April 4, 2012

I like…

by growingpeople

…round two from Hackney’s yarnstormers (no, I didn’t make it up, it’s an actual thing). The first we saw of them was back in February when the trees outside the town hall were all cosied-up, but I almost prefer this lonely fellow in London Fields.

The guerilla knitters are a bit like their gardening counterparts, just swapping bags of bulbs and seed bombs for crochet hooks and bobbles. In their own words, yarnstorming “is the art of conjuring up a piece of knitting or crochet, taking it out in the world, releasing it into the wild, and running away like a mad thing giggling.”

Click here for more loveliness.

March 25, 2012

Chunky crayon recycling

by growingpeople

Safi spends a huge amount of time drawing – which we love. But it also means that because every single crayon in her enormous box has become several little baby crayons, the flat has been taken over by nearly unusable bits of broken Crayola showing up everywhere: inside my shoes, the washing machine, our bed…and they are always the first thing to be chucked all over the floor in angry protest at not being allowed to pour water in the Marmite jar or when asked to relinquish one of the four spoons being used for potion-making.

So partly under the guise of “this looks like a fun thing to do” but mainly because I’m sick of spending half my day picking shards of wax off the floor, we made these.  They work just like normal crayons and can even do multi-coloured squiggles, so the three of us can still do as much drawing together as we like, but the best thing about them is that there are only eight of them. Brilliant.

You will need: broken crayons, cupcake moulds, one compliant toddler who doesn’t mind you nicking her toys, oven on gas mark 1 for fifteen minutes.

March 25, 2012

I like

by growingpeople

…the way my clever students at St Mary Magdelene Primary School use egg shells, empty tins and crisp packets for starting off seedlings. Happy days. Speaking of which, now is the time for starting more or less everything (keep the beans, tomatoes and pepper seedlings inside until May though, and hold off on sowing pumpkins, squash and courgettes at all until then).

March 2, 2012

Who would you choose?

by growingpeople


The one on the left is me. This budget little flyer is dotted around Hackney’s shops and cafes and has earned me rather a lot of good clients and I’m very grateful to it. The one on the right is obviously not me – in fact I have no idea who he is and he wasn’t there last week but he made me very smiley indeed when I happened upon him at the Pacific Social Club on Clarence Road this afternoon. I might just save his number in case things with Reda don’t work out.

October 26, 2011

Secret London Garden #8: Forest Farm Peace Garden, Hainault

by growingpeople


For lovely Naomi’s birthday we took a trip to the Forest Farm Peace Garden on Hazelbrouck Gardens in Hainault – so far East London that it’s technically Essex. The nine mile cycle to get there from Hackney quickly turned in to fifteen after getting lost a dozen times – but we did find a nice apple tree on the way, somewhere inside the Roding Valley.

This garden, built on an abandoned site is sumptuous – part allotment, part community garden with an eclectic mix of users (and hence an eclectic range of crops) – it is also deceptively large and feels self-contained somehow – as if you could spend days here and always have something to do. Don’t be put off by their website (or lack of) – it’s a truly inspiring (and beautiful) place.

When we visited, on an apocalyptic grey Sunday in October, the garden was open for the Abundance Open Day. An enormous apple harvest had produced the most delicious, dark brown, thick apple nectar I have ever tasted and was being sold for next to nothing along with piles of the apples themselves, chutneys, pumpkin curry, potato stew and clear East London honey, courtesy of Andy Casson who keeps bees on the site.

The open days are held fairly regularly so keep an eye on the website or join the mailing list to be kept informed.



October 11, 2011

It’s been a while

by growingpeople

But to make up for my absence, here’s something which has nothing to do with gardening whatsoever.

I am a very big nappy consumer (or rather my daughter is), and like many parents, I have guilty visions of landfill piles of them (now one year high) with great big Safi-labels stuck on them. Despite my early good intentions, I manage to come up with excuses for not using the cloth ones (too messy, they leak, more washing means tons more water and electricity, our flat is too small for soaking buckets all over the place, etcetera, etcetera). I know our grandmothers managed just fine, but if we’re going down that road, they also managed without the internet.

