This last Friday I tried somewhere new: Hackney Forest Garden. I’d heard about this place on the grape vine from conversations while weeding at OrganicLea and my google searches for interesting projects to visit around London. It’s on the south west side of Hackney Marshes, just oppersite the Lea Valley Park Wick Community Woodland (which they also manage I think, or at least run couses from).
My first view of the tree nursery & forest garden. There are two polytunnels (one for humans, one for plants) and about a football pitch sized area planted in the edible forest garden style.
The site is shared by three projects, the original use was the Tree Nursery which is still there, and about 8 years about it was expanded by the volunteers into the Forest Garden. Since then there is also now one of the Growing Communities patch work farms as well.
I turned up at 10am and was greeted by Annie, who it turns out is the mastermind behind the whole thing. Just a volunteer (she’s a freelance ecological consultant to pay the boat bills) she’s managed to create a fantastic forest garden on this once disused site.
The main job of the day was ‘cutting the grass’ and by cutting I mean with a scythe and by grass I mean over a meter high thick stemmed clumps…
The ‘Before’ shot. This is the area of forest garden we worked on. The aim was to cut the grass down to reveal the trees (can you see the apple trees in there?) and allow new things to grow up around this area.
Having never used a scythe before, Annie gave me a demonstration of the correct use. This smaller scythe is called a ‘slasher’. The trick is to use one’s natural swinging action, not to ‘hack’ at it, always aiming not to drive the blade into the ground (as stones will damage it) and to move the hands up and down (like when using a axe) to maximise control and power.
Annie showing me how to sharpen the tools, recommending that you stop and sharpen every 10 mins or so, to a) have a rest and b) keeping the blade sharp makes for more efficient working.
The ‘after’ pic. Now you can see the tree clearly! There were a number of large piles of grass once we’d done (bind weed separated out for a different treatment). The reason for not letting it mulch down where it was cut is because there is just too much of it and new growth would find it hard to come through.
The giant russian comfrey that came down during the clearing was laid down by the base of the tree to mulch down and add nutrients to the soil.
Normally, when at the allotment, these guys get a rather unpleasant end, but not this time, there’s plenty for everyone in the forest garden.
In a forest garden, every layer from ground to top canopy is planned and planted. This plant, related to the strawberry, has been used a lot in this space as it makes for a really good ground cover plant.
With the amount of grass we cut down being too much for the space to take care of itself, the plan was to collect it up on the trolly and deposit it into the council green waste bin which is luckily just at the back of the site.
Full trolly! It took 3 trips to remove the piles and then another couple around the garden from where Annie had left plies the week before.
Just a little slug I found once i’d loaded up the trolly (when forking piles of grass around, lots of bits fly about so it’s no wonder creatures ended up on me!)
Shinny bright green beetle that we found in one of the piles from the week before. We left him (or her) to it and moved on to another pile, not wanting to disturb.
Where we put the grass… don’t worry, we didn’t fill the whole thing, it was already at the top but we added about a foot to the top.
It was hard work but great fun to chat to Annie while we cleared the area. I was inspired by her story of how and why she started the forest garden and saddened by the fact that all their apples were stolen last year and that not many volunteers go any more. Although not trained in the traditional sense, her knowledge of plants and trees was fantastic and definitely something to aspire to!
I took a few more pics of around the site and i’m looking forward to returning soon.
The Growing Communities raised beds that share the site.
These poppies brought some lovely colour into what was a pretty rubbish summer’s day. I’m planning on planting poppies in the allotment next year to bring more colour into the space.
Some local bumblebees going wild on the comfrey plants.
The site was originally and still is a tree nursery, specialising in native english trees (they have loads of oaks!)
There are bees on site, in some interesting looking hives!