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:
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.