Brockwell Park, Community Greenhouses – South East London’s Garden of Eden

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This summer I had the pleasure of visiting Brockwell Park, Community Greenhouses, Herne Hill.  I remember it was a beautiful sunny day and when I arrived at the gardens, a very cheerful Community Gardener, Alison Alexander, greeted me.

The Community Greenhouses is a small charity that specialises in horticulture and education, is formed of two part-time staff and operates with the help of up to 50 volunteers.

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When I sat down to write this post for the blog, I was a little stumped as where to start.  The time I spent with Alison that afternoon mooching around the gardens and learning about the different plants, will stay in my mind as a joyful and educational experience, of which I will do my best to share with you.

I’m not a fully-fledged gardener.   I like to think that my eagerness to develop the garden on my balcony and to grow an array of houseplants makes me a gardener of some sort.  I suppose every one, no matter how big or small their space to grow and tend to plants, trees, bushes, herbs, is, in their own right a gardener.

Walled Garden image below:

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I was enchanted by the gardens, which back on to the beautiful Walled Garden in the park.  We started the tour in the Forest Garden.  A space dedicated to growing soft fruit, herbs and food, which once grown, makes its way back into the community, or sold in the Greenhouse shop.   I was astonished by the sheer amount of food, and sumptuous fruit that was grown here.

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Originally a production site for the park and the Borough, this area went into disrepair in the 1980’s but has since been revitalised, and now boasts a wonderful selection of plants.  You’ll find various fruits growing in the Forest Garden; greengages, white berries, red berries, apples, gooseberries.  Alison told me the best part of their job was being able to pick the ripe fruit and to share a small selection amongst the team, who then take the fruit home to taste and report back on the best tasting batch.  This remaining fruit is then picked and selected to sell in the Greenhouses shop.  A section of the Forest Garden is left alone to grow wildly, to be used by the wildlife in the park as forage and shelter. Here, the animals are able to go about their daily business, not bothered by passers by, and feed on the ripe pickings that adorn the ground.

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Next door to the Forest Garden you will find an area where vegetables are grown and where a wild flowerbed flows freely in the wind.   The day I visited, I was privy to an impressive selection of lettuce, peas, onions, tomatoes, carrots, celery and garlic.  I learnt about crop rotation, plant families and how to prevent pesticides and diseases.  If you are interested in learning more about this and were to visit the gardens, one of the team is always on hand to share their knowledge.

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A walk through the garden will take you past a enchanting pond, where lilies and pond life live, then through an open door in the brick wall that leads you into the herb, medicinal and dye garden.

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This is where I met Andy, a volunteer, new to the gardens’; it was his fourth day.  He delighted in telling me all about the herbs found in the garden.  You have to see the garden to believe it; the selection of herbs grown is vast.  Dye plants also grow here, the roots of one plant were recently dried, used to create flax, which was dyed and then woven into a small hand purse.   If you delve a little deeper inside the herb garden, tucked into the corner you will find hives, full of honeybees.  The hives are managed by 
The London Beekeepers association.

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I was interested to hear that part of the garden is dedicated to growing different types of plants and edible plants and herbs to represent the diverse cultures in the community. The garden team is keen to get in touch with local communities, source recipes, share cooking tips and iconic dishes.  It is here that vegetables grown include bitter gourd, widely grown in Asia, Africa and the Caribbean for its edible fruit.   I met and spoke with Chean Maei at the Chinese garden, who had expertly grown a impressive selection of pack choi, Chinese leaf and beans.

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The Greenhouses welcome volunteers; there are always tasks in the garden and tea to be drunk.  Whatever your plant passion, you’re sure to find it.  Volunteer sessions are run weekly, and there are jobs to suit all ages.  To find out how to become a volunteer, click here.

Everything in the garden helps everyone, from food to education, to cooking and meeting new people.  The Brockwell Park Community Gardens I’m sure, will give you a lease for life, as it did me that morning in September.

The Greenhouses run educational groups with local schools and is involved in the Duke of Edinburgh awards scheme. They are always keen to hear from people who could volunteer to help run the educational events.  For further information please contact Beth on education@brockwellgreenhouses.org.uk or call 07427 685714.

I asked Alison what her favorite plant, she told me it is Love Lies Bleeding (Amaranthus caudatus), an annual flowering plant.  Many parts of the plant, including the leaves and seeds are edible.  I agreed that this was indeed a beautiful plant.

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All the produce grown is sold in the shop, and distributed to local chefs in the areas, including Mr Muffin and Rachel De Thample, Abel and Cole food editor.

The Greenhouses recently launched their new weekly garden blog.  You can read it here: www.brockwellgreenhouses.org.uk/welcome/category/garden-blog/ The blog is about what garden volunteers are getting up to, a great place for community stories but also a way to get hints and tips about timely garden jobs, harvesting and, of course, eating.

More photos taken on our visit:

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