The open squares day is a great day to visit gardens in London- big or small. London’s hidden green spaces open their gates for public enjoyment and discovery.
The very first London Garden Square Day took place in 1998, with 43 gardens taking part. The aim was to draw attention to the contribution that green spaces made to the city- in fact, almost half of London is green. The open Squares days offer opportunity to explore those private and more secret gardens which are not generally accessible to the public and to join in the community events taking place. Caroline Aldiss, a resident of Collingham Gardens at the time, founded the event in 1998-9 with the support of the London Parks and Gardens Trust and English Heritage. She thought that a day when all the green spaces could become open to the public, would be good event for the summer and for people to become interested in gardens and gardening.
This year I visited St. Mary’s secret garden in Hackney with its wonderful array of tables selling home-made produce such as jams and chutneys, honey, plants, bird houses, tea and cakes. Along with the buzz of people, bees and birds, it was a lively atmosphere and inspirational. For over 25 years, St. Mary’s Secret Garden has offered a safe space where people with support needs and the local community can get hands-on experience of gardening, gain a sense of inclusion and receive the benefits of horticulture and other eco-therapy activities.
This has been the worst heatwave in the UK since 1976 and with climate change, it is not known if this will be a temporary phenomenon or a lasting one. Climate change is slowly affecting food growing as well as the ability to maintain other forms of life such as bees. It is estimated that the USA is losing 10% of its crops due to climate change. My garden which is usually lush at this time of the year is not looking good at all. It seemed a battle that I wasn’t going to win with my planters looking like this-
But look at the plants that seems to be green and doing fine- it is the South African native, the Agapanthus and the ‘Indian’ hawthorn- both of which seem to need little water. Euphorbia are also doing well as they are drought resistant. Planters need more watering because the roots cannot access groundwater unlike plants grown on land. The succulents which can live with little water are also fine. We also have a hosepipe ban on now, but I don’t use it anyway. I use water that has been used to wash vegetables and fruits. You can also use cooled down bathwater as long as it is not too soapy.
The RHS says that most gardens are hardy enough to be watered in moderation with repurposed water – known as grey water – even if it does have soap and suds in it, ‘Grey water should be used with care, but can be useful in times of water shortages. Plants can be watered with shower, bath, kitchen and washing machine water – fortunately, soil and potting composts are effective at filtering them out. There should be no problem with small-scale, short-term use of grey water to tide plants over in summer drought. An exception is on edible crops, due to the risk of contamination from pathogens in the water.’
I’m going to wait and see what happens next- whether my Mexican daisies and other plants recover. Which plant lives and which dies will be important to decide my next year’s planting because climate change is here to stay.
or perhaps follow this person who has decided on an almost entirely plastic garden which doesn’t need watering and looks vibrant all year!
I have written previously about the garden we were working on the station platform at Acton Central Station, West London. We finally had a grand launch on Friday with members of the community, our work partners- Repowering London, Groundwork Trust and Arriva (the train company) and the local Member of Parliament. The garden is complete with ornamental and food sections- from which the local community can freely take away what they need, as long as they leave something for others! The centre piece of the project consists of a large ornamental bed featuring a stone plaque with the encouraging words of Nichiren, a 13th century Buddhist philosopher, ‘Winer always turn to spring’. These words are not just about seasons but also about finding hope and inspiration. The bed is also a tribute to a station staff, well loved by the users of the station and local community, who died suddenly from cancer three years ago- around the time that the project started. We hope that these words give hope to everyone while they wait at the platform.
We will now begin the second phase of the project which will concentrate more on the ‘energy section’ with solar panels and water harvesting schemes in the station. Here are some photos from the event-
Charushila/Energy Garden – Acton Central Railway Station Flower Bed opening – 18/5/18
Charushila/Energy Garden – Acton Central Railway Station Flower Bed opening – 18/5/18
Charushila/Energy Garden – Acton Central Railway Station Flower Bed opening – 18/5/18
My speech from the day that you can see me reading out went like this-
‘Charushila is a charity, working to promote social engagement through the design and creation of community projects. ‘Charu’ means beautiful and ‘Shila’ means foundation in Sanskrit.
The charity is based on the theory of ‘Value creation’, as put forward by the 20th century Japanese school teacher, Tsunesaburo Makiguchi. Value creation consists of three aspects- beauty, goodness and benefit. In all our projects, we have strived for these aspects to shine through. Through this broad yet profound philosophy, we have found that we can work with people from all backgrounds, communities and countries. To date, Charushila has worked in the UK, India, Venezuela and Palestine. In the 1920’s Makiguchi was writing about the ‘generosity of plants and animals for which we are totally dependent upon our survival’. While today which is also the endangered species day, Makiguchi’s ideas seem so natural and logical, they did not go down well in war time Japan. He was banned from teaching and ultimately thrown into prison, where he died on 18th November 1944. He was 74 years old. Makiguchi was an extraordinarily far sighted man, whose legacy lives on. He particularly felt that young people would benefit from learning within a community. He said in 1930,
“The natural beginning point for understanding the world and our relationship to it, is that community which is a community of persons, land and culture, that gave us birth. It is that community that gave us our very lives and started us on the path towards becoming the persons we are. It is community that gives us our rootedness as human, as cultural beings.”
