A few weeks ago we celebrated Urban Food Fortnight by creating a range of herbal tea blends using herbs pooled by the generous contributions from a number of community gardens within Hackney. Here we shine a light on these spaces and just how important they are for bringing people together to grow, share and learn together in the city. Many of us in the team have been influenced and inspired by volunteering and training programmes offered at many different community gardens and continue to feel the benefits as we put our learning into practise. Hackney Herbal itself was born out of Cordwainers Garden on Mare Street which sadly had to close due to eviction earlier this year.
Read on to hear about Amy’s journey around the community gardens in Hackney who donated to our recent collective harvest!
Beecholme Community Garden sits at the edge of Beecholme estate and Millfields Park in Clapton. It is a wonderful little garden, clearly loved and expertly tended by committed hands. Guided into the garden by a small figurine with a flowerpot hat, I’m welcomed like an old friend by Raul, a local resident and expert gardener, to admire the boundless varieties of herbs that Raul and his volunteers have propagated this season. They have an impressive array of Cuban oregano, Mexican tarragon, flowering blackcurrent sage, clary sage, lemon thyme, sweet cicely and sweet marjoram, to name a few. Their generosity is palpable and I’m given so many interesting plants for our new garden that I run out of space to hang plants off my bike! Raul lovingly snips …… and makes an inspiring, refined tea in a beautiful dark green teapot. We enjoy it with homemade tomato and rose hip relish on butternut squash bread. Over hand picked tea and homemade savoury cake, I’m shown the mosaics that have been crafted from pieces of Victorian crockery found in the garden, and hear of the challenges in running a community garden. Beecholme Community Gardens is a special place with such a moving commitment to the people and plants, I leave feeling nourished and spoilt rotten!
Wick Village Community Garden in Hackney Wick is between Gainsbourgh school on one side and the canals and Olympic Park on the other. Once sparse and nature filled, it now sits on the edge of the large new developments in Hackney Wick and beyond. The garden is an impressive feet of community resilience, built on a small, concrete space bordering the canal with no water source and lots of concrete. I’m welcomed by a number of residents who live on the estate and am lovingly shown around the bursting greenhouses, vegetable patches, fruit trees and a small selection of herbs by Julia. I’m moved by their stories of herbs and take away an interesting selection of what the residents call ‘Vietnamese cooking herb’, purple persilla (shiso), rosemary and lots of sage. As I Ieave, the residents are preparing the fire and discussing food options for the evening. I’m touched to hear that at least 5 of 7 nights a week, the bbq fired up, the fire is lit and a collectively made potluck dinner is shared among the community. What a fantastic example of how community gardens can bring people together in our increasingly isolated lives.
Growing Communities Clissold site sits in the centre of the animal enclosure in Clissold park, somewhere between the birds and the goats. Many a talented urban grower has spent time digging, planting, poly tunnel mending and harvesting at Clissold. Like many community gardens, it too has been built by expert hands - namely Sophie who works easily and passionately on this very successfully inner city growing site. Clissold is a permaculture marvel, beautifully designed to grow salad for the veg box scheme it runs, among different herbs, fruits, vegetables and signs explaining permaculture principles. Generations of gardeners gain experience here and it’s often filled with little gardening hands, retirees, professionals, young growers and trainees, discussing salad varieties, harvesting for local restaurants and breaking bread together. Once again I’m struck by their generosity and come away with two huge boxes packed with enough rosemary, sage, calendula and lavender to fill our drying rack for weeks.
The Castle Climbing Centre Garden is a large, impressive food growing garden among the busy roads between Newington Green and Manor House. It has a wonderful feel about it and buzzes in summer with climbers from the climbing centre it is attached too, skilled gardens and permaculturists, pizza eaters, families and passers by. I’m encouraged to take whatever herbs we need for our pooled harvest so come away with some succulent rosemary, calendula, sage and lavender.
As I enter Dalston Curve Garden I’m greeted warmly with offers of tea and the use of any herbs I’d like, with fancy Japanese secateurs to do this with! Dalston curve garden is a haven of silver birch trees, herbs, flowers, plants and vegetables, glowing under dappled sunlight, or firelight in the evenings. It has become an important community hub for many groups in Hackney and hosts volunteers on Saturdays alongside all walks of life across the community. The wonderful hosts at Curve Garden offer sweet, succulent lemon verbena and various mints to the pooled herb blend and I come away with another bag full of herbal goodness.
If you are interested in volunteering at one of the gardens here is more info. Please see the links for each space on how to volunteer as often you need to contact them and register first instead of just turning up!
Beecholme Community Gardens: Cuttings can be collected from here. Volunteer sessions every Wednesday 2-5pm and Sunday. https://beecholmegarden.wordpress.com/
Growing Communities: Volunteer sessions on Mondays, turn up at 10am on your first time for an induction. https://www.growingcommunities.org/volunteering-hackney
Dalston Curve Garden: Volunteer sessions on Saturdays. http://dalstongarden.org/volunteer/
The Castle: Volunteer sessions on Mondays (April - October) and Thursdays. Inductions are on Thursdays. https://www.castle-climbing.co.uk/Get-Involved
You can find your nearest community gardening project by having a look on Capital Growth’ s Big Dig Map: https://www.bigdig.org.uk/map/london/