London’s best community food gardens win gold

by Rhiannon James

Abbey Gardens Summer Fair 2011 credit: R Nina Pope

A garden created around the ruins of a twelfth century abbey in east London has been crowned the most inspiring community food-growing space in the capital.

Abbey Gardens in Stratford, which was designed by two artists and is tended by more than 20 nationalities, beat more than 1,900 other plots to the title in the inaugural Grow for Gold awards organised by Capital Growth, a network of community food-growing spaces in the capital.

After visiting Abbey Gardens, the judges commented: “It’s a beautiful space full of great people, with interesting stories. We all felt inspired when we left.” They added that “the creative input was so important, as was having a beautiful design”.

Artists Nina Pope and Karen Guthrie have created a flag-like layout of formal raised beds for the garden and these are tended communally rather than being assigned to individuals or groups. The produce is shared among the volunteers and the surplus is sold at two honesty stalls. The garden includes many striking touches such as a giant photo print of the Plaistow Landgrabbers, a group of local early twentieth century guerrilla gardeners who inspired the garden’s design, on the side of the plot’s cabin.

The competition’s Learning Food Garden award was won by Chisenhale Primary School in east London. The school has four different growing spaces including a samosa garden, where the ingredients for this pastry are grown, and a rooftop plot where each class has a raised bed to tend. The gardens have been used for everything from science experiments on condensation to growing wheat and learning how to turn it into bread.

There were also awards for the best bee-friendly food garden, enterprise food garden and people’s food garden.

Paola Guzman, from Capital Growth, said of the competition: “Over the last four years of running Capital Growth, there have been so many great stories behind the thousands of new community food gardens that have been set up. This competition was our way of congratulating those groups who have made a real difference, be it with the people they have brought together, the difference they’ve made to their local environment, or the amount they have grown.”

Prizes of tools and vouchers will be awarded at a ceremony on 10th December.

Other winners:

Bee-friendly Food Garden

This award was won by a group of community gardeners in a housing estate in Tower Hamlets, who have managed to include a pond, wormeries, bird boxes, bee hotels and a wide range of bee-friendly plants in their first-floor courtyard space. In growing a great variety of fruits and vegetables, they also take a tolerant attitude towards weeds and do not use pesticides. Their wildlife finds are recorded on the Fairlie Grow blog.

Enterprise Food Garden

A new project to help communities in south London grow and sell produce bagged the Enterprise Food Garden Award. Residents of the Tulse Hill Estate are the first to take part in the scheme and are growing salad leaves and herbs in a polytunnel for sale to local box schemes and restaurants. They are paid in Brixton pounds, ensuring that all profits go back into developing the community.

People’s Food Garden

A Crystal Palace Transition Town project won this award for its success in promoting community involvement and skill-sharing. A neglected corner of a local park has been transformed into a garden for growing and teaching. The space is completely open with no fences or barriers, yet has had no problems with vandalism or theft.

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