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Abbey Gardens Spring Event, Photo: Nina Pope

Abbey Gardens new season

A little nudge to anyone in or near East London who feels like a bit of gardening:

The new season is well underway at Abbey Gardens, a communal veetable garden which we designed in 2008/9 and which goes from strength to strength each year, now run by an active local Friends group, and - as always - open to absolutely everyone regardless of green fingers or not!

Details on what's happening when are here, or just drop in.
Open to anyone gardening sessions take place on
Tuesdays 1pm-3pm
Thursdays 4pm-7pm
Saturdays 10am-4pm
All tools / guidance are provided free.

The 'lost' Wallflowers - only the red variety remain!

I declare this season open ...

It's with much pleasure after a number of late nights I can declare the 2011 season 'Now Growing' section for What Will The Harvest Be? open! This is becoming my annual equivalent of switching on the Christmas lights (or as Andreas pointed out doing my taxes!) once a year I input all the 'out' dates for plants in the database that are no longer in the beds and then after a bit of behind the CMS secret curtain magic Dorian does something I imagine like cutting a ribbon or hitting a huge red switch and hey presto we have a new set of 'clean' beds and only the perrenial plants appear for a few short weeks before we start sowing and planting them all again! 

Filling out the plant database can (frankly) at times be a real bore BUT with two years worth of data now logged in I can really start to see the value of this as a permanent record of what the Friends of Abbey Gardens group have achieved as well as an informative resource for other community gardening groups. As more and more plants go in you can compare varieties, add recipes and generally start to feel the benefit of all Hamish, Chris and I's diligent recording and photo-taking. 

2011 is currently a fresh slate - for a few weeks only - enjoy.

Andreas Lang's gorgeous new Honesty Stall is launched

What Will the Harvest Be? @ London Open Squares Weekend

We had a busy weekend at the garden, giving tours, tea and cake to visitors. Have a look at Nina's nice photos here on Flickr.

Somewhere Seedlings

Join us on Saturday August 16th for an URBAN SEED DAY at Abbey Gardens and get involved with our project What Will The Harvest Be?

Come and gather or sow some seeds for next year's Harvest Garden and find out more about our long term proposals for this unique historic site. We'll be spending the afternoon with botanist ROY VICKERY (of South London Botanical Institute) for an informal afternoon of WILD FLOWER SPOTTING, FOLKLORE, SEED GATHERING & SEED SOWING.

We will be at the garden, which is opposite Baker's Row in East London (Near West Ham or Stratford tube) from 3pm-5.30pm. The event is free but booking is advised via our contact page.

Refreshments, materials & equipment provided. Sorry, no unaccompanied children under 14. The event is supported by Newham Council & Friends of Abbey Gardens, we will also have some exciting seeds from the wonderful Chiltern Seeds to give away.

Walk with us ... this weekend

This Saturday July 12th you can walk & talk with us about our new project WHAT WILL THE HARVEST BE? We will be leading a walk from Abbey Gardens around some of Newham’s other green spaces:

3.00 pm Abbey Gardens (Bakers Row)
3.15 pm West Ham Park
4.15 pm St Mary’s Allotments
5.00 pm The Greenway
5.30 pm West Ham Allotments
6.00 pm Abbey Gardens - Picnic

Come & join us for the walk to hear more about our proposed projects for Abbey Gardens and meet some Newham residents with green fingers. Following the walk there will be an informal gathering for a picnic with the Friends of Abbey Gardens, which you are also very welcome to join. Feel free to bring along some food (especially home-grown!) Elderflower drinks will be available made with the flowers I gathered on the site.

To book a place on the walk please email us.

Click here for more information on the project.

Abbey Gardens is located at the end of Bakers Row, Stratford, East London E15 3NF

Thanks to Andreas for these photos
which I've joined together ...

Summer Seed Shape

We have recently been commissioned by Newham Council to work with the Friends of Abbey Gardens to re-vision the site opposite their houses on Bakers Row in Stratford. The scheme will take several years to complete and we are currently making proposals for a series of events and projects during this time.

Our current thinking is around the cosmopolitan social and commercial hub that medieval abbeys - such as that which once occupied the site - would have been. We plan to relate historic influences (including the more recent history of the site) to East London today and the needs of both the local and commuter communities. We are committed to using the site to produce food or other distributable products, and to raising community engagement in this endeavour via a long term scheme of events. These objectives will be also be embedded into the permanent design scheme by working with the Council's landscape architect on the planting and layout of the garden.

