Return of the light – A walk round the Olden Garden in early spring

By Catherine Miller

The Olden Garden is tucked away from the traffic of nearby Holloway Road on a small piece of land, some of it flat, most of it sloping down to a narrow rail track, on the opposite side of which is a separately-managed allotment site. This makes it part of a larger wildlife corridor, especially important given that Islington is generally short of open space.

In this built-up area, there is a balancing act involved in managing a sensitive site for wildlife habitat, while being able to accommodate some recreational access for local people without putting too much stress on the ecosystem.

One bank is planted with fruit trees, and through these leafless branches in winter you can make out the top of the nearby Emirates Stadium.

There are some small vegetable beds in terraces, where local people can try their hand at growing flowers, herbs, fruit and vegetables. This bank is warm and sunny, and velvety wallflowers are already out in February.

Nearby there are rosemary bushes and a large bay tree, providing a few more cooking ingredients.

Down at the bottom is a large greenhouse and some rainwater butts, so more tender plants can get a head start. Children can have a go, too.

The bottom path leads on to a grassy meadow slope. From here, you can look back at the vegetable plots through a curtain of Hazel Catkins.

The woodland area is at the furthest end of the site. Snaking through the woodland is a Hadrian’s Wall of a dead hedge – an ongoing project undertaken by the Olden gardeners, together with volunteers. A dead hedge uses prunings and brushwood generated by garden maintenance to make an environment- friendly barrier, providing nest sites for birds and invertebrates. This means the waste does not need to be taken off site for disposal, or burned. Next to the woodland is the useful working area that every garden needs, with compost heaps and potting tables.

The top of the garden is the largest level area, with a lawn and flowerbeds, making a pleasant venue for social events. The Olden Garden has taken part in London-wide events such as the Chelsea Fringe festival and the Open Garden Squares Weekend.

Walking round the Olden Garden, you feel for a while that you could be somewhere very different from inner-city London. It’s apparent that it has been a very welcome resource amid the Covid pandemic.

Every Londoner needs somewhere like this, and perhaps after the lockdown restrictions and difficulties of the last year, one good thing to come out of it all is that more people have come to appreciate gardens like these as the vital assets they are.

Catherine Miller is a professional gardener and community garden expert. Twitter: @CommGdnsLondon

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