When I was pregnant, I said I’d use cloth, then when Safi was born I downgraded to only using the bio-degradable ones, and then as my bank balance shrivelled, so did my ethics, and now it’s whichever ones are on offer at the shop. Yuck.

Of course it’s complete madness to take the “easy” option a disposable provides, of producing synthetic fibres, plastic and adhesives, packaging, shipping, and purchasing the lot hundreds of times a month when I could just be giving a piece of cloth a rinse, but I feel like I spend half my free time doing housework as it is, and I can’t be bothered to do any more, which I freely admit to. I rationalise this by telling myself that I am pedantically “green” in every other aspect of my life so I’m allowed this one thing. Kind of. And I consistently find that it’s the one thing that other, otherwise sensible and ethically sound people allow themselves alongside their solar panels, Ecover and allotments.

So. I’m very hopeful about the UK’s first nappy-recycling centre which opened last week in the West Midlands, with four more due to open over the next four years.  They’ll also recycle adult incontinence pads and sanitary towels, collectively known as AHPs (Absorbent Hygiene Products). Knowaste, the company behind the centre, “will use state-of-the-art technology to recycle AHPs, sterilising and separating the materials to recover plastic and fibre that can then be used for making new products, such as roof tiles or plastic components and fibre based construction and commercial tubes”, says the Guardian. The centre will recycle roughly one fifth of the UK’s AHPs, collecting from nurseries, hospitals and public washrooms.

The glaring omission here is obviously the vast majority of nappies which get disposed of at home and which therefore won’t be collected by Knowaste for recycling. Which makes me think how wonderful it would be if alongside our kitchen waste blue bin, garden waste brown bin and standard green recycling box, we were to start seeing nappy-recycling boxes as part of residential recycling.

Yes, it would be great if we could avoid the production and disposal of the waste material in the first place, but given that cloth has trouble taking off even among the most well-meaning of people, allowing parents an option B which doesn’t ask anything of their wallet and which slots neatly into a collection system which is already in place and perfectly adhered to seems like it could be second best. Still madness, but realistically something to be hopeful about.


October 11, 2011

Fog on Hackney Marshes, 7am

by growingpeople

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August 30, 2011

I like

by growingpeople

August 28, 2011

Calabash and amaranth in Hackney’s very public (private) gardens

by growingpeople

I mentioned Mikey Tomkins’ Edible Map back in May, as one of my favourite maps of food and food-related things. This week I was fortunate enough to be able to take part in his Guided Walk of Edible Hackney, a project joint-funded by SPACE gallery and the Royal Geographical Society.

The background to the walks is Tomkins’ PhD on urban community food-growing, for which he has spent a huge amount of time not only with urban food-growers but also examining the enormous potential that exists in the multitude of unused green spaces.

The walk begins on Warburton Road, just off Mare Street, where I meet the other participants – a member of the Garden Organic staff, a chef from the People’s Kitchen at Passing Clouds, and a volunteer from the Hackney Marsh Edible Forest Garden – an eclectic mix of people with a shared appreciation of proper food, properly produced and fairly distributed. Next to a car park, Tomkins points out the three beehives he manages on the roof of SPACE gallery. Each hive produces 30kg of honey a year, his bees roaming from London Fields to Victoria Park and Hackney Marshes. I learn that bees are very good at filtering pollution, and not so good at filtering pesticides, so an urban honey may in fact have less nasties than your average rural honey which is very likely to have been obtained from at least some pesticide-treated flowers.

From there we head to Warburton House, where the Warburton and Darcy Community Garden is an incredible example of what can be done with the empty green spaces that sit unused in the middle of every housing estate up and down the country. At first glance it seems like a very lovely ornamental garden, with heavily planted up borders and central beds – but on closer examination I find that the majority of plants here are edible – from the thick beds of tomato plants that line the edges of the garden to the fig and plum trees and the impressive growth of runner beans being tended to by an amiable Turkish gentleman while his wife sorts fresh mint.

