When we first got together as a group for our very first AGM we found that although there was plenty of enthusiasm in getting garden up and running none of us really had that much experience in gardening, let alone running a community garden. In order to get some ideas about how we should go about creating our new garden we were in need of some ideas and advice and what better way than to look around gardens set up in other universities. Top of our list of list to visit was a fruit and veg garden project at the University of Roehampton known as “Growhampton” which having been set up just last year it seemed like the ideal place to get ideas to start up our own plot.
On first arriving we were welcomed by Joel Williams, the Growhampton’s Chief Grower, employed full time by the university to work on growing food on the site and promote locally sourced food on campus. His work there was not only to involve students in producing fruit and vegetables but also to sell the produce grown to allow both staff and students. This aimed to both help to promote the benefits of eating fresh seasonal produce and to produce a small profit helping the garden to be more financially self-sufficient.
Starting off our tour of the garden, we were shown a smaller set of beds placed opposite to the student union on campus. These contained traditional vegetable crops including beetroot, lettuce and a generous strawberry patch, tactically placed to tempt passers-by to into picking their fruit, getting them to take notice of the garden. In addition to vegetables these beds also contained a number of flowering plants. Not only were these eye-catching additions to the veg plot but as Joel explained they were great for attracting pollinators and helping to deter or distract pests. Furthermore edible varieties such as nasturtiums and violets could be used to add a spark of colour to a salad mix.
The main portion of the garden was then a little way of, placed alongside some existing student allotment plots and also included a large polytunnel, installed specifically for the Growhampton project. The outside plots, consisting of series large raised beds contained a variety of variety of crops, including tomatoes and courgettes to name but a few. However the heart of the garden was dedicated to Joel’s love of salad leaves. Although they required more regular watering and picking they are quick and easy to grow, highly productive and delicious when fresh. A single bed of rocket alone could produce up to half a kilo of leaves a week. The wild variety Joel grew had a delicious peppery and nutty flavour that far exceeded the taste of anything bought in a supermarket. Besides the rocket, other salad crops grown included radish leaf (peppery with a taste similar to the root) and Joel’s personal favourite baby leaf kale, packed with vitamins and having a wonderfully delicate flavour with none of the toughness of the mature leaf.
Going into the polytunnel revealed further leaf crops such as lettuce and a large patch of basil which gave off the most fantastic rich aroma as we walked past. In addition to leaves the polytunnel also held so a variety of plants including the more familiar such as sweetcorn and a selection of chillies as well as some more unusual plants such as a Physalis (or Cape Gooseberry).
The icing on the cake of the visit was the glorious Hive café (also set up under the Growhampton project) which on Thursday mornings doubled as a market place were Joel and a team of student volunteers could sell the produce grown in the garden. The café was a triumph of upcycling, not only were the stools and tables made of reclaimed materials but the building itself was made from two shipping container. Despite its unromantic heritage the interior provided a welcoming place to end of our visit. Having been served from a selection of Fairtrade coffees and cakes supplied by a local bakery we were left to discuss what we’d seen and imagine the possibilities our own plot could provide, its potential to provide as wonderful a space as that which we’d seen created in Roehampton.
written by Tom, the Garden Soc treasurer