This one-acre site in Lambeth is productive in more ways than one: a place where people are nurtured as much as plants. Half the site is given over to the teaching facilities, greenhouses and raised beds of vocational educational charity Roots and Shoots, the remaining half-acre is a flourishing wildlife garden. Even the wooden clad learning centre is eco-friendly with a trio of biodiversity boosting roofs – a large solar one, a green one planted with sedums and thrift and a brown one designed to attract miner bees and digger wasps.
Young people thrive here, as does the wildlife garden.
Set up as a charity in 1984 by Linda Phillips, Roots and Shoots offers disadvantaged young people aged 16-21 training in horticulture and retail, as well as environmental education for the wider community. Trainees stay for a year and learn a range of life skills to prepare them for the world of work. The approach is holistic – for example working in the on-site shop improves numeracy and imparts retail and social skills. Placements in high-profile gardens such as Buckingham Palace and the Royal Hospital provide quality work experience. The Roots and Shoots shop incidentally does a roaring trade in its own-produced honey (recently voted the best in London) and ‘Orchard Bounty’ apple juice. The plants sold here are also well worth buying – raised on site by the trainees, they are acclimatised, sturdy specimens and reasonably priced.
Young people thrive here, as does the wildlife garden. Although a garden had been in place since 1984, it didn’t really take off as a wildlife one until 1999 and the arrival of David Perkins, the Wildlife Outreach worker. Under David’s care the garden has become a beacon of biodiversity, and is a popular venue for local school groups. Visitors enter through the ‘Secret Gate’ – beautifully crafted by the handy David from curvy oak planks and reclaimed hinges – and step into another world. In midsummer such is the garden’s abundance that it is sometimes difficult to spot the different habitats it contains. The summer meadow is rich with native plants and is only cut once a year – a regime that ensures a healthy population of moths such as little skipper, common blue and six-spot burnet, multiple species of hoverfly, crickets and grasshoppers. Hard-working honey bees live in an apiary tucked discretely behind a hedge of espaliered Discovery and Egremont Russet apples and there are hand-crafted insect boxes all around the garden, including an insect sized ‘Trellick Tower’, populated by spider hunting wasps and red mason bees. Appropriately for this hive of activity, Roots and Shoots is also the base for the London Beekeepers Association, who hold regular meetings and lectures on the site.
The Trellick Bee Tower
The large pond with reed bed and dipping platform is home to frogs and newts while the romantically named ‘William Blake’s Paradise Corner’ contains two further small ponds surrounded by exotic South American planting. Throughout the garden plants have been chosen to appeal to gardeners as much as the wildlife, and in amongst the self seeded verbascum, fennel and euphorbia are well-established ‘Fantin Latour’ and ‘Graham Thomas’ roses and Hypericum ‘Hidcote’. But although clearly well-loved, it’s a far from manicured space and – tidy-minded gardeners look away now – insect friendly weeds like deadnettles and brambles are often left in situ. Beloved by bumble bees, echiums are a particular feature and their success here reflects the mild microclimate of this sheltered site – one lofty Echium pininana specimen reached 14 feet in 2001. Both E. pininana and E. candicans are now rarities in their native habitats.
Enveloped in greenery and surround-sound insect and bird noise, the garden utterly belies its earlier history as a former industrial site, with oil contaminated soil and strewn with engine debris. The half-acre garden even finds room for a magnificent horse chestnut and oak trees. There are regular public open days – look out for the spring Science Open Day, Apple Day in Autumn and openings for Open Garden Square Weekend and the National Gardens Scheme in the summer.
Walnut Tree Walk
(off Kennington Rd),
T:020 7587 1131
This is an extract from the latest edition of The London Garden Book A-Z by Abigail Willis, which celebrates the wealth of London’s gardens with an inspirational compost of specially commissioned photographs, reviews, practical gardening advice, and useful listings of horticultural societies and projects, plant nurseries and more.
Available from our website at £2.00 off the RRP (recommended retail price)