Walking Talking Plants

Our plant sales season comes to a close, as nature’s rhythm subtly breaks from birth/ germination to growth/ planting out. There’s not much we do all year round, only drink tea, ponder the weather, and mixed salad leaves. The latter remain constant, though constantly changing. Not for us the monotony of year round tomatoes. Variety is the spice, after all; chilli varieties, the spiciest.

For the plants season though, which basically runs between the two May Bank Holidays, I’m proud that we continue to operate as a plant nursery. In doing so, we honour our forebears, the council gardeners at Hawkwood Central, as it then was, in the days when local councils had the power and pride to be this country’s chief employers of horticulturalists.

Adopting the fine glass roofed infrastructure from this era, we feel the sense of responsibility to make the facility a resource for the burgeoning urban food growing scene of which we are a part. In particular, many gardeners in our crowded town have little access to protected places to bring on tender vegetables. Our intensive care unit, as I call the glasshouse staging, is on hand.

Then, every so often, our plantlets find themselves in some unexpected and wonderful London scenes. They’ve been handed out as free gifts on the streets of Brixton, for example, and supplied a summer holiday’s worth of activity for Somerford Grove Kids’ Gardening Club. Last Thursday, Brian and I drove (actually, Brian did the driving as I can’t, though I did help by nodding knowingly whilst looking at the map, on  more than one occasion) over a thousand young vegetables down to the South Bank. Here, Wayward Plants are planting up the Queens Walk Window Gardens, for this summer’s “Festival of Neighbourhood”. It’s estimated that some eight million visitors will cast their eyes over our “Cherokee Trail of Tears” french beans; thousands will catch our “Carters Golden Sunrise” tomato glowing at Waterloo Sunset. No pressure then.

Jarred Henderson of Wayward Plants came to us because he wanted their contribution to an event purporting to be about London communities, to be grown by a London community organisation. This might seem obvious, but people with that sort of clear vision, and courage of their convictions, are thin on the ground. Likewise, the chefs we work with – those at Friend’s House, Manna, Nice Green Van and Table 7 the most longstanding of them – have sought out, and risen to the challenges, of our local, seasonal produce, where others might be happier to just talk the talk.

Walking the talk: at our Open Day on Sunday, Iain Tolhurst gave a talk and joined the site walk. He is one of the “pioneers”, who read Silent Spring in the early 1970s and decided that heading to the countryside to establish an organic farm was one vital way to confront the horrors of industrial agriculture, and present an alternative. Thirty seven years later, his “stockfree” system, fully developed at Hardwick, near Reading, has informed and inspired the next generation of organic growers, some of whom are taking the fight back into the cities. Maybe see you there.