Growing a Community: Gardening at The Hithe
by Rosie Martin, Project Coordinator and Garden Manager
& Elsa Kenningham, Workspace Community Coordinator
20th December 2023
This year The Hithe Community Garden has really begun to take shape. We have built two Hugel mounds, established a weekly community gardening group and are set to finish building our bright and bold pergola early in 2024. Read on to learn about how we got this far!
In the beginning was a pile of rubble...
Until 2013 the site had been used for residential housing, but that had been demolished long before we arrived, leaving quirks and constraints that have influenced the garden's design.
1. We can't dig down
2. We can't have anything within a metre of the wall
3. Our garden is directly above the entrance to Rotherhithe tunnel, a road with astronomical pollution levels
4. We began with no budget or funding whatsoever
Our public research into possible uses for the site before The Hithe was built showed a community garden was a popular idea among local residents . So when the site opened in early 2022, we kicked things off by levelling out and clearing the garden space, then holding a paint jam where local residents helped paint tyre-planters and murals.
The main stages we completed in 2023 were:
1. Establishing a weekly community gardening group, attracting 25 participants
2. Building two Hugel mounds
3. Getting set to finish building our bright and bold pergola early in 2024
Hugel mounds, a technique in permaculture, are created by layering logs, branches and tree debris to form mounds, before covering them with a layer of top soil. Scroll through the pics to the right to see this process - from the design stage to functioning flower beds!
The mounds have several benefits, including good water retention in the summer and heat generation through the organic matter rotting in the mound and encouraging healthy growth for the plants. Building up is also a way to avoid the digging constraint. We sourced the logs from Southwark Timber Yard recycle centre (thanks Neil!) and Trees Are Us tree surgeon over in Brockley. The branches and garden waste were sourced locally, and we chose organic, peat-free soil from Earth Cycle. It took seven sessions between July and September, with a range of volunteers helping, to complete this stage.
The pergola was designed by architecture student Daniel, who interned with Hithe tenant UNFOLD Architecture over the summer. The brief was to create something reusing materials (CNC'ed plywood boards) from an old Meanwhile Space project. The proposal that Mark (Director of UNFOLD) and Daniel came up with was a series of floating boxes.
Meanwhile Space Project Coordinator Niamh Brownlie came up with the concept of using bright, durable paint and set out initial design principles, leaving open the opportunity for co-design during painting sessions with community garden volunteers.
The Hithe Garden volunteers helped prime the boards and paint bright colour patterns using a durable waterproof boat paint to help them last as long as possible in the outdoors. We have assembled these boards into boxes which are to be varnished before assembly in January... Other plans include installing a greenhouse and expanding our community events programme. Lots more to come!