Belated thanks to all for your help – Diana Weir

Phase II of renovating the Hertford Road/Stamford Road junction took more than a little longer to achieve, thanks mainly to adverse weather conditions, but we got there just in time to have our new street garden before the neighbours strung up Jubilee street party bunting around the whole pedestrianised area on Monday.

Frustration reigned a week ago: the cardboard carton strips which I’d carefully cut at home on the Sunday morning had all suddenly gone, owing to the (entirely uncharacteristic) over-enthusiasm of the Council recycling collectors. The entire boxful, neatly hidden from the street (or so I’d thought) disappeared just before I could install them on Thursday morning.

Fortunately, Scooterden had not only received their belated bike shipment but kept the cartons, as I’d requested. So I hauled two huge bike boxes out into the road and got out my wicked titanium knife, yardstick and marking pen all over again. One opened carton, propped between the railing end columns, fenced me protectively against the usual stream of pavement cyclists while I laid out the other on the granite setts and got cutting. It took hours – and I’d already dug out Mabel’s donations of irises etc from her garden that morning – so I took the new bundle of edging strips home for safe-keeping until I could start installing them later.

The best way to fix them began with cleaning out the inner edge of each tree pit, to give the heavy cardboard some support to stay in the shape I wanted. Fighting a six-metre strip of multi-ply industrial cardboard into shape around a tree pit isn’t the easiest thing to achieve single-handed but I managed it the first six times – although being distracted by the arrival of Marc Hauer, heaving a massive tub of wonderful Tree Nursery compost, ensured that I forgot to turn the sixth one printed side inwards. So Piaggio got their free advertising after all…! For the last one, round a tree so mature that the roots had risen above the pavement and filled the pit so tightly that I couldn’t clear more than one edge of the pit, I scrounged help (a second pair of hands) from a passing stranger, who helpfully turned out to be a local artist and therefore interested in learning more about Chelsea Fringe in case she could take part next year.

Saturday was the only day I could hope to plant on but it was so busy that my timing slipped at every stage. Nevertheless, following Miranda’s excellent example of e-mailing my intended schedule to every De Beauvoir Gardener and intending helper proved invaluable. Marc and the compost (plus some more of Jenny’s variety pots) arrived almost instantly and Barbara had me dig up massive mint and campanula plants from her back garden before feeding me (I’d quite forgotten to plan any lunch) and then setting me to extract lots of over-deadheaded white geraniums from her own tree-pit, all to make space for more plants that she’d just bought. As I plodded home looking like a vegetative Birnam Wood, Nancy Korman caught me for long enough to hang yet another carrier bag of plants on a spare finger.

Then there were all these amazing bags of greenery awaiting me on the garden path – completely unattributable as to donor but helpfully labelled in case I couldn’t recognise lilies of the valley, foxgloves etc. So very many thanks to the givers, whoever you may be – almost everything went into the tree pits that evening and the rest is being potted up in case reinforcements prove necessary later.

Sadly, the time slippage lost me the indefatigable Alison Benjamin’s third offer of help – but my neighbours opposite returned home just as I started to lug plants up the road and were quite easily persuaded to join in. One wielding a spare trowel, one hauling a watering-can up and down their stairs and following us around the street, we had the whole lot planted up in well under two hours. Then I weeded out the rest of the weed-killered but still obviously live weeds from among the granite setts near the tree pits on the west side – which is probably why my creaky knees again feel about 90 years old! Never mind: the entire space looked amazingly new and fresh after all that hard work, just in time for a good soaking from Sunday’s rain. Only slight problem: I forgot to photograph it!

I ran out on Monday morning to clear up the unused (because constantly soaked) clay before the party set-up and was delighted to discover that the rough elements (visibly including the wretched pavement cyclists) had solved the problem of the clay I’d spread out to dry: it had become so sodden and been over-ridden so often that it had disintegrated into mud – immediately usable as a conveniently water-absorbent top dressing. The other bags of clay I’d put out there had disappeared under old sheets, tied up with Union Jacks, to become supports for the legs of the gazebo – and I was even asked to supply yet another, to help keep the buffet-protecting umbrella in place. I hope that someone’s Jubilee party photographs show the street garden in the background….

PS It emerges that even brown gaffer tape isn’t entirely waterproof, faced with rain of this density: next, I need to refix some of the joints in the edging with something that won’t lose its grip when wet. Some ancient document spikes should do the job, I think. There’s no real cure for drunks breaking down the edgings by blundering onto them except adding another layer of edging outside the original one, though.

Look out for our posters! Join us on our tour!

The singing wheelbarrow…. – Diana Weir

… was just about the last straw in a compost collection run that had proved strangely accident-prone (much like this post) after the smooth teamwork of the previous one achieved with the experienced help of three of De Beauvoir Square’s finest, who’d arrived with two cars and another spade when all I’d hoped for had been Kirsty and her car. Two Boldings, one Hauer and lots of supermarket shopping later, we had 16 sacks of compost for me to spread over the two huge corner beds at the Hertford Road/Stamford Road junction. So – with more help from Kirsty to do the planting the following afternoon, phase I worked out neatly, just before the launch of Chelsea Fringe on 19th May.

