23 Aug 2015

The Garden of One Thousand Hands: The Skip Garden at King's Cross



I live about five minutes drive from Kings Cross in North London so when my car is due its MoT, I happily head down to a garage in that area knowing that I'll be able to visit the nearby Global Generation Skip Garden.

It's affectionately known as the Garden of One Thousand Hands due to the large numbers of helpers - volunteers, school children, students - who come to do what they can and learn. A true community garden where the produce is used in the kitchen café and for community suppers.

The philosophy behind Global Generation's work is 'I, We, Planet' and their aim is to provide opportunities for all, but especially young people, to increase awareness of themselves and the natural world with an emphasis on less consumerism and more sustainability. There's a lot to be learned from a garden like this one and I always find my visits exciting and inspirational.

Due to the redevelopment (regeneration?) of the Kings Cross area, the Skip Garden had to be moved slightly to the west of its previous site late last year. The opportunity to improve was keenly embraced, local corporate sponsorship was found, architect students were apprenticed and the new site is now crammed with good ideas for community involvement. I  know that hands-on school visits are keenly supported but there was also evidence of pottery and basket weaving, supper clubs, volunteer gardening evenings, as well as school gardening, and a kitchen that offers apprenticeships. Students from the nearby construction industry college get involved in making stuff out of wood and other materials.





In its previous incarnations, the Skip Garden was just that; food and flowers growing in old skips on unused industrial land with the ability to be picked up and moved when needed. When the plants outnumbered the skips, offcuts of construction wood were made into troughs and raised beds to expand the planting space. Steps were built to lead up into the skips, polythene and wood made into polytunnels and wire mesh used for skip trellis - the construction industry provided endless useful resources that would otherwise have been scrapped.

Top: packed earth wall;
Bottom (L to R):  Coffee sack cold store; construction waste table and benches; window greenhouse at rear.

This time around, although the number of skips has been reduced to accommodate new structures on site, the upcycling theme has been continued on a grander scale. Architect students have very cleverly built a huge teaching greenhouse out of scaffolding boards and unwanted windows; coffee sacks filled with damp soil provide the walls for a cold store, also used as a teaching space. There are wildflowers and herbs growing through the sacks so it's also a living wall fed by rain and waste water draining down from the office platform above. Adjacent to this, recycled railway sleepers have been stacked up to create a double cubicle compost toilet. The new polytunnel space, which doubles as an area for supper club and school visit eating, has a packed earth wall on one side; it's a technique used in the Great Wall of China and is thermal - the wall stores heat built up during the day and slowly releases it at night - brilliant for both diners and plants!  The other side of the tunnel is lined with boxes growing herbs and salads and the view is over the skips themselves and further out to the natural swimming pond and workmen building new flats and offices.



And there are fresh eggs and beehives.  I didn't realise this building (Peckingham Palace) was a chicken coop until I heard a soft clucking as I walked around.  The structure's design is inspired by Lord Snowdon's aviary at London Zoo and built around a recycled silver birch tree trunk. There's plenty of space inside and the chickens are kept safe from urban foxes. Isn't it fab!  The three chickens that live there are allowed to roam freely around the site.

Utility furniture (tables, benches, kitchen surfaces, plant holders), as with everything here, has been built using construction waste. Even the flower filled jars and decorated tins are recycled.

Fruit isn't overlooked here either. Apples are espaliered onto construction mesh bent over the skips and the trees are underplanted with herbs, veg and edible flowers. Comfrey is grown in waste wood troughs and polystyrene boxes are used as planters - note the holes that have been made in the sides for drainage.



I took loads of photos and I think the digger driver on the other side of the fence thought I was a bit bonkers but I was having too good a time to care.  The thing that I love most of all about this garden space, apart from its excellent community ethos, is that there were so many moments of coming across a tiny vision of beauty in this very industrial (and noisy!) landscape.

This view to the tunnel from inside the greenhouse:


This tiny window (greenhouse, again) that reminded me of my grandad's house:


This pottery shape nestled among the herbs:


These unfinished wicker planters and more pottery by the greenhouse entrance:


The shadows created by the sun shining on this (admittedly rather dead looking) posy:


And bees, everywhere:


The Skip Garden (and kitchen cafe)  is open Tuesday to Saturday and is a 5 minute walk from Kings Cross station. I went on a Monday and was allowed in for a gloriously solitary nose around so thanks go to the lady in the office for that.  It fair made my day.


27 comments:

  1. What a coincidence - I was in the same area on Tuesday! I went for a swim in the pond... I wanted to visit the cafe, but sadly I was too late :(

    I'll add a link to you in my blog post - due out on Wednesday

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    1. Oh my goodness, now wouldn't I have had a surprise if I'd seen you swimming around in the pond! I didn't have time for a swim on my visit and, even though the weather was very overcast, I was sorely tempted! I'd also planned a quick blog post about the nature pond but I think you'll be able to give us a more personal experience! Thanks for linking, much appreciated! xx

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  2. What a wonderful place, so inspirational to see all sorts of everything being used like that. I especially like the greenhouse, it's brilliant. It's fabulous that a place like this has been created, I can see why you enjoyed your visit. I'm happy to see chickens and especially bees there as well. CJ xx

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    1. It is, CJ, and even more so for being slap in the middle of an industrial landscape. The greenhouse is a real WOW factor on entering the garden. They need a bit more funding to finish it off properly; I'm hoping a local business will get behind the project. It would be nice to see a lot more farm animals there, maybe a collaboration with a city farm, to make it a real adventure for city kids. xx

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  3. What an inspirational project Caro. I've come across one or two mentions of it online and elsewhere but didn't realise exactly what was involved. Thanks for such an in depth post.

