Dig for victory (over the weeds!)

Jesse Lock, Community Gardener Jesse Lock Community Gardener
Cherry blossoms with Rainham Hall in the centre of the background, looking across the upper lawn.

In this first edition of the Gardener's blog, Jesse gives an update on the Garden at Rainham Hall since closure in March.

How does a community garden survive when the gates close due to a worldwide pandemic? How can three people manage the amount of work that usually is smashed out by over 30 volunteers a week?

It’s been about a month since we had to close the gates to volunteers, visitors, and most staff. In that time, initially the Garden was closed to all except our custodians, living onsite. They were great in the first two weeks, calling with regular updates, watering all the recently planted roses, trees and seeds. Still, it was incredibly worrying, not knowing when I would be able to get back to caring for a garden that is still in its infancy in many ways.

White cherry blossoms in the Orchard
A branch of white cherry blossom with Rainham Hall in the background.
White cherry blossoms in the Orchard

Rainham Hall Community Garden is in the process of redevelopment. Four years ago, we opened full time as a free-to-enter green space, with the ambition of allowing the community to guide the redesign. Progress has been wonderfully intimate, with beautiful stories from individuals and community groups adding to the character of the Garden. From a small team of volunteers at the beginning, we now have a huge team of superheroes, who dedicate their time to improving the Garden by donating plants, painting sculptures, sowing and harvesting fruit and vegetables, building veg beds, mowing, weeding... the list is endless!

When it dawned on me that all this progress was going to be put on hold, potentially for months, it was quite hard to get my head around it. In times like these it’s good to create a plan, so that’s what we did. Emergency response plan, essential maintenance plan, what can we do from home that will give us a boost when we are allowed back in.

Maintaining the veg beds
Sowing rows in the veg beds at Rainham Hall.
Maintaining the veg beds

Last week I was allowed back in to do essential tasks. It was glorious! Throughout the hot weather, the custodians had kept everything watered, and even planted more seedlings. The cherry blossom was out, the tulips looking great, the salad monstrously huge! The essential maintenance plan looks a little like this. To tackle the lawns, we are going to mow the orchard regularly but on a high setting. We had planned a long grass area for the lower lawn, this will be expanded now, and where we do mow, we will experiment with wavy patterns (a subtle hint to the large pond that used to be there). The Hall borders are an opportunity to experiment with different design and layouts for paths, so I will be mowing in the paths from historic plans we have and sharing photos of how this looks. This will link to questionnaires and consultation we will be carrying out on this area, with a view to creating a design plan.

This week I have been taking inspiration from one of our previous garden exhibits and digging for victory! The veg beds that we built over winter as part of the Orchard redevelopment, were starting to fill with weeds and I couldn’t bear to see all the hard work go to waste! So, I quickly sowed thousands of seeds in the six large beds: kale, chard, salad, carrots, beetroot, peas, and Canadian wonder beans. Then, with the other fifteen beds that we had stripped in between the Orchard trees, I planted row after row of potatoes (Linda, Pink Gypsy, Pink Fir apple). The hope is that all these vegetables will fill the space, and prevent perennial weeds setting up base camp in our garden!

One of the chainsaw-carving creations
A wooden chainsaw carving of a bee.
One of the chainsaw-carving creations

At home I have been working on the compliance tasks such as reviewing risk assessments and taking breaks from the paperwork, to create a honeybee sculpture for our bee enclosure. We want their home to be ready for them, just like the Garden will be here for you, when we all get through this.