Phase II proved rather less easy but, with the help of the wonky borrowed wheelbarrow – which sang like a cageful of rather raucous canaries but at least saved me having to warn passers-by verbally of the hazard approaching them – another 15 sacks full of free municipal compost reached home last Tuesday, this time principally due to my next-door neighbour’s son and the family car. Just as the heatwave took hold, I spent three hours digging, carting and spreading compost and topsoil on the seven tree pits flanking the odd-shaped pedestrianised area at the junction and laying out clay soil to dry in the sun. Finally, as I was about to return the barrow, the wonderful Gaby reappeared, this time with her WD40 can (the previous apparition had proffered instantly-addictive San Pellegrino l’Aranciata), and cured the squeak before I had to brave any more silly remarks on the streets of Dalston.

Unsurprisingly perhaps, I collapsed rather after that marathon session. Barbara Barnett, our inspiration for this project, bade me sternly to “take it easy”, so I spent afternoons in my own garden for a change and even finished the first novel I’d read in ten days. Then a friend offered to help with the Blue Peter stage of phase II, so I scrounged lots of thick cardboard cartons and spent Sunday morning cutting them up into six-inch edging strips – to keep the piled compost from subsiding all over the street.

The help, however, sadly dematerialised – duty called her home again – so I’ve decided to follow Miranda’s excellent example and appeal for more neighbours to help get this new street garden finished before the Jubilee street party there next Monday. All helpers who haven’t already been invited elsewhere will, of course, be very welcome to join us and enjoy the new amenity which they’ve helped to create….

You’ll perhaps have noticed in passing the clay soil which I’ve laid out to dry, on the only plastic sheets I possess, out by the already-planted corner beds. Now that it’s dried out, it needs crushing into crumbs to make it useful as a binding agent to add to the compost – so anyone with heavy boots, please jump on it whenever you feel the need to let off some steam! I’m told that bashing it with a heavy spade (or equivalent) would work too…. Then we can mix that pulverised clay into the compost in these seven tree pits and lay out the contents of the other four bags I put out there, to dry etc etc. – ready for the next lot of tree pits that anyone tackles nearby.

There’s more topsoil on offer but it’s over in Queensbridge Road – too far for one woman and any wheelbarrow, let alone I’m told that it’s extremely heavy. So we need at least one additional, strong person, plus a car, to fetch that. Volunteers, please…. just ask me for details of exactly where to collect it from.

I’ve prepared but not yet installed the cardboard edgings which we need to keep the compost etc in place properly – so anyone who fancies doing a bit of Blue Peter stuff with me, fitting, fixing in place and taping them together, would be very welcome now that the heat is abating slightly. Bring rubber gloves, kitchen scissors and any parcel tape you have around for this job.

We need to soak the compost etc in each tree pit before planting or the plants will have no chance of taking root, so please will anyone who lives within staggering distance of this junction get out your watering-cans, buckets etc and bring along all the bathwater which you might otherwise let go down the drain, as soon as you see the cardboard edgings in place on any of the tree pits. Or just add it to the already planted beds meantime – just water around, not on the plants. Those beds can do with all the water that they can get and I also have some sprouting summer bulbs and seeds to add to them when I’ve a spare moment and the soil looks damp enough.

Then comes the really fun bit: I have a lot of donated plants in the back garden to plant out as soon as that preparation is all done. I’m promised that we can also glean more bare-rooted ones from Barbara’s garden but that’s only viable when the tree pits are already plantable. If anyone else has any further, appropriate plants available in your own gardens, please put those aside, pot them up separately and be ready to add them to the existing collection of donations when we’re about ready to plant – then we can try to ensure that each tree pit gets its fair share of whatever’s available.

It’s time to get busy out in Hertford Road! Do let me know when and what you can do to help, please – via mdw@seniors.org.uk .

How do you keep a pub green when patrons keep sitting on pot planters or using them as ashtrays?

I have got to meet gardeners in all kinds of locations recently, but you can imagine how pleased I was when one invited me to their garden on top of a local pub!

The Haggerston Pub, Kingsland Road, Hackney

The green space just peaking out over the edge of the roof is where Isabel Hankart does her gardening….So what’s the link between The Haggerston Pub and De Beauvoir you might ask… Firstly, the gardens in our project do covers areas beyond the realm of De Beauvoir Town, but there are closer ties between the pub and our group. Isabel is a resident of De Beauvoir, she supports the group and recently attended the fantastic talk given by Chris Collins at The De Beauvoir Gardeners a few weeks ago. The Haggerston Pub are also proud of their location on the edge of De Beauvoir Town, bringing out the De Beauvoir beer in the next couple of weeks, oh yes you heard it here first….

A sneak peek of the new beer coming to Hackney soon…

Anyhow, once Isabel and I had our beers we moved onto the plants….

Isabel explained to me that she got Neil, the landlord interested into the idea of a roof garden 2 years ago. This way there is much less damage possible to the plants and flowers and edible plants are able to grow undisturbed. Neil is very happy with her project as it makes his pub look nice and Isabel is pleased how he has got more and more interested in what goes on up there.