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    1. Ah, glad I've brought it to your attention, Anna! Looking back at photos from previous visits, I think it's becoming more of a community asset - there may be less skips but the new buildings are certainly something to think about. I hope they get to stay on this site for a while!

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    1. Hope you enjoy yourselves if you go! It's probably not far off your daily route so worth a visit - the greenhouse is spectacular - it might spark thoughts of a whole new building project for you! C xx

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  5. Stunning and humbling. I find it profoundly moving when a simple idea is manifest and from a shared vision something wonderful and unexpected is created that gives inspiration and pleasure. I was told about it a few weeks back and will visit next time I'm in London. Permission to link if/when appropriate?

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    1. Oh yes, please do, Sue, thanks. I love that so many people benefit from this venture. I'm sure that the number of local businesses that have funded the project also feel the benefit to the community. Projects like this are so worthwhile - as is the Nature Reserve at Camley Street, a short distance away, that provides a natural wildflower habitat and pond and space for growing fruit and veg by the side of Regent's Canal. It's another quiet oasis among the city bustle. Another spot worth a visit! We should meet if you come up!

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  6. A most interesting, and informative, post along with terrific pictures about a truly fascinating place which deserves to be more widely known.
    It's certainly the sort of place that I would enjoy looking round so it's gone on my long 'must visit' list.
    Flighty xx

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    1. Thanks, Flighty. It's a place that I always enjoy visiting and come away with good ideas or new thoughts, although I wish they'd kept a few more skips like before. I hope you manage to cross this one off your list eventually! x

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  7. How wonderful, this is truly an amazing project for the centre of the city. I'm impressed with the hen house, the greenhouse and everything else that is up cycled. The local children and their teachers and parents must have a wonderful time there, every town and city should have one!

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    1. We're very fortunate in London in that there are a number of interesting projects worth visiting. Londoners are seen as being deprived urbanites but, in reality, there is a lot going on and still plenty of natural or wild places to go if interested. I love the community ethos of the Skip Garden and its focus on helping the local community. I agree, every city would benefit from one of these!

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  8. A fascinating post, Caro. Thanks very much for such a detailed tour of this amazing place. I particularly love the look of the greenhouse (how clever) and the chicken coop. What a treasure in such a built-up area. I'm sure the city's bees are very appreciative.

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    1. It's certainly made a huge difference getting architecture students involved and there are some very clever features in the garden now. I love the greenhouse - a sort of Taj Mahal for the city! I hope they manage to finish it.

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  9. Wow! What an amazing place bursting with colour and life, a proper homestead right in the middle of the big smoke, inspiring! Love the style too, might borrow some inspiration!

    Katie

    http://long-may-she-rain.blogspot.co.uk

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    1. It's certainly a place with visual impact! I think my favourite, on reflection, is the thermal packed earth wall - such a clever idea. I'm sure the garden will only get better and better.

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  10. What a wonderful sounding (& looking place) I'd love to be able to visit one day x

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    1. I'm very lucky to have all this and more within easy reach, Jo. Perhaps if you're passing through Kings Cross one day it might be just the place for a cup of tea … ? Cx

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  11. That greenhouse is amazing! Next time I pass through I'm going to take a look.

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    1. Good idea, Matt - it's only a short walk up from the station via Goods Way and Granary Square. Glad you enjoyed the post!

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  12. This fair made my day too! Goodness, I had no idea this place even existed but now I shall certainly visit!
    What a fantastic space, and right in the heart of a city, I was utterly captivated with every single detail, I just loved it all especially knowing it's all recycled, oh goodness, the ideas this has given me. Thanks So much for posting this, utterly fascinating!xxx

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    1. Aww, you're very welcome, Dina. I agree, I now want to have a go at making those woven planters and ceramics, they're truly beautiful! I hope you'll share some of your inspired ideas! I'm so glad that some of the waste is being upcycled - while I was there a digger was crushing wooden hoardings, I don't like to even begin to think about the amount of perfectly good stuff that just gets trashed. Sometimes the excesses of our society just make me sick!! Anyway, enough of that, back to being calm …. :o) xx

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  13. I had no idea this was there! I will be visiting it very soon indeed. Thanks for this post - I hope the car did OK!

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    1. There's lots of new stuff happening in Kings Cross, Sarah. I first found the garden in it's original incarnation because I went to a lecture on soil given by one of the Global Generation gardeners and it was in his slideshow. At that stage, it was just skips and a makeshift office, no café. I think you'll have a much better visit these days!

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  14. It's definitely on my list for when we visit London at the end of September.

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Comments on my posts are much appreciated and help to build an online community of blog friends. Everyone is welcome! I love to discover new blogs so please leave a comment to introduce yourself.
Caro x

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