Today is a great celebration, and we are together here on this platform on a sunny day to launch this project. There will be days when it will be cold, the sun is not shining, and we might be alone on this very platform. When spring will turn into winter! For me, the success of this project will be when I see that people from the local community are helping to take care of the garden and also taking away food grown here. I am very grateful to Dr Huq for coming here to launch this project, to Robert Harrap, General Director of SGI-UK for his encouragement, and to my colleagues at Charushila and our partners in the project- the Energy gardens team, Groundwork Trust and Repowering London. My gratitude to all the station staff with whom we have worked for nearly three years. The project might be small but hopefully, the effect will be big- creating beauty, goodness and benefit for all.”
I hope the readers of this page can visit the station sometime!
Last year, I started a project with my charity, Charushila, for a concept called ‘Energy Gardens’. The Energy Garden project is a partnership project delivered by the NGO Repowering London and environmental charity, Groundwork Trust, with Transport for London. In time, 50 of London’s Overground stations will be transformed into community ‘Energy Gardens’ with thriving gardens that will incorporate food growing plots and solar panels providing on-site renewable energy for lighting, water pumps or other station amenities. In addition to improving the daily commute of people going to work the creation of the gardens will also help people get into work through training opportunities and paid horticulture apprenticeships for young people.
Charushila was a partner in facilitating the project at one of the stations, Acton Central. The first year was spent in community engagement which provided a blue print for what the local community wanted and getting ideas for the project that people felt were of local importance. The engagement was also about securing future commitment to the project in terms of maintenance and ownership. In all, about 200 local people were consulted for this project- including residents, passengers, station staff, school children and local businesses. The project has been taking shape slowly and many ideas are yet to be implemented. Some of the planters have already been adopted by local organisations, so if you’d like to adopt one, please let us know. We are looking for volunteers to plant, water and weed, so please come along if you live nearby.
But even though it is yet to be finished (these community projects involving gardens always take a long time!) , it is always heartening to get compliments from people getting in and out of the trains (a man said, “wonderful to see this work!”) and even better to eat the produce. My two recent recipes involve spinach and pumpkin flowers (these flowers were about to be thrown away!)
Spinach, Bangla style:
Wash the spinach carefully and chop.
This is about 500 gms of spinach but as you’ll see when it cooks, the volume reduces!
Heat couple of spoonfuls of cooking oil in a wok- I used organic sunflower oil. Throw in a teaspoonful each of mustard seeds, black onion seeds (Kalonji) and Fenugreek (Methi) seeds, one birds eye chilli pod, a tablespoon of turmeric and a small ball of jaggery/molasses or if you can’t find that, then a teaspoon of sugar will do. I also added some chopped carrots. Put in salt to taste- the spinach is slightly salty anyway, so put in less than you might do for other dishes. Put on a lid and relax with a cup of tea while the spinach cooks. In about 20 minutes, take off the lid and check- it should look like this-
Pumpkin flower fritters
Wash the flowers carefully and and take out the hard stalks and petals at the bottom of the flower but make sure you keep the shape of the flower. Dry them on a towel.
This is for three flowers- so if you have more or less, do adjust accordingly. In a small bowl, mix a teaspoon of freshly crushed coriander and cumin seeds, add salt to taste (and paprika powder to taste if you like chilli taste). Add three large heaped tablespoons of chickpea flour and carefully add water so that you get a runny consistency. When you dip each flower into it, the paste should stick evenly to the whole of it, otherwise adjust the water so that it does. If you make too much of it, you can always add chopped onions and make some bhajjis with the same paste! These are now fried in hot oil and you can eat them with ketchup (like my son does!) or with tamarind chutney-
These are photos from an ‘Energy garden’ project we are doing on a London Overground station. The intention is to have vegetables, herbs and flowers growing on the platform, with rainwater harvesting, composting, and recycling. So the vegetables and flowers have been planted and are doing well- thanks to the station staff who look after them. A mural and slate plaque are planned for later this summer.
This work is being done as part of the environmental design charity I started, Charushila. For more information see www.charushila.org
This video introduces the Energy Garden concept which is a partnership between London Overground, Groundwork Trust, Repowering London and local organisations like ours-
Even the most ugly buildings get transformed by flowers. I have been photographing beautiful flowers on buildings. As John Ruskin realised during the Industrial Revolution ‘that the quest to make a more beautiful world is inseparable from the need to remake it politically, economically and socially’. Tsunesaburo Makiguchi believed that beauty, benefit and goodness provided the basis for a creative society.
I am currently working on a project that is bringing beauty in the form of plants and flowers, sustainability in the form of rainwater recycling and solar panels and benefit in form of public seating in a rather plain London overground station. Here are some photos that I took for inspiration ranging from pubs, houses and stations
Summer is here and I am making the elderflower cordial I have made for many years now. This year I am going to try out agave nectar instead of sugar- it is sweeter but has less calories.