Not that it’s easy to get to…..

The entrance to the roof garden!

Up on the roof, Isabel told me she was pleasantly surprised at what had survived up there. With limited watering and being so unsheltered she was pleased to see that her Kale and Chard had survived the snow at winter. Due to the nature of the garden, visitors are unable to visit the roof, but this understanding of the viewers’ perspective directs the way that Isabel plants and grows; the gardening goes from top to bottom.

View onto Kingsland Road

In beautiful contrast, Isabel’s planters line up parallel to the Kingsland Road traffic.

Isabel grows a range of flowers and vegetables; among the flowers she has Knifophia and Euphorbias growing. She also grows New Zealand Flax, brassicas and Rainbow Chard. With her brassicas flowering in January, she is convinced that an edible garden offers a variety of colour and interest all year round. Isabel and Neil seem both agreed on her gardening outlook…not a piece of ivy or a Geranium in sight! They both prefer a more natural growing space which is why the edible landscaping lends itself so well to the garden.

Down in the kitchen, Jack and Alex tell me that they would like more access to the herbs, Isabel brings them cuttings down when she does maintenance on the garden. Perhaps they could arrange some kind of plant pulley system…?

Jack and Alex

As an architect and a gardener, Isabel has a keen eye for orientation, light, access, building structure and green roofs. She sensibly has the planters screwed via brackets onto the walls, nothing weighs down onto the roof itself. Isabel tries to garden ethically and is also keen to buy her plants from Columbia Road and St Mary’s secret garden. She enjoys supporting local trade and community, finding that she also discovers plants that she never finds in much larger superstores.

Watch Isabel talk about her garden here:

Isabel Hankart is also currently working on Remade in brixton

On our way downstairs we bumped into Tim, who runs the art gallery in the basement. There seems to be a great crossover between displines at the pub, Tim photographs alongside Isabel’s gardening.

Tim at work overlooking the roof garden

A few words of support!

 

Donna Hume, Energy Campaigner at Friends of the Earth, shared her interest and support for our project today,

‘I think what the residents of Hackney are doing is fantastic. It is such a positive and community spirited project. Green surroundings not only make a nicer place to live but help deal with the city’s air polution problem. As a resident of Hackney myself, I am so excited that this is happening on my doorstep!’

Donna is currently working on the ‘Clean British Energy’ campaign. See the campaign here.

PLANTING UP AND SPREADING THE WORD – An account of Hackney street planting by Diana Jackson

 
“I don’t believe it!”
 

I look up from my after-work watering of the tree pit outside my house, slightly startled, to see a black cab has pulled over on the other side of the street.
 
“Are you really doing that?”
 
The face is friendly, but his tone is almost accusatory … so far I’ve only had friendly “hello”s and “you’re doing a good job there, love”s from passers by … but maybe some people just think we’re mad?
 
“Erm … yes!”
“And have you actually planted flowers in there?”
“Err… yes!”
 
“I thought the council did that?”
 
“Oh, no, they don’t really have the funds for planting little spaces like this – so a group of us from the area are doing it instead”
 
My taxi driver breaks into a broad smile.
 
“Well I think that’s brilliant.  Really great.  Everybody should do that.  In fact, there’s a weedy bank in front of my house: when I get home I’m going to give it some attention.”
 
************
One of the lovely things about participating in the Chelsea fringe has been the reaction from people passing by “my” two little tree pits.  They aren’t very showy, or very big, but neighbours and passers by seem genuinely pleased to see them looking greener and tidier than they were before.
 
Luckily I had a pretty good starting point, as the lady who used to live in my house had planted these tree pits a few years ago, and some of the plants she put in are still doing well.  However, with the passage of time others have disappeared, and dandelions, groundsel, grass and chickweed, along with a fair amount of litter and last year’s dried up nasturtium stems, have left the plots looking a bit sad…
 

 
As I knew these tree pits had been planted before, I took the view that anything that looked reasonably happy and healthy and not an obvious weed could stay for the time being, and set to work clearing out the weeds and rubbish and mixing in some fresh compost with the top layer of soil.  I have planted up the gaps with cheap plants that I hope will be fairly resilient to the challenges of feet, prams, dogs, lack of rain, foxes, cats and kids: thyme, lobelia, calibrachoa (like a mini petunia), arabis and lysimachia (Creeping Jenny).   Hopefully with some warmth to add to our recent wet they will quickly flesh out – but already the pavement looks a bit more loved than before:
 

 
Now they just need watering while they establish, a bit of sunshine, and the occasional tidy.
 
Best of all, as a reward for my efforts, I get all the weed leaves to add to my compost bin:
 

Other than pop ups, how else do the De Beauvoir Gardeners get kids and their families planting?

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This is how we do it! One of the ways we enjoy engaging families is through family day work shops. This one took place at the wonderful Dalston Eastern Curve Garden, where they have put on ‘The Dalston Flower Show’. I’m currently  trying to enlist children to start growing veg as I was one of the judges for children’s entries at the Garden and Produce show last year and we certainly could do with more entries! See our website if you live in or around Hackney and Islington and would like to get involved! Many thanks to Christopher Preston for these fantastic photos.

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