Abbey Gardens viewed from the Webcam

Regeneration is a garden

Alison Gibson, a member of the Friends group, recently wrote this great article for the RHS Growing Communities Summer magazine. You can download the whole magazine here but I have also pasted the text about Abbey Gardens below. Thanks to both Alison and the RHS! 

Artists and residents create a community garden from an inner-city waste ground in one of London’s poorest boroughs. Author: Alison Gibson.

It was an unlikely route to a harvest festival, walking past grey tower blocks in a run-down part of East London without even a window box in sight. Against such a background, the colour and cheerfulness of Abbey Gardens was nothing short of stunning for visitors to the community garden’s first harvest festival in 2009. it felt like walking into a painting, and the effect was instantly uplifting. Dramatic sunflowers 6ft tall were like welcoming smiles at the centre of 34 long raised beds bursting with flowers and vegetables.
Along a back wall were the intriguing words “What Will The harvest Be?” in large orange letters.
On that day, the harvest was a bountiful one, enough to treat 200 local residents to a free lunch cooked on site by visiting chef Sam Clark of the restaurant Moro.
Bunches of sweet peas and bags of vegetables were available for donations from an honesty stall, a gesture of trust that is typical of the garden’s spirit.

Three years earlier, this garden did not exist. The 80m x 30m rectangular site was overgrown and neglected, inaccessible to the public and regularly abused by fly-tippers and vandals.
Unbeknown to most residents of newham, the site was one of only two scheduled ancient monuments in their borough. Deep beneath soil long contaminated by nearby industry lay the remains of the gatehouse to a 12th century Cistercian abbey. Monks once ran a productive kitchen garden here. There had been an enjoyment of food, an exchange of cultures as visitors brought spices from other countries.

In 2006, a group of local residents formed Friends of Abbey Gardens (FOAG). “The main motivation was to develop the land into a communal and social space, driven and governed by residents and users,” says Andreas Lang, a founding member of the group who also designed the garden’s characterful honesty stall and trugs. The group hoped that lots more people would be inspired and get involved, which was essential to the success of the project. The land was leased from the local council.

Artist duo Karen Guthrie and nina Pope were approached by FOAG and won a commission to create an artwork on the site. They were both self-taught gardeners interested in local food production. Consultation with local residents showed that there was a lot of interest in growing food, but little experience, knowledge or opportunity.
They devised a two-phase plan, the first part being to create a temporary harvest garden as an experiment so that FOAG could try out their ambition to grow their own food on quite a large scale. The second part of the plan was for a permanent, more carefully landscaped garden.
It was a photograph that inspired the design of the harvest garden, one that caught Karen and Nina’s attention when they were researching local history. A group of unemployed men in July 1906, dressed in the clothing of their different occupations, standing in a line on the day that they were arrested for taking over a vacant plot of land to grow food. The men were known as the Plaistow Land Grabbers.
“It was an inspiring image and story,” says Karen. On a wall in the photograph are the words ‘What Will The harvest Be?’, which Karen and Nina took as the name of their project. A blown-up copy of the photograph now covers the front of the cabin at Abbey Gardens. The name of the men’s endeavour, Triangle Camp, and the shape of their garden inspired the triangular design of the raised beds at Abbey Gardens.
To overcome the contamination problem, the site was covered with a protective membrane, and new soil was brought in. In the first year the choice of plants was restricted to those that would grow in one season. “We wanted people to see it go from nothing to a full garden,” says Nina. Seeds were donated by Chiltern Seeds in Cumbria.
The choice of bold colours rather reflects the boldness of the project. Unlike the usual allotment system, everything is grown communally. The garden is maintained by volunteers at three drop-in gardening sessions a week led by a paid gardener. 
There are no rules about how much work a volunteer has to do or how much produce can be taken, and somehow that works well.
The garden is also open to the public every day. This was a risk because the project could have been ruined by vandalism and theft. “We had a strong hunch that if it looked good enough people wouldn’t damage it, they would respect it,” says nina.

