It’s been a big year for Bandstand Beds celebrating ten fruitful years gardening on Clapham Common. And it all began back in 2013 with just a few raised beds beside the café at the Bandstand.
Since then, we’ve been busy gardening most Saturdays, growing a wide range of fruit and vegetables, as well as supporting wildlife with our pond, and companion planting and workshops. As we approach the end of the year, we thought it was the ideal time to sit back, take stock and share some of the high points of 2023 – and our history.
We’ve also included some personal reflections from BBA members sharing why they love the garden, and what makes it an important part of the Clapham Common community for them.
Ace of Clubs
One of BBA’s main aims is to share gardening knowledge and reaching out to the local community, and one of the things we’re most proud of this year is our connection with the Ace of Clubs, a local charity for homeless, vulnerable and otherwise marginalised people. In April, a team of BBA members visited Ace and joined forces with their staff and volunteers to clear their overgrown kitchen garden.
We had a great volunteer turnout for the challenge, and it was fantastically rewarding to see what could be achieved in just one day. Not only did we totally clear the space we also installed two new raised beds ready for some spring planting. We were joined by Christopher Wellbelove, Deputy Lieutenant for Lambeth for a group photo, and the volunteers ended the day with a well-deserved bowl of homemade soup.
From one of gardeners, and BBA Secretary, Andrew: ‘This year, I found the work we’ve done with Ace of Clubs a really rewarding experience, especially the day we spent transforming an overgrown area back into a kitchen garden – and then to see the great use that the space has been put to later in the year, when the Ace of Clubs put up a beautiful display of produce at our Feast event.’
Good to Grow
Although our Saturday gardening sessions run pretty much all year, we kick off our growing season by joining Capital Growth’s Good to Grow Day in April. For this annual event we hold seed sharing and sowing activities at our community garden. Of course, back in the beginning this activity was held at the Bandstand Beds, along with a picnic for our members and supporters.
Squash and beans were chosen for our first swap as the seeds are easy to handle and simple to grow at home on windowsills… then planted outdoors when the weather is warmer. Since then, pumpkins have become the BBA trademark. So, to make this year special, at our Good to Grow event we launched our Pumpkin Growing Competition. This involved some of our gardeners and the visitors to the garden planting pumpkin seeds to take home and tend… so that we could see who planted the biggest and ugliest pumpkin come the autumn!
Gardening on the Common
As well as our community garden on Windmill Drive, we also look after other areas of the Common. This includes our namesake beds at the Bandstand and our ‘fruit beds’ next to the park’s depot building, opposite the children’s playground.
In the spring we went over to the fruit beds to check on our gooseberry bushes, cleared lots of weeds and planted foxgloves and other bee friendly plants. A few weeks later, we did a makeover of our beds at the Bandstand, planting beans, squash, sunflowers, sweetcorn and a mixture of herbs. This is all in addition to looking after our community garden on Windmill Drive!
BBA gardener, Baily, told us: ‘In addition to learning the difference between weeds and seedling shoots, I’m also engaged by the escape the garden offers me. I like answering questions from passersby on my watering days too. In the buzz that is London, I love the community oasis.’
Over the years we’ve often been asked if we could run gardening activities specifically for children and this year we were able to set up our regular Get Growing sessions, made possible with support from the National Lottery Community Fund. Due to their success, the Get Growing sessions are something we plan to run next year too, So if this is something you would like to bring your children along to, please email us for more information.
Common People Picnic
Common People is another of our big events of the year which we usually hold at the Bandstand, with live performances by local artists. This year, however, to celebrate our 10th anniversary of food growing in Clapham we decided to keep the event focused in the garden by holding a Common People Picnic.
Lots of fantastic food was prepared using some of our freshly harvested home grown veggies, enjoyed by BBA members and visitors who came along to see us on the day.
As one BBA visitor to our produce stall pointed out: ‘I don’t need to buy vegetables from the high street for most months of the year – which is such a privilege. I forget that I’m a flat-dwelling urbanite when I’m in the garden. A great place to escape to.
We rarely get to enjoy our garden at some of the moment beautiful times of the day, such as sunrise and sunset, which is why our solstice event is such a rare treat. It’s a chance BBA members to enjoy our beautiful garden and a bring ’n’ share picnic on longest day of the year – and not do any work! And as we watched the sun go down, we sampled some of our rather scrumptious homemade damson gin and damson vodka…
From BBA gardener, Miranda: I very much enjoyed the solstice supper when a group of us brought homemade food and had an impromptu dinner in the garden as the sun set on the longest day of the year. I also really like watering on my own on Friday mornings and chatting over the fence to people who want to know more about the garden. It’s a real pleasure tracking the progress of plants in the polytunnel, from seedlings to squashed big enough to hit your head on.