The Council are currently rolling out an interim scheme of sowing a wildflower seed mix onto imported topsoil, bringing colour and wildlife to the area over summer 2008.
To retain a small area of 'original' soil for observation, we have been constructing an area which mirrors the shape of the nearby archaelogical remains on the site. The soil in this section will be left uncultivated, and its natural seedbank allowed to germinate and grow. After three days of hard digging we finally achieved the modest aim of protecting the shape from the seeds about to go down!

You can see more photos of the area and a large version of this one on our new Flickr Group for Abbey Gardens/Bakers Row.

The 2012 structural hole that is the Olympic Site

Somewhere - A Structural Hole?

We've begun work on a new commission for Abbey Gardens in Newham, right next to the Railway lines coming from Stratford Station & a short walk from the 2012 Olympic site. Due to the discovery of archaeological remains on the site (The Gatehouse of a Cistercian Abbey - St. Mary Stratford Langthorne, Essex) local developers can't include it in the massive regeneration programme happening all around this area. Along with the cottages opposite (Bakers Row) this little patch of land forms a kind of hole in the structure of a changing area. The site is very close to the allotments run by my friends Gordon & Louise, and on Sunday this week Gordon organised a walk in the local area which I went on.

I've known Gordon since our early days on the Internet and in the beginning he was one of the only people I knew with email, his on-line presence has remained a constant in the life of Somewhere but we rarely get to meet in person. Whenever we do its interesting though, and he often seems to be spookily in touch with lots of things we are thinking about or working on. This Sunday proved to be no exception.

I can't actually remember how the conversation began but Gordon started to talk about '*structural holes', making me laugh as I loved the term - in fact I often feel like I inhabit in a 'structural hole'. This walk was no exception, included in our little group were: Chris, of the great Newham Striders, Louise, who runs the allotments, & Lucy Harrison, an artist who I've never met but have read about due to her project on Canvey Island. We all walked to look at our Abbey Gardens site where Andreas joined us (who lives on Bakers Row but is also part of Public Works), by now I was feeling pretty pleased with the structural hole I'd found myself in on a snowy Sunday afternoon.

Just as I thought the 'linking in' couldn't get much better a white van pulled up and 'Dean' the driver started to question me about Abbey Gardens & what I knew of the site. To cut long story short he lives locally and has had his eye on the site for years, he runs the local flower stall in Stratford station, plus an out-of-town stables ... and what he really wants is to run a stable with pony & cart rides to the Olympic site from Abbey Gardens. As he was enthusiastically outlining his vision Andreas and I looked at each other in that way you do when these sort of project chance meetings occur - a sort of "is this a completely great idea/coincidence or is it just mad" look. Not wanting to stop the links flowing we all exchanged numbers: Lucy for her Stratford station project, Louise for a manure drop off from his stables to the allotments ... and me. What he really wanted to know from me was whether the site had ever been a stables in the past.

We continued our walk over the Greenway and into the current structural hole that is the Olympic site. I tried to work out where the lovely Manor Garden Allotment site would have been before the bull dozers moved in ... Chris and the others knew the site well, and could point out where familiar landmarks had previously stood.

At a recent conference about collaboration, I talked about Somewhere - Karen & I's now 12 year relationship. The chair wanted to know if there were aspects of collaboration I saw as negative. One of the few I could describe was actually what I also feel to be completely positive about working together - that we can afford to be in a 'structural hole'. Since there are two of us, we can in fact build our own little world and remain largely autonomous from art world structures most artists would perhaps have to engage with in a more sustained way. I have always felt that Somewhere spins in its own system and have been happy that way, others may see our lack of engagement with other structures as negative though.

In fact, I increasingly feel that artists generally but Somewhere specifically are asked to come into projects when a 'structural hole' develops that the existing organisations involved don't know how to fill. Abbey Gardens is just such a hole - there are lots of stake-holders, all with opinions, but maybe none with enough flexibility to move around in this hole and even invite other more tangential agents to drop in with them! I'm looking forward to it.

On the Monday I went to Newham archives and looked through old maps of the site. In 1916 the area immediately behind the site (now factories) had indeed been the "Corporation Stables for West Ham Boro.", so I guess I'll be calling Dean.

*"Ronald Burt describes the social structure theory of competition that has developed through the last two decades. The contrast between perfect competition and monopoly is replaced with a network model of competition. The basic element in this account is the structural hole: a gap between two individuals with complementary resources or information. When the two are connected through a third individual as entrepreneur, the gap is filled, creating important advantages for the entrepreneur. Competitive advantage is a matter of access to structural holes in relation to market transactions."

Thanks to Gordon for forwarding this description.