with the area between London Bridge and the River Lea. I had also explored the former Surrey Commercial Docks with a late 19th century map, but I had been an observer – now I would meet people of the 21st century in these areas.

My interest in photography grew as I tried to communicate what I was feeling and seeing in my area, the Docklands.17-12-16, 4709, Cody Dock, Candy Blackham, LR-4709 Initially I took photographs to ‘document’ the sites, but increasingly started exploring photography itself.

At the start of the 19th centure London was the world’s largest industrial power and the world’s largest port. The West India Docks on the Isle of Dogs were a revolutionary way of handling shipping and brought great wealth to the founders. It was fun to look for traces of the Docks which can still be found around Canary Wharf.

17-6-7, 9380, Crossrail Place Roof Garden, Candy Blackham, LR-9380Today, with shipping gone, Canary Wharf continues to trade, but while my ‘responsibility’ is Crossrail Place Roof Garden I have found so much more in the surrounding area – the architecture, the Jubilee Park Roof Garden, the marvellous pieces of art both inside and outside, and the beautiful reflections in the water. I have spent many happy hours here, trying to catch the moods of the area. Some days, I just visit to watch the swans!

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Again and again I was heartened and uplifted by personal endeavour. I had enjoyed the peaceful parkland of the former Surrey Commercial Docks alongside the River Thames, but now I met two remarkable people who are managing eight acres of woodland and wetland with only the help of volunteers. You and I retreat indoors on cold winter days but they are outside, laying paths, coppicing, dry fencing, and looking after the flora and fauna for our enjoyment – humbling.

A tall tower block on the Commercial Road and two grandfathers seem an unlikely gardening story but here I found  hard work, persistence and determination, resulting in a beautiful and interesting garden, a collection of rare breed chickens, and even a small allotment area. The bonus was the Watney Street Market round the corner and its wonderful fabric stall!

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A thriving nursery and Japanese mustard greens – not perhaps what you expect in Tower Hamlets? Determination, but also great skill, mark the ‘meanwhile garden’ (what a lovely term!) next to the Royal London Hospital, and the rooftop garden at Providence Row. 18-2-8, 6205, Providence Row, Candy Blackham, LR-6205Gardening and conservation are at the highest standards, achieved by people who are either ill, or in unfortunate circumstances. The ladies in charge expect the best, kindly but firmly, and they achieve it.

Cable Street is associated with strife and shipping, but today the garden (forty years old) is a haven for flora, fauna, and people, many of whom are helped through bad times by their fellow gardeners and by the remarkable organiser of the site. 17-5-23, 8082, Cable Street, Candy Blackham, LR-8082I have met people from all walks of life here, learning how to grow, producing honey, just in love with beautiful flowers.

How can you not be uplifted by places like this?

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