travel & outdoors: A corner of London that is forever green

Anna Pavord finds an oasis of self-help

Anna Pavord
Friday 18 April 1997 23:02

Because gardening teaches you the value of the long view and the virtues of stoicism (plants are great stoics), gardeners generally are not militant - even in their own defence. But when Islington Council withdrew an annual pounds 12,000 grant from the Culpepper Community Garden in north London, the local people who garden there fought hard to defend the patch that provides them (and anyone else who wants to walk there) with a restorative touch of green in an area that desperately needs it.

The garden, next door to a children's playground, is at the south end of Cloudesley Road. Over the railings, you look into a patchwork of tiny gardens, each no more than 10ft by 12ft, growing an extraordinary mixture of trees, fruit, flowers and vegetables. One plot is full of comfrey, grown to make liquid feed. Another has a mouthwatering selection of broccoli. A third has sedum, lavender, euphorbia and daffodils, each daffodil surrounded with scraps of red brick.

Like allotment sites, this community garden speaks volumes for the inventiveness of gardeners. But this is different from an allotment site. It is gardened by individuals, but done for the pleasure of all. And pounds 12,000 seems a cheap way for Islington Council to fix the patch. They'd pay three times as much to garden it under council tender, as public parks are.

I asked Ken Standing, chairman of Culpepper's management committee, how Islington's grant was spent. Most of it is used to pay a garden worker, Nicola Reynolds, who looks after the bits between the plots and, by her presence, cuts down on the vandalism that is a constant irritation. Some money is needed to repair paths and fences. Some was spent on the sturdy compost bins that stand behind the community hut.

There's no vetting of members. Anybody who lives nearby can ask for a plot. as long as they do not have a garden. Mr Standing said they had Italian gardeners, Spanish and Portuguese. That explained why there were so many good vegetables there. Especially calabrese. And red- leaved chicory growing with marigolds.

One tiny patch was rather grandly planted with an evergreen Magnolia grandiflora. That was worth pounds 6,000 as a heart lift on its own. There were amelanchiers in delicate blossom, and a fine alder tree growing by the hut. Over the brick wall that closes off the garden from Cloudesley Road, a sweet-scented Clematis armandii flung long, voluptuous trails.

So what's the fate of the garden now? The Culpepper gardeners won a victory in persuading Islington not to dump them altogether, but the council has halved their grant to pounds 6,000. The management committee is loth to put up garden rents (at present pounds 10 a year) because they don't want the place to become, in Mr Standing's phrase "an inward-looking, garden clubby sort of place." The search for alternative funding is on.

If you would like to contribute, go to the Culpepper Community Garden plant sale on Sunday 27 April, 11am-1pm. To join the community garden, call 0171-833 3951.

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