The Walled Garden
The walled garden in Eastcliff, or Mules Park, has been the inspiration for many creative ideas over the years and many people have given their time and energy to stop it from becoming overgrown.
A few years ago its rebirth as a garden and art/theatre space formed part of a large lottery bid for Eastcliff and many groups in the town were keen to use the space. Unfortunately the bid was unsuccessful and the garden fell back into disuse. We know that many people who had put so much effort into its resurrection and the bid itself naturally felt sad and disheartened at this time. When members of Teign Estuary Transition first started to talk about the garden it was with a view to making the old kitchen garden within the walled garden into a permaculture ‘community garden’.
Our first visit to the garden
At the time of our first visit to the garden in the Autumn of 2010, the kitchen garden and the walled garden as a whole were still being kept clear by the rangers of the park with the invaluable support of the community volunteers from Friends of Eastcliff. In the old kitchen garden the low walls of the old greenhouses were clearly visible, although overgrown, and the remains of a stone or brick construction were visible in one corner. There was a considerable amount of ironmongery lying around from old machinery, which we thought might once have been housed in this building; all the beds were covered in a twisted mat of ivy and netting; ivy also covered most of the walls and only a few pathways were visible. The most visible plants growing in the garden were several clumps of hazel, good crops of stinging nettles and dock, thick carpets of lemon balm and (joy of joys!) a mulberry tree.
How to begin? A visit from HogCo
In order to get some professional advice TET invited Jane Pickard from HogCo, a group which support community garden initiatives. Jane was very encouraging. It was clear when she explored the garden with us that there was good soil in the beds, which only needed the ivy clearing from it before it could be used. The walls around the beds, although broken and overgrown, still held the soil and provided the garden with some shape. The walls surrounding the garden, however, were showing serious signs of damage from the extensive ivy growth, which had lifted the tiles off the top of the walls exposing the insides to the elements. Some serious cracks were showing in places. It was decided after this meeting that TET would pursue an option with Teignbridge Council to find a way to begin work on creating a community garden with a small grant of £200 from HogCo and a lot of enthusiasm and hard work from us: Teign Estuary Transition.
What is a community garden?
Thinking through our discussions with Teignbridge raised some interesting questions for us about what constitutes a community garden. There are many different models around the country including one at Newton Abbot. Some concentrate on growing enough produce to supply those who work in them, others provide examples of gardening techniques and interesting crops. Many community gardens are locked.
As part of Eastcliff, or Mules Park, the walled garden is a community space with free access to anyone who wants to go there. Although security issues were raised amidst fears of vandalism or unchecked cropping, it was always very clear to us that the garden should remain open and accessible to all. It is our hope that by tending the garden and making the care we take evident, people visiting and spending time in it will take the same care.
Clearing and planting
In March 2011 we began work in the garden on Sunday mornings from 11am-1pm. Teignbridge have been very supportive and we have been lucky to have the hands-on support of park ranger Sian Avon and her colleagues who arranged for the repair of the most serious cracks in the outside walls, the clearing of some of the heavy ironmongery, and the erection of the rabbit proof fence. We probably have to say here that the rabbit proof fence has not confounded the rabbits as we had hoped; many of them may have been living inside the garden anyway. So we have now created a ‘gated community’ of rabbits!
During our first year we have enjoyed seeing the shape of the garden emerge as we uncovered the old brick pathways and cleared the beds of ivy and pieces of glass from the old greenhouses. Our first year’s crop has been very rewarding and we have learned a lot from watching the plants grow in different parts of the garden, noting how the sun hits the garden and what grows best in which location.
Composting and permaculture
HogCo continued its support by leading a composting session to help us set up our compost heap, which we had built from old pallets. They also ran a ‘bite size permaculture’ morning as an introduction to permaculture and both events were well attended.
Water has been a serious challenge in the garden and during the hot spring of 2011 it had to be carried in bucketfuls up from the pools in the Dell. The water challenge has occupied quite a bit of our time over the year but some timely publicity in the local paper brought us an environmental engineer who generously offered us his help in locating a water supply. With his help and the support of Sian and the rangers we now believe we will have a ground water source in the garden in time for our second spring in 2012.
Crops and feasts
In its first year, the garden was planted with annual crops of vegetables including salads, legumes (peas and beans), herbs, tomatoes, onions, leeks, corn, squash and several beds of potatoes to break up the soil. All through the year we have been able to feast on fresh produce – not huge amounts but enough. The salad crop has been continuous and spicy! (Next time we may plant some more cool salad and rather fewer spicy leaves).
In the early autumn the mulberry tree fruited – a taste sensation. If you haven’t tasted mulberries then do not leave it too long before you do – they are fantastic. I will not attempt to describe the flavour but they look like something between a blackberry, a logan berry and something else … you just have to try them.
Potatoes were chosen as a crop not only to break up the soil but also to provide a crop we could share in the autumn for a celebratory community feast. It felt like a great triumph in October 2011 to be able to feed nearly 40 people at a community potato feast with our own potatoes and squash cooked on a bonfire. The squash was fabulous roasted on the bonfire – even the skin tasted good! We also offered salad from the garden and chutney made from our own green tomatoes.
Our feasting was enriched with songs from David Haines and the Teignmouth Community Choir and blood pressure raised by the fiercely contested compost competition judged by professional horticulturist, Shirley Tamblyn of Dawlish.
What’s happening now?
In the autumn of 2012 some longer term plans for the garden are starting to emerge. We now want to move towards a more self-supporting or permaculture garden, selecting plants that will support each other’s growth and nourish the soil. We will also be constructing a tool store, a notice board, and, at some stage, a compost toilet.
A visioning morning took place in early November followed by a more detailed planning meeting and so far more perennial plants are being considered, fruit trees to grow up against the walls, a cage for fruit bushes and plenty of herbs. Work has already begun on a spiral herb bed. We are still up for ideas and would welcome any input. The garden is sheltered and warm and so suitable for some more unusual crops; peaches and/or nectarines are a possibility and maybe a Sichuan pepper plant.
The visioning session in the garden also brought up ideas for:
- some differing heights in the garden
- more inviting entrances
- more information and labelling
- some seats
- a shelter
- plants with scent (may include some roses around doorways or over arches)
- plants to attract insects, particularly bees
How to get involved – we hope you will
To get involved you can:
- come to the garden on a Sunday morning between 11am and 1pm
- send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
- call Mary (07713648589 or 01626 778240) or Fran (01626 770318)
If you would love to come to the garden but cannot do Sunday mornings, please let us know. This summer we also met on a Thursday evening but another time might be better – we would love to hear from you about this.
Words by Mary Lidgate