Last Saturday, I visited the Edible Bus Stop Community Allotment project in Stockwell’s Landor Road, London SW9. I had been following its progress with great interest on Facebook for some time, because my childhood friend Mak Gilchrist is one of its co-founders.
Just over a year ago, Mak and three other Edithna Street residents, Will Sandy (qualified architect and creative director), Simon Goldsmith (sustainability consultant/ EBS vice-chair) and Liz Seymour (installation producer for EBS) got together to do something very special: guerilla garden a bare patch of scrub land next to the 322 bus stop just on the corner, very close by. And who’d have guessed it? They’ve had loads of coverage in the press. Guerilla Gardening is ‘de-rigueur’.
On approaching the site, I was struck by the vulnerability of it. There are no barriers or fencing to stop wanderers stomping all over the plants. Passers- by can pick what they like as it’s not policed in anyway. The surrounding area is a typical urban sprawl, feeling edgy and polarised. The beautiful Georgian villas at Stockwell Green give way to a derelict school all boarded up and a Londis mini-mart.
Looking down Edithna Street there’s a view towards a high-rise housing estate and new skyscrapers in the city are taking shape on the horizon. Most of the people passing by don’t appear wealthy, sporting an eclectic mix of thrift shop fashions and tracksuits. It’s not difficult to be reminded we’re in recession here.
Edithna Street, a typical terrace, ends with a long, white-washed wall which at one time was constantly being ‘tagged’ with graffiti. Keith Heaseman, EBS head gardener told me that since they’d planted alongside it, the tagging has stopped. Facing the sun most of the day, this structure makes an ideal spot for heat loving plants such as tomatoes. Indeed there has only been one incident of vandalism over the past year which involved pulling down a sunflower. The Rhubarb is victimised on a regular basis because everyone loves it and there’s never enough to go around.
Gail Oldroyd and Keith, both part of the project from the start, are working together on the Olympic Veg project, growing veg in the colours of the Olympic rings! Keith is well positioned to carry out any plant research having been a professional gardener for some years.
But a curious thing has happened! Neighbours who once passed each other by without uttering a word are stopping to chat, smiling and happy. Friendships are forming in front of our eyes. Groups of kids stop to look at the flowers and butterflies. Couples walk past hand in hand remarking at the beauty in such an unlikely place. The 322 bus stops by and the driver honks the horn, grinning like a Cheshire cat. Mak says they dig the Edible Bus Stop. Call me an old hippy but could this be love m-a-a-a-n?
This week, EBS has been participating in the Chelsea Fringe, which today is represented by the bizarre Bicycle Beer Garden. The rider turns out to be a talented uni-cyclist too but for the moment he arrives on a racing bike pulling the Beer Garden along behind him. Beer cans have been cleverly converted into plant pots. Mine’s a pint of worms please!
I’m struck by small islands of planting: rows of sweet corn covered by plastic water bottles companion planted to ward off the pests, took me back to when I had a plot of my own in Hampton Wick. How I struggled trying to do things organically! I tried everything against the slugs that I could but to no avail….Makes you realise just how difficult it is to grow any food at all.
Keith told me, in a tone of resignation, that they got their water from the houses by can and bucket. It used to take me 2 hours a day to water my plot in the Summer. All we had were Artesian wells, so I sympathised.
Will’s plans for the new council funded landscaping are up on the walls. How fantastic that they’ve backed this. I got the impression that the local Council were a bit reticent at first, but the project has created so much positivity in the community that they now back it fully.
What’s next? Of course, it’s to create a green bus route….and this is actually happening with a second plot on the go at Norwood Road SE27.
Recently short listed for the ‘Grassroots Community Challenge’ category of the Observer Ethical Awards 2012 – EBS are pushing ahead this year by being represented at several prestigious garden festivals including Hampton Court. Will Sandy’s showcase garden concept ‘A Riot Of Colour’ is a representation of life after the 2011 riots and will be shown here and later at the London Pleasure Gardens. Word is spreading like wildfire…so look out!