I got these flowers from an abandoned garage near my house and also some from the park. Before foraging any edible plants, leaves, fruits or flowers, it is best to have a check to see what you are doing is legal or not. In the UK, many parks and wild areas have plenty of material for foraging but you might be damaging the biodiversity of the area by overpicking. For instance, many people were prosecuted for picking mushrooms from the Royal parks. Picking mushrooms by bagfuls would destroy the natural flora of the area. So do not pick from any protected areas such as Royal parks, area of scenic beauty or those with fragile or seasonal flora (Dungeness beach comes to mind). Always check notices to see if foraging is allowed- local bye laws which prohibits foraging can be passed by councils, the National Trust and government conservation agencies such as Natural England, Scottish Natural Heritage and the Countryside Council for Wales.
The second is if you are foraging for yourself, that is fine. But commercial activity, i.e. selling what you get out of foraging is not permitted. The Theft Act 1968, for England and Wales, states that: ‘A person who picks mushrooms growing wild on any land, or who picks flowers, fruit or foliage from a plant growing wild on any land, does not (although not in possession of the land) steal what he picks, unless he does it for reward or for sale or other commercial purpose.’ And the Scottish Outdoor Access Code allows foraging, but again, not for commercial use. My one small bag of flowers for my own use is allowed from the park I got the elderflowers from. You should never pick all there is, you should always leave plenty for others to enjoy – including wildlife.
Third, you can’t pick someone’s overhanging branch that might be on the street or even over your garden fence. Nearby this tree were some other elderflower trees with lovely blossoms. I was lucky that the owner happened to be there and I asked permission to get the flowers. It all sounds simple really and part of good manners- only take for yourself, leave for others and always ask permission.
These days when anything can be bought from royal titles to a bit of the Moon, making something to give to someone appears very unique. When I was young, my Uncle used to give us the best presents- they were always the same and they brought me and my sisters so much delight. They were shoes boxes filled with the things we liked- crepe paper, scissors, glue, tape, tinsel, string and paint. From those things we created a lot more things- I remember those shoe boxes with such pleasure. A box that made me do something creative! Times have changed now- shoe boxes filled with such things won’t be accepted with such joyous innocence!
This year, I made something for my son alongside a ‘bought present’. Plants are very easy to propagate and make great presents. So here is my homemade Bonsai starter pot for my son.
I grew that little tree out of another bonsai tree that I was pruning, the moss was found growing on another pot that needing cleaning out and I had the sedum plants. I had found that little pot as well. There are many Youtube videos on soil composition needed for Bonsai, so I won’t be going into that. That said, the main things I learnt from the videos were that the soil needs to drain easily and that composition of the loose soil to that of the compost or hot soil is 75% to 25%. Some of the sandy soil I found in an old pot and mixed it with some fresh sand that I found when a local basement was been built (talk about sourcing locally!) I mixed everything by hand and instead of sieving as shown in the videos, I took out bigger bits of rocks and gravel by feeling with my hands. The rocks and shells have been collected during our holidays, so they will have memories and familiarity. It will take a few years for that tree to look like a bonsai tree (it is only 6 months old). Until then, he is going to have learn to take care of it as Bonsai needs a lot of looking after. So this is my version of our childhood shoe box presents- something creative that will encourage my son do something creative.
For the last year I have been involved in the designing of a community garden in East London. I have set up a charity which undertakes this kind of work- part architectural, part landscape design- using community engagement as a tool to do this work. We have worked in a number of different countries- India, Venezuela and Palestine and now, in the UK. To see more of our work, do have a look at Charushila. This project is a community allotment and seating area in a green space attached to a housing block in Hoxton.
The first part of this project was the community consultation on what was needed and who could help us. This part was called ‘Everyday on the Canalside’. This part of the project was funded by Metropolitan Housing who own this site. Owing to the diverse nature of the community, we worked with Counterpoints Arts (a migration charity), Shoreditch Trust (a youth charity) and Marcia Chandra, a local photographer. Our work involved consultation with the residents, local community and businesses; and meetings with Metropolitan Housing. In June 2014, we organised a community fun day with pottery and gardening workshops run by local organisations. Finally in November 2014, we put up sketches of the proposed design for a final consultation with residents and businesses.
The second part of the project, which started in parallel with the first phase, runs until March 2015 when we will be constructing the seating and allotment garden. For this part we are working with Groundworks Trust, St Mary’s secret garden (a local charity), Turning Earth Ceramics and Gareth Shiels, a stone sculptor. We are using reclaimed stones and paving bricks to create the seating, discarded broken pottery in the allotment beds and animal manure. We received a grant from the Mayor of London’s Pocket Park programme. Groundwork London is administering the Community Strand on behalf of the Mayor. We are going to have a planting day on 28th March, so if you are in the area, please come along.