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Trustees Wanted for Somewhere-designed Abbey Gardens

A great opportunity to support the life of one of the projects we're most proud of has arisen:

Abbey Gardens - where our 2009 project What Will the Harvest Be? kicked off what has become a thriving community garden in East London - is in need of new blood, or specifically, new Trustees to contribute ideas and help run this volunteer-led organisation that is open to anyone.

Abbey Gardens has a garden club leader and a part-time administrator, but otherwise depends on volunteers to run its fantastic roster of free classes and events.

Feb 27 is the deadline - For more info please contact Abbey Gardens here.

Photo: Andreas Lang

Just What Is It that Makes Today's Gardens So Different, So Appealing?

While I'm on an Abbey Gardens late night blogging roll I have been meaning to post these notes for a while. I wrote them originally for a talk at the RCA as part of the Sustain series (which you can actually watch here!) but then added and adapted them for funding and general interest purposes. Basically they are my personal observations about what I have found to be unique, special or surprising about the garden, community and the 'project' that have evolved there together ... 

*It's a 'Harvest' Garden - this means that individuals are not allocated their own plots but the whole space is gardened communally with people taking up jobs as and when they need doing.

*The space is open access from dawn to dusk - again this makes it very different from a private garden or allotment and underlines that we see it as a public space.

*We have a paid Garden Club Leader for three sessions a week, to oversee the basic running of the garden and help with teaching skills to users.

*We have two honesty stalls (designed by Andreas Lang) which are really well designed and unique and a great promotion tool - however, they need a good amount of time spent on them regularly to really work well.

*The running of the garden takes a good deal of administration - even with the paid GCL in place, which means the friends group spend a lot of time on admin as well as gardening.

*Events are popular and seem to be an excellent way of promoting the garden, and bringing in new members.

*The take up for the project is very diverse but currently most of the regulars who come are fairly novice gardeners. The design of the site could in fact accommodate both new and very experienced gardeners but it's interesting that so far not many people with a huge amount of existing knowledge have joined up.

*The space really seems to work for those who want regular time in a garden but wouldn't (for example) have time to cope with an allotment or a big space of their own. There's a sense of security in the knowledge that if you are away for a couple of weeks that the whole space won't grind to a halt and plants die.

*Some of the regular users travel quite far to come to the garden on a regular basis - in fact although the core 'friends' group are very local most other regulars do travel to come to the garden.

*At present people tend (to my mind) to under use the produce we grow - so the understanding that anyone can harvest produce who helps in the garden seems to encourage people to be very modest with their consumption. In some ways this is great (and it's very nice when produce can be used for a big dish at community events for example) but personally I would love it if more of the regulars ate more from the garden and it had the effect of changing their food buying habits - all the produce is organic and involves zero food miles, this for me makes it a scandal if we end up throwing any away!

*Counter to this there seems to be a sense from the group that they would like an abundance of produce - which is understandable - but no real sense of how more food would be used? (I might have got this wrong though)

*Not everyone enjoys gardening who uses the space regularly - again this might seem counter intuitive but I have found it really interesting to see how some friends have adopted more of the infrastructure or events-based jobs - I have the feeling that they prefer these to gardening and I think it's great that the space can accommodate different enthusiasms.

*Related to this there seems to be an understandable desire to keep 'improving' the infrastructure in the garden without sometimes an evaluation of how additional resources might be used/maintained. There's also sometimes a potential problem with communicating the resources we do already have and how much work it takes to keep these going (from the watering system to the webcam & database as well as simple things like turning the compost and harvesting produce).

*We have a (to date) amazing plant database - unique in design and an amazing record of what we have grown in the space - however, this seems underused by the actual gardeners and is very time consuming to maintain.

*There are sometimes different assumptions about who the garden should be 'for' even within the friends group.

*We began the project as a one year experiment - it soon became obvious that this time frame was madness (!) and the test Harvest Garden should run for at least 3 seasons - however, it was not designed as a permanent space and so it's important that all the stake holders do reassess the space at the end of the 3 years trial period.

As a postscript to these thoughts at the start of this season the friends group had a group 'review' of the project and our collective thoughts - what we like, would change and thoughts on the future of the garden. We're still in the process of turning these into a list of outcomes but it was a fascinating privilege for me to take part in this. I am normally very sceptical about project 'evaluations' for engaged practice, as they are often just a box ticking exercise for releasing final funds. This was a completely different thing, a real exchange of ideas from many people some who have been with the project before Karen & I came on board and some who were totally new to the garden and have none of the 'baggage' of setting it up. I found the whole experience rather uplifting in the end, despite being quite nervous at the start. 

The 'likes' ranged from (many comments that reflected those above), to cut flowers & a 'surrogate pub'. 'Things to change' went from 'more meetings' to 'less admin'!

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.

Come and eat Cake!

