Saturday 9 June 2012

On Community Gardens and Sweet Cicely - a Conversation with Jeremy Bartlett

Last week I paid a visit to Jeremy Bartlett, who over the past few years has co- ordinated the planting up of Grapes Hill Community Garden in Norwich. Jeremy is part of the Norfolk Master Gardeners group, who help local people and communities set up food growing projects. He also designed the Grapes Hill garden website.

I first met Jeremy online through his monthly update for the garden on the Transition Norwich News website which I help edit. Then on an early November morning last year when Rob Hopkins was in Norwich we took him to visit Grapes Hill, and in the briefest of exchanges I discovered Jeremy loved sages.

"You would love chia (Salvia hispanica)," I told him. "It's an annual sage. The seeds are an edible resilience food in Mexico. Mine are just coming into bloom with incredible blue flowers. Would you like some for next year?"

We arranged to swap seeds and cuttings in the spring. And for Transition Norwich's Low Carbon Cookbook group to have a small display of ancient and modern superfoods at the Grapes Hill garden. These would be the aforesaid chia, along with goji berry and amaranth.

The goji berry plants were given to me by Jo at Edible Landscapes London in January and rooted very successfully and the chia was grown by Jeremy from seeds I sent him. I'd hoped to add Amaranth but I've had poor results this year from the seeds. So I took a few other plants and went for tea on Monday afternoon.

We spent two hours in a full-on conversation about everything from the tall fernlike sweet cicely plants in his Norwich garden to the activity of furanocoumarins in plants like hogweeds and parsnips, its effects on human skin and how these effects vary at different times of the year.

I also asked him about how he became involved with the garden at Grapes Hill and in what way.

"I came in at the planting stage after the steering group had received funding for the garden in 2010. Many residents of Grapes Hill don't have gardens. They knew they wanted one but didn't know what they wanted in it. A lot of people were keen on the idea of an edible garden. This was great, but I felt it shouldn't be just edible. There needed to be some wildlife and human interest in there as well. Edimentals as Stephen Barstow calls them - where the garden is edible and ornamental.

"So I chose the plants and liaised with the suppliers and have led most of the fortnightly task meetings for the last two years. I'm looking to delegate more to the community now as the garden is pretty well established. And I've recently taken on a similar role at the Belvedere Centre's garden in Belvoir Street, which is requiring a lot of time and attention."

I asked Jeremy what types of plants he chose for the garden.

"I wanted to include all different types of plants. So there are native British wildflowers and also buddleia. And sages, of course. Many of the plants I chose deliberately for their long pollinating period to attract all different kinds of insects. And also to highlight how many different uses they have, how many different things they do."

The aim of the garden then is multifold. To be friendly to wildlife, attractive to people and visually enjoyable to be in, as well as provide a social space and have a strong edible element.

The garden is also partly educational, Jeremy told me, to show people what food plants look like. There are varieties of Norfolk apple trees, and also some more ordinary types such as Bramley, Cox and Discovery. And this year some of the residents have started to rent out their own small plots there to grow food plants.

I had to go on to another meeting. We swapped some tomatoes, peppers and tobaccos and Jeremy said that the Sweet Cicely in his garden had developed large taproots over ten or twelve years, so not to worry about my ones, which were only two years old and much smaller. In time they would also be splendid.

Before I left I asked Jeremy if he had any tips for people new to growing plants.

"A good gardener observes and pays attention, sees how the plants are doing, how much water they need. It's about love and attention really."

For the latest update on Grapes Hill community garden see here

Pics: Sweet Cicely (Myrrhis odorata) in Jeremy's garden, May 2012; "What was that about furanocoumarins?" talking with Jeremy, May 2012

No comments:

Post a Comment