Welcome to Abbey Gardens, a community garden in West Ham
surrounding part of the ruins of a
12th century abbey.

There are free garden club sessions and new gardeners are always welcome. The garden is open to visitors from dawn till dusk.


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Gardening sessions take place on
Tuesdays 1pm-3pm
Thursdays 4pm-7pm
Saturdays 10am-4pm

Author Archive

Composting Thoughts

Compost

I’m in danger of becoming Abbey Garden’s compost expert. The one I built a month ago shrunk into a nice, warm lump of soil and bacteria rubbing themselves against each other which will soon be ready for our veggie beds. If you stick your hand in it, you can feel the heat and steam as if it were an oven. I like calling it my giant soup, which I’ll keep stirring until it’s ready to be served.

For the past year I’ve been one of the Saturday regulars, arriving usually at 11am and leaving a few hours later. For the past two weeks I’ve had the opportunity to also attend sessions on Tuesdays and Thursdays thanks to some overdue annual leave. Yesterday, for example, I pruned and tied some of the fruit trees while the Mind session took place on the other side of the garden. I had time to go through the apple trees and spray the aphids as well as pick one lonesome gooseberry sawfly chewing away at a leaf. I’ve also recently sown some broccoli and baby carrots (don’t ask me, though, their proper names or where I put the seeds’ packet!) and done a lot of watering.

I second Hamish’s wish that we have some rain soon. It’s nice to stand in the garden under this hazy May sun, but I get worried at the cracked soil in some of the beds. We were talking yesterday about the potential of a city-wide ban on hoses, which could negatively affect us. I look at the BBC Weather forecast and wonder what sort of summer we’ll have if we are getting all the sunshine now.

In the meantime, there are three more compost boxes ready to be filled…

Garden Haikus

These are all the haikus I managed to find hanging around Abbey Garden after our spring event. Maybe there are more?

A big thank you to everyone who participated in this (first ) creative writing workshop – I hope these were as inspiring and fun to write at the time as they are now for us to read!  Photos of them can be seen at our Flickr Group.

Blossom feeds the bees
before summer comes to us
baring fruit for all

*

Shoe shoe blue
been
sea done

*

The ground is ready
the rows of earth are laid out
it is time to plant

*

Spring is here
sun, rain, cloud
seeds grow, feel alive again.

*

I look for a weed
and maybe I will eat it
for dinner tonight.

*

Is that a seagull?
drowned out by the sound of a plane
nature and city

*

Artichokes mumble
in their bed
fat tongues half sleeping

*

The bee likes yellow
as does the flowers
and me too

*

The moment the rumble
of a train has passed by
a bluebird sings

*
Feathered green for Spring
Blowsy pink petals, cherry red
Stripes for saving seeds.

– LT

*
The Abbey’s old stones
so long alone, are brought alive by AG’s
plants, flowers and birds

Bees, Brains and Blue Badges

Yesterday was a perfect day for visiting Abbey Gardens.  The sun was out, the sky was clear, and the streets teeming with people.  Spring is upon us!  Nothing seemed better than to grab a spade or a secateur and head for the nearest unruly flower bed.

Many new faces visited the garden.  Some had heard of it through Newham’s magazine, some through the recent Hackney Wick walk.  Hamish was thoroughly busy giving everyone tasks while supporting those that are still new to the garden and unsure of what to do.  Some people had long jobs digging up beds; others – like myself – did a dozen small tasks for the next few hours.

First off, Hamish got me to prune some of the more unruly fruit trees. Although it’s a job usually done in the summer, these particular ones needed to be tamed a little bit.  On a nearby apricot tree I spotted the first bees of the season.  (Whenever I mention Abbey Gardens to someone, one of the first things they ask is if we have bees – probably because of the world-wide worry around bees disappearing.)

