Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Stream Walk Community Garden

Puff, the magic dragon lived by the sea
And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called Honah Lee'

Last  Saturday I put my gardening skills to the test at Stream Walk, a community garden growing organic fruit and vegetables. My gardening skills have never really been tested, at least not  since primary school when I grew a bean under damp cotton wool. Today, years later, the plants in my house survive more through luck than skill.  Despite this, I was hoping that I could be put to good  use on Saturday.

The community garden is situated on a large plot of land surrounded by houses, just off the Streamwalk footpath by the railway station. It is shared with the Whitstable Volunteer Centre and a local charity, the Kent Enterprise Trust. Their aim is to create a beautiful space for people to learn about growing fruit, herbs and vegetables in an environmentally friendly way. This is a new project, barely two years old. The garden is well on its way, from the empty, overgrown place it once was it to an allotment with sections carved out for lettuces, potatoes, leeks, turnips, artichokes and the like. Pathways crisscross the borders. There are lavender bushes waiting for the warmth of summer, scented rosemary and golden oregano.  By the entrance is a garden shed surrounded by potted plants and an impressive compost toilet made out of shingle. 

 On Tuesdays and the third Saturday of each month, Stream Walk takes in volunteers to help with its maintenance.  My first task was to plant willow alongside the north facing wall.
The willow before being planted
The stems stood at over six feet tall and can be weaved into baskets. We planted the darker stems at the back, twisting them 12 inches down into the soil, then, in the middle,  yellow green ones, the colour of an African grass snake. We placed the fire red stems at the front where they will stand out.  

Once planted I pruned them down. It felt like an act of vandalism, but is, I believe, the most effective way to help them root. After planting the willow we got to work clearing a mound of surplus earth from a vegetable patch ready for planting. When the excess soil had been removed, I took up a hoe, swinging it up and down to break up the damp clumps while earthworms struggled in the soil.

 Saturday was icy and wet day. It rained down without a stopping, that cold rain laden with ice. The pond was close to saturation. Mud squelched up my wellies and squelched its way into my hair. The scarecrows at the far end slouched forward, sodden.  A couple of hours in we stopped for hot drinks and chocolate beetroot cake. We stood huddling in the shed, packed together closely with our fingers wrapped around steaming coffee cups.

 In spite of the weather and my apparent lack of gardening skills there was a therapeutic feel to working the soil and watching my area slowly transform. I arrived tired after a week at work, thoughts and worries swimming in my head like trigger fish caught in a bowl and I left calmer, ready for a weekend free of all that. I suspect our sanity may depend on places like this one, where we work close to nature growing what we need to eat, bringing life to empty spaces.

If you are wondering why I started this blog with the opening lines of ‘Puff the Magic Dragon,’ it’s in honour of the sleeping dragon in the far corner of Stream Walk’s  garden.  Before you think I am indeed mad, wander up to the end, and you’ll spot a mound of earth  stretched out in the shape of a dragon. It has the arched back and flat pointed head. Decisions are underway as to how it’ll be brought to life and with what bits and pieces. It is hoped that when the dragon is formed, children can climb on its back, play, imagine they’re flying. There are  many ideas - please bring them along with your gardening skills.  Everyone is welcome.
And if ever you’re tired, stop by to wander around in this magical space, breath and rest.


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