As well as our regular gardening sessions we also hold a range of workshops run by facilitators, often open to the public as well as BBA members. Here are some of the highlights from this year…
We’ve been lucky enough to have Ele Johnson from BC’s Big City Butterflies visited us twice this year.
Ele’s first workshop, was attended by around 50 pupils from Heathbrook Primary School, accompanied by their teachers. They all keen to learn about what we need to do to ensure the survival of our butterflies – click here to see more pics. A few weeks’ later , Ele returned for a somewhat calmer workshop with our regular Monday55+ group we run in partnership with Froglife’s Wild Times.
To discover more about the creepy crawlies in our garden, we were fortunate enough to be visited by Scarlett Weston from Buglife, who gave us a guided garden bug walk. We learned about the 270 different species of bees we have in the UK, and the variation between different species, as well as all the other pollinators that allow us to grow our food.
Some words from BBA trustee, Daisy: ‘There’s so much to love about the garden: from the company, the gorgeous produce and the opportunity to have my hands in the soil. But most importantly, I love being a part of such a crucial community space for both sustainable food growing and wildlife – it makes me feel like I’m doing my bit to tackle the climate crisis right here on Clapham Common.’
Other workshops BBA runs regularly include winter and summer pruning, chutney making, composting and seed sowing. If you would like to find out when we will next be holding any of these workshops see our events page or drop us an email.
Bandstand Beds Feast
Our annual autumn feast is always the highlight of the BBA year, but this September’s event was extra special – yes, marking 10 years on Clapham Common! Our event was also linked to Capital Growth’s Urban Harvest.
The feast is a great opportunity to bring the local community together for a fun-filled afternoon with fantastic food made using our garden produce, and this year was our best yet.
We were blessed with the sunny weather, and on such a scorching day our variety of salads were a big hit.
As usual, the feast allowed us to replenish our scarecrows and this year was no disappointment with seven new models made to guard our garden. Although, being south London, they’re mainly guarding from parakeets rather than crows!
Other fun activities during the event included gardening, a drawing workshop with Ann Witherage from London Fine Art Studios, storytelling, Guess the Weight of Penelope Pumpkin, a raffle with fabulous prizes donated by local businesses and Dr Bike carrying out free cycle repairs.
There was of course our usual stall with lots of jams and chutneys made from produce grown in our garden. And in addition to this, the Ace of Clubs joined us for the afternoon with a stall displaying an array of wonderful veg grown in the garden our volunteers helped clear earlier in the year, and some delicious honey from their bee hives.
As well as being a fabulous fun day for all, our feast is also a way for us to fundraise. And after this year’s feast, we were thrilled to be able to hand over £1200 to the Ace of Clubs for the future development of their garden project.
A huge thanks to everyone who came along and supported the event, and to the following businesses for their raffle prize donations: Neal’s Nurseries Garden Centre, Clapham Picturehouse, M.Moen & Sons, Clapham Books, Minnow, Pond Framing, Eco, Bottle Apostle, COOK Clapham, Sash Flowers, and Oddono’s Battersea.
With the feast over and the growing season at an end, you could easily think the BBA simply shuts up shop until next spring. But where would that leave our volunteers?
As Ben, one of our gardeners told us: ‘What I like most about the garden is that it is a great escape from the busy, humdrum, indoor office life that is the working week. The garden on Saturday morning is always a small oasis of calm, great people, loads of fresh air, explosion of plant colour, which never stops being a tonic. Oh, and there’s always some good food too!’
Work in our garden certainly doesn’t stop in October, but instead our collective gardening minds turn towards planning for next year’s growing season. There are always raised beds in need of repair and new ones to build, as well as other garden maintenance tasks to tackle – such as pruning and tidying. October is also the time when we sow our garlic, onions, shallots, and broad beans, to grow over winter so they are ready to harvest next May or June. And everything we do relies on lots of arduous work by our committed volunteers, who really do deserve a huge pat on the back!
A few weeks after the feast the RHS London in Bloom Awards were announced and were thrilled with our result. The challenge now is to make sure we do as well, if not better, next year…
Written by Daisy Everingham & David Dandridge.
If you would like to find out more about how to get involved at Bandstand Beds, click on this link to our Take Part page.
Membership costs just £5 (individual) or £10 (family or three people in one household). To join, click on this link.
Still want to know more about BBA? Our garden and produce stall are open from 10am to midday on Saturdays – so just drop by and say hello!
This year our food growing project has received funding from the National Lottery Community Fund.