Later, I helped transplant some of the herbs to their new bed by the container and clear up the bed reserved for mint.  The thyme grown there smelled divine – we couldn’t resist taking some back home.  The Marjoram had to be dug up and split into four.  I leveled it out with a spade and placed it on a nearby piece of wood.  While Hamish split its leaves as if parting hair, I brought the spade down and joked that it felt like I was chopping through a brain.  “Remind me never to get on Ollie’s bad side,” Hamish laughed.  Well, Alison did read somewhere that the Big Society is for “bored housewives, hippies and psychos…”

After our tea break (complimented as usual by Lydia’s delicious baking), a large group led by a tour guide entered the garden.  Someone told me last week that the guide is a Blue Badge. “Didn’t they visit us around the same time last Saturday?” I pointed out.  We wondered if this was a new Olympic tour, if most of them were tourists and if we’d be seeing them regularly on Saturdays.  Alison had the idea that we could have drinks and cake ready to serve them next time, and later in the year have the honesty stall set up with our harvest.

A test run for an eventual pop-up café on site?

Sunshine in October

Abbey Gardens - Planting Garlic

Winter for me starts on the 1st of November. Something about Hallowe’en and the clocks going back in October matches the sudden shift in light during the day and coolness in the air. As October ticks away, I’m aware of this countdown to darkness and try to enjoy the outside as much as possible, which is why it was so good to drop by Abbey Gardens yesterday.

It was a beautiful, mellow day – the sun lighting up everything in a way that made us crave a nap instead of a shovel. But shovels we needed, and shoveling we did: fresh compost for the beds near the children’s (future) playhouse and other areas of the garden. Some planting also took place, notably four types of hard and soft-headed garlic. Hamish showed me how to line the cloves (we call them teeth in Portuguese) in rows, using a string held down by rocks so that they were straight, planted just under the surface and about 6 inches apart.  I planted Garlic Jolimont and Illico.

As customary, some hot water was brought over from one of the Friends who live across the street and mugs of tea were passed around. Lydia baked some delicious rocket buns and brought them in a tupperware – a life saver for me. (My energy levels were low because I’d failed to have a good breakfast that morning!) She told me they were a recipe passed down her family and it got us talking about our first contact with gardening and how that had spurred a lifelong interest in it. For Lydia, it was growing up in a farm in Kent with a mother who had learned organic fruit and vegetable growing through Victorian books; for myself, it was spending the weekends outside São Paulo at the rural community where my mother’s family comes from – being surrounded by adults who knew so much about growing plants.  We concluded that the children who come to Abbey Gardens will most likely grow up to be adults like us: in tune to this way of life, a love of nature handed down to them.

Butterflies in your Bedroom?

I have a new bad habit: before going to the Gardens, I stop by a Polish café in Stratford for some greasy breakfast.  Two weeks ago, Ashley and I fortified ourselves with sausages, eggs and toast, and this past Saturday I roped Kevin and our friend Vicky into joining me for a tray of forbidden fried foods (Vicky discovered the Gardens on the last Harvest Festival and was immediately enchanted.)  I tell myself that I need to clog my arteries with some good grease in order to get through all the digging, mulching and wheel-barrowing… or maybe it’s just the dawning of chilly winter days that’s making me crave hibernation foods.

Saturday Soup

This past Saturday, despite the English Breakfast sitting in my stomach, I found some space to taste Dasha’s delicious veggie soup after getting some soil turned and rye grass seeds sowed to protect the beds during the winter. Some of the engineers working on the soon-to-open Abbey Road station donated gloves for the Garden’s workers (I predict they’ll soon be in there with us, pulling out weeds), some decisions were made on fundraising for the Garden’s future, some of the children ran back and forth collecting autumn leaves in wheel barrows and dropping them in the compost boxes, and a guided walk was held by Hamish through the beds to highlight ideas for next year’s planting.

During the guided walk, one of the gardners – a man with long white hair tied in a pony tail (apologies for not knowing your name yet!) – told us how he collected white cabbage caterpillars so he could leave them in his grandchildren’s bedroom. Why? So that their bedrooms could be filled with butterflies when they all came out of their cocoons. Another tale confounded us: a visitor to the Gardens had collected all the potato leaves and taken them home to use for a dish. But aren’t potato leaves poisonous, some of us asked ourselves. The consensus seemed to be that yes, they are – but maybe there was a particular way of using them for this dish that side-stepped the poison. Can’t be worse though than an English Breakfast every Saturday!