Do you have a piece of concrete hard standing outside your front door?
Cecilia has but rather than park her car on it she has turned it into an urban wildlife garden. I walk past this small plot of land which is sandwiched between the back of a garage and the pavement on a regular basis and every time I see something new. A few geraniums in pots, then a couple of chairs, followed by a plant rack, then hanging baskets. A few weeks back I stopped to admire the now vibrant patch decked out in summer colours when Cecilia came out to water her plants. We quickly got talking; people who love plants have a natural affinity. I soon discovered that she has converted this empty space over the last two years. I wanted to find out more, so I arranged to visit a few days later and we sat out on the folding chairs to chat about her urban garden project. Cecilia told me that she surrounds herself with foliage as she likes the colour green and she likes to eat the herbs she grows. Her family always grew herbs back home in Chile, so it seemed natural to her to continue. She has found a wonderful book in a charity shop which has everything you need to know, she tells me excitedly, in fact most of the things in her garden turn out to be from charity shops or recycled from other people’s cast-offs. When Cecilia goes inside to fetch her herb book David her partner tells me that she works in a department store, but she is a seamstress by trade. Unable to be creative in her day job, she puts all her energy into her garden and it is clearly thriving under her tender care and attention.
It doesn’t matter how big the space, she says, you can grow things in pots and you can grow up the walls and with a wave of her arm she indicates the many baskets now hanging at the side of the garage. There is no visible earth here as this particular piece of land was earmarked for human consumption some time back, but Cecilia, with David’s help has made troughs, raised platforms and tubs from waste materials. Potatoes, beans, tomatoes and chives grow alongside pollinator plants such as buddleia and herbs. She proudly shows me her olive tree which she has had for over 6 years, but it never grows any olives, she says sadly. We all wonder whether it needs another olive tree to act as a pollinator and Cecilia is taken with this idea and decides to look it up. She probably has a book on olive trees by now. None of us are experts, but all of us are passionate about what urban gardeners can achieve.
I see more butterflies pass through their garden than I have seen for many a year. If you make the space, the wildlife will come. Cecilia and David tell me they have seen robins, bluetits, jays, goldfinches and blackbirds regularly, plus squirrels and the odd neighbourhood cat. This garden is living proof that you don’t have to live in the country to enjoy wildlife. We tour the garden and David tells me that friends and neighbours bring unwanted plants here. Plants that are past their best and neglected; Cecilia nurtures them back into glowing health. She is the ‘plant whisper’ I say and then I realise that she is playing classical music from a small C.D. player. The plants enjoy the music she says, in a matter of fact way and I don’t doubt her for one minute. Plants are calming; they absorb our stress, so why shouldn’t they benefit from a little soothing music?
Do you get comments from passers-by, I ask. Does anyone notice what you have done here? Oh yes, says Cecilia. One little girl passes with her mother every day and they must always stop and talk to the hippo. She indicates a hippo shaped plant holder on the ground surrounded by small white stones. Lots of people comment and everyone is smiling. They ask many questions, just like you did. Seeing the garden makes people feel happy, she says and that’s it in a nutshell. Cecilia and David have created an urban garden from a piece of waste land and everyone who passes benefits from it. We are a stones throw from Hampton Court where the flower show is about to start. Cecilia and David with their recycled planters and second-hand foliage could beat any of those displays hands down.
Urban gardens are popping up all over the place. Last week I was at the South Bank walking along the Thames near Westminster. I came across a pop up urban garden complete with veg, pollinator plants, gloves and watering cans. Local allotment owners tend to it and us city dwellers were drawn in like bees round honey. We all need to be in touch with nature. Back to our roots, fingers in the soil, nurturing growth. If Cecilia and David can turn bare concrete into a community garden, what might you achieve?