The Warburton and Darcy Community Garden’s borders are thickly planted with tomatoes and marigolds, while the island beds are made up of everything from figs to chard, runner beans and mint

Through London Fields and onto Sheep Lane, I learn that until 1890 the park was a grazing pasture, hence the names of the surrounding roads (Lamb Lane is perpendicular to Mare Street, slightly further north, and there used to be a Mutton Lane too). We reach Alden House, the first of many blank canvases on the walk which serves as stark contrast to the productivity of the Warburton and Darcy Community Garden, and then to Orwell Court just off Broadway Market, where one resident has planted a little island of tomatoes on the estate’s vast communal lawn, which only highlights how much more could be made of the space. Sadly, Mikey tells us, many of the residents he interviewed throughout his research have a negative response to the planting up of the green spaces, prefering the tidyness of bare lawns to the happy chaos of scrambling courgettes and tumbling lines of runner beans. If the lawns were being used for other purposes by children or anyone else this would be understandable, but the irony is that the spaces are widely neglected.

Alden House on Duncan Road is a potential growing space of 1,100 square meters

At the bottom of Broadway Market, we reach the real gem of the walk – the triangle of housing estates formed by Whiston Road, Pritchard’s Road, Teale Street and Goldsmith’s Row – where little pockets of productivity line the communal grass areas and a range of crops including grapes, cucumbers, runner beans and squash climb over the metal railings that seperate the estates from the pavement. What baffles me most is the fact that I walk down these streets several times a week and I had never noticed what was going on here. Looking closer, we see amaranth, spinach, coriander, strawberries and several types of squash (various sources have identified these as calabash, sorakaya and dudhi among others) which form an integral part of the south east asian diet.  Which brings us to the second most striking part of the whole experience. On the whole, the residents who are appropriating the space are immigrant communties, largely Turkish and Bangladeshi, and I wonder why it is that the British residents don’t utilise the space in the same way. We are perpetually reminded that ball games, dogs and the feeding of pigeons will not be tolerated on these lawns, but nowhere on the signs that adorn each of the buildings does it state “No vegetable growing”. We (and I use the operative pronoun uncertainly) have lost the know-how, and the reflex, I suppose still present in many other global communities to take a degree of responsibility for the production of our food – the utilisation of available resources seemingly second-nature elsewhere.

The urban growers who now call this patch of East London home have re-imagined the architecture of the “garden”  imposed on them by the local council (who interestingly seem to have no objection to the use of land for food-growing, simply mowing the lawn around the spaces as if they were part of the original 1960s design) and the whole set-up becomes a celebration of ownership, initiative and creativity – an inspiring reminder that we don’t have to wait around for the powers-that-be to set up a “scheme”, a “project” or other form of endorsed initiative in which to contextualise food-growing activities, but rather get on and use the very space that’s under our noses, and is, after all, ours.

squash warming in plastic bags along the Goldsmith’s Row pavement

The spontaneous nature of the garden means that there is no outdoor watering facility in the original design of the space and so this resident must carry water back and forth from her flat

climbing squash on Goldsmith’s Row and masses of tomatoes on a railing on Whiston Road

Calabash (or dudhi) and another unidentified squash on Teale Street

August 23, 2011

Secret London Garden #7: Wilton Estate Orchard, Wilton Way

by growingpeople

The  longer I do this urban food growing thing, the more I find going on. Which makes sense obviously, but I never cease to be amazed by the range and scale of the projects that communities are setting up. The Wilton Estate Orchard (which also includes a sizeable vegetable garden) comprises 7 types of apple, pear and plum trees and is the result of  a collaboration between the Wilton Estate Tenants and Residents Association (WETRA), Hackney Homes and the London Orchard Project. This fairly recent charity, founded in 2009, partners up with local authorities and community groups, helping residents set up orchards as well as providing the training they need to maintain and harvest them – their website informs us that in the past London was full of orchards: hospitals, universities, prisons and other institutions each had their own, meeting all their fruit needs.

The orchard is located on an unlikely bit of green space running along the corner of Forest Road and Greenwood Road.  What’s nice is that there’s nothing very secret about it at all, it’s right there, opposite the rather good pub and the Costcutter, and yet I bet most people who walk past it daily don’t realise what it is. Heading into the estate you’ll find the slightly more secretive and very lovely vegetable garden which is maintained by the young residents.

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