Urban growth: A gardening guru is getting children hooked on the joys of growing fruit and vegetables

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

 

Tom Moggach has a way of falling silent in the middle of a sentence, as though he's just remembered something he ought to be doing. When it first happened, I fully expected that he'd excuse himself from our conversation and dash out of his house into north London's busy streets. He has plenty of reasons to do so.

Through the company City Leaf he founded in 2009, he helps schools, community projects, councils and other organisations across London to set up food-growing schemes. He teaches at a local primary school. He writes the gardening column for Jellied Eel, the magazine of the London Food Link. He's heavily involved in Capital Growth, the partnership launched by Boris Johnson and the LFL to provide 2012 new growing spaces in London by the end of the year. Already, 1694 projects are under way: 90 in Tower Hamlets, 100 in Lambeth, 101 in Southwark and a whopping 111 in Camden, Moggach's own borough.

He took me round the corner from his house to look at one of the spaces he helped set up, a small triangle of leftover land at the end of a row of terraced houses in Bassett St. Raised beds built from wood run along the back of the plot. Rows of big dump bags (the kind builders deliver sand in) fill the rest of the space. "It's a mixed community here," explained Tom. "Bangladeshi, Somali, Albanian, east European. This is somewhere everyone can meet, have a common purpose. The actual harvests we get are a perk. It's the process that counts." Anyone in the scheme can take over a dump bag filled with soil and use it as a mini-plot to grow stuff.

By now I was thinking that the mid-term silences happened perhaps because he's so bound up in his subject. He wants to pitch his thoughts accurately. He minds. "Profound experiences take place when you garden," he says. "You get a deep sense of peace, even if you are just pootling about with tomato plants."

Moggach, 36, was born in Camden and lives there still, in a terraced house with hens in the backyard and an old bath, sprouting a fine crop of salad leaves, perched on the flat roof of the back extension. City gardening is what he knows and now he's written a book about it, The Urban Kitchen Gardener (Kyle Books, £16.99).

You can tell by his kitchen, heavily potted and panned, that he loves to cook and that's why his book concentrates on food crops that city gardeners can grow without too much trouble. He covers nine vegetables, 10 herbs, salad leaves, and a few easily grown fruit such as currants, gooseberries and strawberries. His instructions are all geared to the particular conditions that city gardeners face. How much sun does this crop need? Will it grow in a pot? Importantly, he gives the minimum depth of compost you need for each crop in a container: 25cm for peas, 8cm for coriander.

He includes recipes and also a useful "Ways with..." checklist for each entry, a reminder of all the things that you can do, for instance, with fresh peas or redcurrants. For him, cooking came before growing food. For some time, he worked as a dogsbody in the kitchens of various London restaurants, before reading English at Bristol. He travelled through Africa as a rep, selling books, then came back to England to train as a primary-school teacher.

That decision took him by surprise and though he's no longer a full-time classroom teacher (he did it for five years), teaching and training remain at the heart of his work with City Leaf. "Life in a city is busy, hectic. But once you get hooked into gardening, even if only in a small way, you have the means of releasing yourself from the pressures of modern life. I enjoy helping people to do that". There's another reason he likes what he does. City dwellers don't have much need to click into the changing seasons of the year. Growing food connects them back into that calendar.

Further down the road from the community garden is Rhyl Primary School, where Moggach helped turn a corner of the car park into a school garden. Three raised beds were made in the sunniest corner and the school eco-club built a polythene-covered greenhouse against the yard wall. Wednesday is gardening day and every child in the school spends time in the garden with Moggach and his colleague Anna Locke. For the really keen gardeners, there's also an after-school gardening club. All this, as he points out, depends on the school's head, who is passionate about giving the 400 children in the school the experience of growing their own food.

"It's all about the power and potential of outdoor learning," he says. "And eating." The children grow the kinds of things Moggach writes about in his book. Fresh green pea shoots fill a blue plastic mushroom crate. Coriander sprouts alongside. Fruit trees are just about to burst into bloom. This year they are going to make a compost heap.

And what does Moggach himself most like to grow, I wondered. "Shiso," he answered without a flicker of a pause. "A recent discovery and a total revelation. It's a herb not much used in the West, but immensely popular in Japan where it's used as widely as basil is in Italy." It's actually the plant flower gardeners call perilla and use, generally in its purple-leaved form, as an ornamental filler in bedding schemes.

Moggach recommends the green-leaved form, easily grown in a pot (minimum compost depth 15cm). Sow the seed in a sheltered spot in the sun, he says. Use a general-purpose liquid feed as the plants are growing. Harvest the youngest leaves for the finest flavour and use them to make a refreshing granita, or your own sashimi.

For more information about City Leaf, go to cityleaf.co.uk. To find out about Capital Growth projects go to capitalgrowth.org

Discover more property articles at Homes and Property
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Environmental Adviser - Maternity Cover

£37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...

Recruitment Genius: CBM & Lubrication Technician

£25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...

Recruitment Genius: Care Worker - Residential Emergency Service

£16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Landscaper

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones