Saturday, 19 May 2012

Flower power in the city

“People from a planet without flowers would think we must be mad with joy the whole time to have such things about us.”

I first spotted that quote from author Iris Murdoch chalked on a board outside the florist on Broadway Market.

Now being a bit of a middle-aged grouch, I’d suggest that being “mad with joy the whole time” after seeing a few flowers would be a bit OTT.

But perhaps I’m mellowing with the passing years, as increasingly, I realise just how beautiful flowers are.

And the more you look at the more, the more extraordinary they seem.

They don’t have to be big, fancy ones in a riot of gaudy colour. Take the strawberry flower, for example: it’s white with yellow-green at the centre; a simple thing.

But when my first strawberry flowers started opening out, I was utterly beside myself with delight. And to see what happens as the petals fall away, and to know what will happen, makes it all the sweeter.

I’ve realised that I love daisy-type flowers – and some even more splendid.

A few years ago, wandering around with the camera in the south of France, I started snapping flowers.

Months later, in Hackney, I captured more as they pushed through the snow that had heaped itself in the park next door.

There is a grave danger of me even managing to be able to recognise one or two plants these days – and this from someone who spent a fair portion of her childhood in semi-rural environments or on the edge of urban ones.

In my bit of Hackney, there’s a city farm that allows local people – and children in particular – to gain some sense of a different world.

And one of my neighbours has even done a course there recently in bee keeping.

People can become so divorced from nature and from the reality of plants that they can't even tell the difference between rhubarb and celery – a conundrum faced by a shopper I saw in Tesco some years ago, trying to answer a child's question.

In areas like this, gardening can seem something utterly removed from reality – something that only people with big gardens do.

And as for such events as the forthcoming Chelsea Flower Show – well, those might as well be on a different planet.

But gardening doesn’t have to be just for the well to do.

Only a few weeks ago, Royal Horticultural Society vice president and TV gardener Alan Titchmarsh called for more high-quality horticultural apprenticeships, pointing out that it was a good career – and not something that required no more skill than litter collecting, as Prime Minister David Cameron had suggested in a speech two years ago.

Titchmarsh himself left school at 15 with just a single O level.

But of course, when you can afford to employ someone as your gardener, then it’s easy to look down on such work – far less skilled than, say, being a politician who just sells things off to line the pockets of his best mates.

Take another view: gardening is good for your health – you’re exercising while you’re doing it and it can most certainly be destressing.

Depending on what you grow, you can save money and cut waste. Just a few pots of herbs, for instance, will save you paying for those big bunches at the supermarket that then never get completely used up.

So for all these sorts of reasons and more, it’s good to discover that this year, for the first time, there’s a Chelsea Fringe, which will be taking place right across the capitol.

The schedule includes the opportunity to visit the Clapton Park Estate in Hackney, where local people made their patch famous for its poppies, but where they also work together to grow herbs and other fruit and vegetables.

There are something like 90 free events and installations planned.

And there are competitions from the likes of The athenaeum Hotel, which is launching an urban gardens Pinterest competition on the latest form of social media.

There’s going to be arty things and foodie things and even something called ‘guerrilla gardening’ – which could sound a tad like my own efforts on Tuesday to take over and bring new life to an unloved patch of earth.

The Dalston Flower Show will be running alongside the Chelsea Fringe, and will bring gardening experts into local inner-city schools, while young people from some of London's poorest areas are being invited to discover the pleasure of gardening in the Eastern Curve Garden, a little Eden that was planted over an abandoned railway in Dalston two years ago.

"We hope that this place will be a revelation to people," Marie Murray, who tends the Curve Garden, told the Independent.

"The No 1 reason for this garden was to be a breathing space which would allow children and adults to connect with nature.

“Tending a public garden teaches independence and civic pride – it is amazing the effect it has on people.”

You’d have to be deeply cynical not to think it’s a great idea – and wish everyone well.

• All the pictures above were taken in Hackney or on Columbia Road in next door Tower Hamlets.

No comments:

Post a Comment