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The story of Evelyn Community Gardens
by Christina Borgi

The John Evelyn Community Garden was born through the persistent wish of a group of local residents to have a place to grow food and to rest from the stress of the city. This idyllic retreat they dreamed, should contain a pond and seating areas, and be accessible to all, including people with disabilities. Birds would be attracted for the blind, and scented areas would be created. Children would be provided with food growing skills, and adults with a place where food can be grown for free, without having to go through the allotment waiting list.

In 2003, in the midst of high rise blocks, the garden started with the cultivation of one unused allotment, which became the Community Allotment and was leased indefinitely to Pepys Community Forum, a local charity working for the benefit of the community. Having demonstrated the sincerity of their wish, the group of residents, led by Maria Drury and Penny, received some funding to realize the big dream. As an addition, local squatter Tina got a grant from the Scarman Trust. And so, together with combined funds of 8K, Pepys Community Forum was entrusted to turn almost half of the whole allotment site conceded by the Council into a community garden.

Works started in July 2004, involving local residents. Instead of expensive (and environmentally messy) machines, what about man power? Human hands cleared the whole site of rubbish, which was everywhere, over and underneath the top soil. With their hands doing all the hard work, local residents would then have a personal relationship to the community resource.

Although the original garden group faded away, by the end of the plot clearance a fresh breeze of new enthusiasm took hold of the project leaving a trace of marvels behind them...a polytunnel, shed, tool shed, pergola, main entrance path, basic access paths, first pond, fruit trees... But the community gradually became absent again and when money ran out to pay for workers, a fallow period arrived.

The wished for garden was fading in the conscious minds of the local people. But an undercurrent remained and the idea in time found new ground in which to flourish. New enthusiasm and enduring faith made possible the sourcing of new funding from Breathing Spaces May 2007. At this point in time, people are again sharing their time and energies, to make new paths, ponds, plant trees and dig holes, now as ever fuelled by their passion and belief in the worth of what they are creating. The pace is fast, we have to finish the basics, let the breadth of the community who enjoy it develop it, use it, take part! But HOW?

As a matter of experience, we realized that decisions involving many minds are better decisions. Continue building on the works of previous generations, don't re-do, but complete. Observe, then try to help! Reflect the community that we are building for in the way the garden grows.

A totally edible garden, an array of greens and splashes of colors, fruit trees and a forest garden, using permaculture methods for low maintenance and construction of a healthy ecosystem. Berries, flowers for salads, poppies and sunflowers for seeds, roses for flavorsome petals and rose hips, medicinal plants and aromatic herbs that will trace their scent on gentle fingers! Making the beds attractive, sweeping round in interesting shapes and interwoven with winding paths that children and adults alike will delight in exploring.

And showcase sustainable living in the midst of the urban area! Run power supplies from renewable energy sources – wind turbines, solar cells; a rocket stove for cooking, an air exchanger as the shed heater, a storm kettle for boiling water, and a water cleaning reed bed system...

Any other ideas?
A sand pit for the kids, workspace for artists -pottery using clay dug from the garden…. a pottery and glass oven?
Why not!
And the community...Will they ever come?

Ideally Pepys Community Forum would love to have an ethnically and socially diverse participation in the garden. Practically, it is proving to be a matter of time and funding. To be there, to have the means The offer needs to be steady, long term. Otherwise people can't gear their lives towards this community resource. Hopefully new streams of funding will make this possible. Until then, volunteer stamina and passion is all we need!

For free workshops and events the project can be contacted see link on SLP News page.

Click on the image above of Evelyn Community Gardens to see a short home-made video with Christina Borgi as one of the founder members talking.

  • The John Evelyn Community Garden project is 6 years old and is located in a derelict section of the Windlass place allotments. Our Aims and Objectives are: To create an Edible Community Garden in the midst of the urban area where the presence of high-rise blocks is predominant.
  • To provide free access to the garden to residents of Pepys Community catchment area.
  • To serve as a meeting and resting place for the community that surrounds it.
  • To provide an opportunity for residents who largely have no access to gardens to learn about growing food, gardening and enjoy an outdoor space and some of the produce.
  • To foster the establishment of a community gardening practice where the garden is seen and treated as one entity. Community garden members can learn to share best practice and to jointly manage and care for this community resource.
  • The knowledge gained through this experience can be shared with other similar projects.
  • To provide activity for people with mental disabilities or with special needs, refugees and asylum seekers, which can deliver both physical and social health outcomes.
  • To design the space with a view to maximizing the use by a range of physical and sensory impaired persons.
  • To constitute an educational resource for children and adults on organic food growing and sustainable ecosystems, including examples of sustainable living systems in the inner city, renewable energy systems, etc.
  • To foster the cultivation of old, rare and traditional plant varieties, their propagation and seed saving.
  • To enhance the local wildlife by providing winter shelter and bird foods, thereby incorporating the natural wildlife into the created ecosystem.
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