At the end of December, having some spare rhubarb crowns, we tiptoed out to the local library, where I had spotted an empty bed. We planted the crowns and slunk off. A few weeks later they were sprouting, but someone had pulled up two of the plants. So I stuck a little sign up, explaining what they were and begging gardeners and passersby not to destroy them.
A few weeks later I got an email from the library. My heart sank, arrest and prosecution for criminal damage would no doubt follow. But no, they would like to meet with us to do more gardening projects… What a change of mindset from the ghastly jobsworths of the past, who used to refuse to put up posters on the grounds of fire risk – claiming that a poster made of paper could put at risk a whole library of books made of… paper! The library service has recently been moved within the council structure from “culture and museums” to “anti-obesity and preventative health”, which seems to have given them permission to engage with the community.
That same week I got an email from the Chiswick House Kitchen Garden. They had removed some of their heritage fruit trees which were now surplus to requirement; would I like to do something with them. I had previously decided not to do a Chelsea Fringe project this year, having worked very hard on the Edible High Road and the Herbal High Road in previous years, and having had a somewhat bruising experience creating a herb bed on Turnham Green as part of the Herbal High Road. But with a willing partner in the library, and a gift of eight lovely trees – rare pear varieties include Swan’s Egg, Lady’s Thigh (Cuisse de Dame)and Damp Mouth (Mouille Bouche) – we decided to go for it.
The eight trees would be a magical orchard; a throwaway remark from Sarah about creating a straw bale playground became a mini-maze. There was to be a little magical library like a Hansel and Gretel cottage in the corner, and the disabled entrance to the library was transformed into a willow archway. A raised bed planted up with beans, sweet peas, courgettes, nasturtiums, marigolds, tomatoes and peas made a satisfying entrance to the project, and incidentally blocked the loitering mini cabs which have been obstructing the library car park for the last few years.
We had a great launch party on 17th May, and hundreds of people came by, bought plants, planted seeds, painted portraits, made badges, tried out the mini-maze and admired the Magical Orchard. The installation will remain there all summer.