We celebrated summer this afternoon (well no rain at least!) with a communual lunch in the Highgate Newtown community centre garden. Since deciding to embark on a food growing project at our open space meeting back in January, we have worked in parnership with the community centre, and they have allowed us the clear and transform their disused garden. Our aim is to learn, teach and inspire others to grow food, and to provide some fresh food for the HNCC cafe.
Our first look at the garden, on a rainy Sunday afternoon in January was quite daunting. The garden is north-facing, shaded by the community centre, and overgrown hedges blocked out most of the light. There were weeds and piles of fallen leaves everywhere.
Feeling slightly overwhelmed with the task ahead, we invited urban permaculture teacher Rakesh Bhambri to run an ‘Into to Permaculture’ course. The course was wonderful, and thirteen of us learnt the principles of permaculture, how to observe and design our space, and most importantly what we could grow in such conditions.
Our plan made, we gathered on Sundays to cut the hedges, clear the leaves and most of the (non-edible) weeds, and eventually to build raised beds from salvaged floorboards from refurbuished flats on the nearby Holly Lodge estate. At the end of March we held a ‘Seedy Saturday’ at the centre to network with other local growers, let people know about our project, and of course to get some seeds! In mid-April we had a huge delivery of five tons of municipal compost and were amazed by how many people came to help us move it with shovels and wheelbarrows to the HNCC garden, and to other local food growing spaces on schools and estates.
We started planting, our spirits undampened by six weeks of rain, and despite the weather our garden began to bloom – first our salad, then our runner beans began to climb their canes, broad beans rose from the soil and the herbs flourished. Today we invited all who had been involved, neighbours, and community centre users, to bring along lunch to share and to harvest the first salad. We feasted on delicious homemade food; filled bowls with lettuce, mustard leaves, pak choi and oriental greens; and chatted to those we knew and others who were joining us for the first time.
After lunch we were joined by container growing guru Mark Ridsell Smith for a workshop we had organised jointly with Lissenden Gardens TA ‘Planting Seeds of Change’ growing + biodiversity project. More than 20 people learned the basics of container size, kinds of compost and good climbers. For two of us from the group who Mark is training to deliver workshops, it was our first experience of teaching others. It was a great workshop and everyone took away a tray of newly blanted bean shoots (for salad) and a chilli plant.
We were also joined by several students from Central St Martins who are designing ways to tell the story of the garden and engage more people. Today they presented us with a beautiful prototype – a book for us to write our stories and messgaes.
Over the summer we’ll be gardening every Saturday morning from 10am-12pm, and until the end of the school term we’ll also have a session every Tuesday from 4pm-6pm. Please drop by, join us and see the garden. It’s a great place to relax, learn new skills and meet neighbours.
See more photos from today on Facebook (you don’t need to be a member to view them)