Best temp job in town: Pop-up gardens are appearing across London thanks to one pioneering enthusiast

Emma Townshend
Sunday 22 August 2010 00:00
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Trundling along to buy a lunchtime sandwich the other day, admiring the floral bedding in my local park in Ealing, I spotted a little sign: "Pop-up Kitchen Garden". Now, we've heard of pop-up shops, restaurants and art galleries, but a pop-up vegetable garden? Exploring a little further, I found that a set of kitchen garden beds, neatly edged in wood, had materialised out of nowhere. It was a gorgeous surprise.

And these pop-ups are catching on across London. While my local garden has already been dismantled, in Southwark you'll find the Union Street Orchard until 19 September, full of 85 fruiting apple trees and serving cider. It's "pop-up" because it's created entirely on a concreted site by some railway arches on a quiet side road in SE1. But its orchardy qualities are beautifully on show: trees live in piles of tyres and pallets, bearing urban fruit.

Heather Ring was the enthusiast who initiated the project, taking on a commission for the London Festival of Architecture. As far as instant greening goes, she's an old hand: I first came across her through her Wayward Plant Registry, a website that finds homes for abandoned plants. It asks people to fill in a form that reveals all kinds of things about their attitude to our little green friends. "I love the idea of finding homes for plants, and the orchard is an extension of that: we've found permanent homes for all the fruit trees on local Bankside estates," she says

Wayward makes intermittent public appearances, from a residency at last year's Barbican art show "Radical Nature" to a two-week stay in a Brixton shop this January for a forest of recycled Christmas trees. But the Union Street Orchard is the biggest thing Ring has ever organised. "It was incredible. We mobilised loads of partners to help us, such as the Living Ark, who lived on site, and made the orchard their home in their ecopod, and more than 100 other volunteers."

In keeping with the flavour of pop-up events, there are unique opportunities – ever wanted to play street ping-pong over the top of a skip? Now's your chance, on a table created by one Oliver Bishop-Young.

But the main focus is the trees. Apple, pear, quince, apricot, cherry, blueberry, blackberry, strawberry... And despite the weather, the orchard is flourishing: "I never thought they'd fruit so well," says Ring. "It's been a challenging summer for sure, but we looked after them properly!

"I'm already feeling sad about it being taken away. But part of the energy of the place drives from it being temporary. You get such a special energy when you know something is only there for a little while."

For more: unionstreetorchard.org.uk

Take a pop at your own

The cider

The Cider Academy in Hartbury, Gloucestershire, plays host to a one-day course on 4 September run by Peter Mitchell, UK and US cider competition judge and award-winning maker in his own right. The course covers choice of fruit, pressing and fermentation through to bottling. £125, cider-academy.co.uk

The juice

The Cornwall Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group are guests at a member farm on 9 September in Redruth, Cornwall, for an afternoon of pruning, management and home juice extraction. 1.30pm-4.30pm, £5 to members, see fwag.org.uk for more details

The raw materials

Mount Ephraim House and Garden, located near Faversham, Kent, is holding a one-day course on 8 October, from 9.30am-4pm. Suitable for anyone thinking about planting an orchard or getting involved in a community orchard project. Layout, rootstocks and varieties will all be covered. £125, orangepippinshop.com

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