These are our original proposals for the site at Abbey Gardens:
'What Will The Harvest Be' includes a period of directed social engagement and, in time, the creation of a unique permanent garden. This project, like other important and memorable gardens, will articulate the site's histories and offer scope for dynamic change brought about by both people and nature.
Our proposal brings together the folk-aesthetic inventiveness of Britain's amateur allotment-style gardens with historic site references, cutting-edge green technologies and the opulence of the classic English 'civic park' at its heyday. Our ambition is to create a garden that is innovative and significant both socially and horticulturally.
Our proposals for Abbey Gardens cover 3 years of development (2008 -2010). This will commence with a socially engaged period of project advocacy and hands-on horticultural projects to establish the scope and ambition of the local gardening community with regard to the site. During this initial 2-year period an outline design for the permanent garden planned on site will develop. This dynamic period will particularly inform the design and sensibility of a proposed community section of the garden.
Overall we anticipate the permanent garden will include both productive and ornamental areas for the enjoyment and engagement of both the local community and the general public. Distinctive features will include trained fruit trees, an earth form 'amphitheatre', mixed plantings of plants of local and historic significance, and innovative service / leisure buildings. The garden will integrate solar panels, rainwater harvesting, composting areas, and a 'wilderness' area.
The first two growing seasons at Abbey Gardens will see:
Dramatic short-term planting schemes such as a Harvest Garden for 2009.
One-off events designed to increase community involvement including an Urban Seed Day and Harvest Walk.
Tools designed to promote the Gardens, such as an Honesty Stall(informal shop) containing garden produce and wildflower seed packaged from the site.
The enthusiastic Friends of Abbey Gardens (FOAG) have proved a fantastic and resourceful group key to the proposal and the project's future success. The project prioritises developing sustainable community involvement in the garden, towards the FOAG and others taking a permanent role in maintenance.
The final permanent design framework will develop from the approved current Council proposal and will be informed by the successes and failures of the first two years' projects. We anticipate the final garden including plants propagated on site, some from seeds gathered there.
Progress to Date 2008
Our first steps on site have combined our interest in seed propagation with the Council's immediate plans for the land, which were already in place when we were commissioned: During early summer the whole site was seeded with a mix of native wildflowers and grass. However a combination of unfavourable weather and poor soil has given this limited success at the time of writing.
We have taken a motif based on the site's archaeological remains, and used it to create a summer seed shape within the turf adjacent to the remains. This was uncovered after the Council seeding, resulting in the germination of the seed bank originally on the site, which has been augmented by windblown seeds and those carried on birds and other small mammals. This has been an effective start, demonstrating our direct engagement with the garden-making process and has begun to involve the friends of Abbey Garden in their first hands-on project. It focuses attention on seed-propagation instead of instant civic planting, and fosters awareness of the richness of soil life.
On July 12th, we organised a free Harvest Walk to other green spaces in Newham (including West Ham Park & nearby allotments) followed by a FOAG picnic on site. The walk consolidated many of the contacts made this summer and attracted new project advocates and participants. We visited St Mary's allotments and West Ham allotments making key contacts with both current plot holders and those on the waiting lists.
Further immediate plans
An Urban Seed interpretation/social event has been planned for Aug. 16th based on the 'seed shape' and other plants found at the site. With an invited botanist we will focus on the collecting and sowing of seed with propagation tips, threshing techniques, seed bomb making etc. We also hope to visit the West Ham Park nursery as part of this event.
The name for the project was inspired by a photograph of the Plaistow Landgrabbers featured in 'The Newham Story':
" ... At this time there was still the view that if you were unemployed it was your own fault. Then in July 1906 a group of local men occupied some waste ground in St Marys Road, Plaistow. They were led by Councillor Ben Cunningham. They cleared the site and laid it out in four triangle shapes and planted vegetables. It became known as Triangle Camp. ¨The men had two aims: to show that waste ground could be put to good use and to show that the unemployed were willing to work. ¨The Council saw things differently and served the men with an injunction. ¨Eventually the men were removed but they had made their point. Locally at ¨least attitudes started to change towards the unemployed."
With thanks to Newham Archives and Local Studies.