Guest blog from The Growing Kitchen & Wenlock Orchard

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.

During lockdown…

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.

Guest blog from Emery Walker’s House Garden

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.