I am part of The Growing Kitchen on the Wenlock Barn Estate in Hackney.
We started in 2008 with a community garden on a disused piece of lawn. Since then we have expanded to create a foraging garden with a wild area and a community orchard on a separate site. We also have a pond that is teaming with life with frogs, toads, newts, damsel and dragonflies – all of which have found their way through the buildings and across the tarmac. I am astounded by how little nature needs to thrive and regenerate.
Recently, we have started pushing the boundaries by letting the grass grow long and weeds sprout up in the orchard. We didn’t realise how controversial this would be – some local residents love it, describing the positive effect it has on them at the beginning of the day when they step out of their flat opposite the site, however one in particular is deeply offended and called the site a ‘disgrace’. She also complained that there were too many bees which is something I never thought I would hear anyone say.
We have mown a path around the fruit trees through the long grass and weeds rather than mow the whole area. This gives quite a wild feel to the space with butterflies, bees, hoverflies, grasshoppers and crickets. It looks like a piece of the countryside in the middle of the estate and is in direct contrast to the neatly mown green deserts surrounding it. The need to control nature by spending hours mowing grass, annihilating all life, all with the aim of keeping it tidy seems so unnecessary.
One day I was in the orchard trying to negotiate a compromise with one particular resident because we had spread some free food-waste compost around the trees which was causing a bit of a stink. A green shieldbug landed on my hand to which she shouted with alarm ‘kill it, kill it!’ She went on to tell me that she kills any insect that comes into her flat. I hope none of them take a wrong turn and venture in, especially the special pink grasshopper I had recently found on her fence. It made me wonder what she thinks pollinates the fruit and vegetables she eats and how far removed some people have become from nature to find it all so scary and offensive.
Apparently another resident has commented that the site would have been better being built on which is really sad. Hopefully over time, more people will start to understand the value of leaving small patches unmown and we can allow more spaces to go wild across the estate and beyond.