We're excited to announce that Abbey Gardens is taking part in Open Garden Squares Weekend, a London-wide event on 12 and 13 June, we are open 10 - 5 both days. We will be the first garden to open in Newham! Visit for more information.

As part of this weekend the Friends of Abbey Gardens will be holding a Summer Fair on the Saturday afternoon (12 June from midday to 4pm) and hosting a giant picnic. There won't be so much produce to eat from the garden yet, so we would like to ask everyone to bring their own picnic and hopefully we will enjoy a nice early summer day in the garden. There will be a plant sale, a photography exhibition by the Friends of Abbey Gardens, garden tours by Karen, Hamish & I, children's games and, of course, the ever popular tea and cake stall.

The initial design for the new great new Abbey Gardens Honesty Stall by Andreas Lang

International Village Shop workshop at Abbey Gardens


The idea for the workshop is to brainstorm and develop new objects/items/goods that derive from the context of Abbey Gardens a collective urban food growing site. The brief is open and will be developed collectively and in reference to specific aspects of the site, such as collective gardening and harvesting, urban food production, social and historical aspects of the site, etc.
The aim for the two day workshop is to develop a brief for one or more new products, and if possible, to assemble first prototypes. The new items can be anything: from food or tools to plants or processes and of a real or digital nature.

The products may later be used at Abbey Gardens and distributed locally through the Abbey Gardens' new honesty box and mobile stall (see the picture!). The honesty box, conceived as part of What Will The Harvest Be? is part of a wider network of cultural trading activities and platforms called the International Village Shop, where the new products for Abbey Gardens can become part of a growing collection of locally informed and produced goods.

Programme: Fri 26th March

10.00 Meeting at Abbey Gardens
Introduction of all participants and their different interests in being involved.

Mapping session of local resources/narratives/skills/appreciations/conflicts within Abbey Gardens and its proximity which could inform the new products.

13.00 Lunch at Abbey Gardens

14.00 - 17.00 Further mapping and group session brainstorming and sketching first ideas for a new products.

19.00 Friday Session_39 - an informal discussion at public works studio, 1-5 Vyner Street, London E2 9DG


With presentations by Nina Pope from Somewhere on What Will the Harvest Be?
Celine Condorelli talking about commons and things in common
Cristina Cerutti about the Crokkes-Walkley Transition group in Sheffield
Nolwenn Marchand from aaa on Le 56 ECOintersice in Paris

Followed by discussion and food and drinks.

Sat 27th March

10.00 Production workshop at Abbey Gardens, aiming towards a brief and first prototypes for new products.

12.30 Informal lunch and internal presentation of workshop results.

13.30 Further sketching/prototyping/building

15.00 Tea and cakes followed by presenting results to the public

15.30 Discussion about the different values involved in making and trading the new product within the context of the Abbey Gardens Honesty Box and the International Village Shop

16.30 Finish

Who Will Take Part?

The workshop is organised collaboratively by the Friends of Abbey Gardens, Somewhere and public works it takes place within the context of an EU cultural project called RHYZOM.

Members of Abbey Gardens are invited to join. To reserve a place for the workshop email mail 'at' - or Contact Andreas. Please note that places are limited and reservation is needed.


Chris, Sharon, Audley (& me!)
Setting out team

Day one - a tube strike and it's raining

At last we have started to layout the shape of the Harvest Garden at Abbey Gardens.

Day one was quite challenging! This is the team committed to marking out the site despite the rain and tube strike ...

FOAG & Somewhere jump for joy
At the site of a digger on site!

At Last

After what feels like an age, activity has finally begun at Abbey Gardens, as I type remediation of the site is being carried out and from June 10th we will be on site building 1000 meters of raised beds and then sowing the seeds to fill them - come and join us!

More details are available on the project website: What Will The Harvest Be?


Come & join us on Saturday September 27th for our second URBAN SEED DAY

We will be gathering the seeds from the wild flowers grown at Abbey Gardens this year - some we'll be keeping for next years Harvest Garden but some we'll be giving away. So, if you fancy a bed of wildflowers in your own garden or you've spotted a unloved patch in your local environment that could do with cheering up, this is the event for you.

I will be at the garden, with some of the Friends of Abbey Gardens group on Saturday morning from 10.00 -12.00. As well as collecting seeds we'll obviously be happy to tell you more about What Will The Harvest Be? and how our plans for the garden are shaping up.

We also have a few packets of seeds left (from the wonderful Chiltern Seeds) to give away to anyone who wants to get planting now for next season in the Harvest Garden. If you take some away on Saturday you can bring them on in your own garden (or just on a windowsill) ready for next spring.

If you have seeds gathered from your own gardens/plots do bring some along to swap.

You might like to make an East-London afternoon of it, bring a flask or picnic and join us for the Hackney Wick Festival afterwards, it's an interesting walk from Abbey Gardens to 'the Wick' and makes for a full East End double day out.

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

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