Abbey Gardens is now a thriving, much- loved garden run by a Friends group that has grown to 60 members, with 20 nationalities between them and a variety of valuable skills. The temporary experiment appears to be here to stay. The garden is also enjoyed by many more people, whether it is workmen who eat their lunch there every day, mothers walking with babies, or visitors who attend events.
Lydia Thornley, a founding member of FOAG, says, “i’d been planning to move out of London for some outdoors and community. This project has made me feel rooted – literally – in the neighbourhood.”

The Friends of Abbey Gardens is an RHS It’s Your Neighbourhood group. 

Topics: [Abbey Gardens] [Community] [Garden] [Regeneration] [RHS]


The gap for the illusive
The gap for the illusive

AT LAST ... I have waded through the plant database bed by bed checking that everything from last year has at the least a photo, an 'in' date and an 'out' date. This may not sound like a big deal but believe me with erratic records it was a massive task!

So why should you care?

Well this means we are now ready for Karen to do the next level of 'grooming' to add the 'top level' info for these plants (Latin Names, if you can eat them etc.) which will (we hope) eventually let us build up a page of our stock plants with links to recipes etc. This also means Dorian can now make the transition to this season's database with only perennial plants (or those we have still to remove) carrying over and with our first season archived.

This also means we have to label everything this year and add it as we go along :-( !
If you are still not sure why read Karen's excellent post from a while back here.

If anyone would like to review their high spots from last year and leave comments for posterity on your favourite flowers and veg. it's not too late and it helps to build a nice picture of the garden ...

So click and comment away ... (but maybe save your recipes for this years exciting new area!)

My only remaining sadness is it seems I have no photographic record of Turnip "Golden Ball" any offers out there? And before anyone points it out I know I have to take photos of the Green Manure ...

Topics: [Abbey Gardens] [archive] [database] [history] [labelling] [records]

Hello Hamish

Hamish our new Garden Club Leader for 2010
Hamish our new Garden Club Leader for 2010

A massively warm welcome to our newly appointed Garden Club Leader Hamish Liddle - it's great to have you onboard. The post was hotly contested and we're really delighted to have such an experienced person to guide us through our second season.

Hamish will be starting THIS WEEK! as we resume the weekly garden club sessions:

Saturdays 10am - 3pm
Tuesdays 1pm - 3pm
Thursdays 4pm - dusk

Why not come along and see the garden at the start of the season and say hello? Hamish will also be at the wildflower event on site this coming Saturday the 20th of March.

Topics: [Abbey Gardens] [FOAG] [Hamish]

What Will The Harvest Sign Be?

Photo: Tim Olden
Photo: Tim Olden

Many thank to Andy Webb for all his hard work on Saturday when we enjoyed a one-off (almost) rain free day at Abbey Gardens ... and despite the very soggy conditions managed to dig and prepare the fruit tree trench, sort out the compost and FINALLY get the wonderful metal What Will The Harvest Be? sign on the back wall!

This sign is a good example of the number of hoops you have to jump through to actually get anything on site at Abbey Gardens, the site is a scheduled ancient monument so everything has to first go past English Heritage, then it goes past Newham council and in this case the councillors, then you have to work out if you have enough budget, then how to make the thing and then where to get it made etc etc etc. Suffice to say we were originally going to paint this message on the wall back in the early days of the project when we were still naive and optimistic! Anyway there were a few 'bright isn't it' comments from the Friends group but personally I think it's a triumph and for once through the convoluted permissions process we have in this case ended up with something much better than the original design. It was made in the end by 4met a company near St Neots in Cambridgeshire very near where I grew up.

After all this we all retired to Dasha's house for celeriac soup and mulled wine to toast our first fantastic season and say good bye to Chris our Garden Club Leader for the year who is going to be much missed.

The card FOAG made for Karen and I is so great I might have to take a photo and post it up!

Topics: [Abbey Gardens] [Chris] [Garden] [sign]

Pimp my portacabin

A big belated thanks to Andy Findlater and Bam Nuttall for the amazing portacabin they donated to the project which now forms our very posh shed.

I've been waiting to post a picture until Karen and I's 'pimping' of the beast was complete. As you can see it now looks great and the Plaistow Landgrabbers can watch over us as we garden!

Topics: [Abbey Gardens] [landgrabbers] [shed]

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