What a year!

This has been an incredibly difficult year and many people have found great solace in gardening. This is certainly true for those of our members who have managed to get outdoors with their hands in the dirt at our wonderful growing space on Clapham Common. Of course, everyone’s experience is different, so we asked our members to write a few words about what our garden has meant to them this year. Here’s what they said…

Our committee member, Eileen, says: ‘Due to health shielding I haven’t been able to come to the regular sessions. However, I was on the watering rota, which operates over the spring, summer and early autumn. This was a real lifeline in lockdown, I found watering our crops a very mindful activity. Looking across the Common, observing people and animals, and enjoying the rapid growth of the thriving vegetables and fruit.

Eileen’s homemade relish

Since I’ve been involved with Bandstand Beds, I’ve enjoyed making jams and pickling our produce, often in a communal setting, passing on to others how to preserve any excess or glut. I carried on with this, working from home, and again found a mindful activity in the chopping and preparation required. Being involved with Bandstand Beds has definitely helped my mental health and wellbeing.’

Preserving fruit is a great way of making sure none of it goes to waste, and the tasty jams, chutneys and relishes are extremely popular. So once the first lockdown came to an end it was truly liberating to be able to run our Saturday gardening sessions and have local residents picking up produce from our stall again.

One of our new garden enthusiasts, Ben, says: ‘When the world went into lockdown many people started a project, or picked up a new hobby. For me this was gardening. In the late April sunshine, I started growing (in actuality trying not to kill) herbs on my windowsill. When I moved to Clapham in June there was a frenzy of growing at Bandstand Beds that I knew I wanted to be a part of. On the first day there I took home two prized heritage tomato seedlings, which I studied as they climbed on my courtyard wall

Ben’s tomato plants

By mid-September it had finished, as were all of the varieties of toms we had at the garden. I was asked to head up some seed saving and had plenty of tomatoes to work with, thanks to the destructive work of the parakeets. I’d like to think we are now equipped to be growing many more tomato seedlings next year, which promise to inspire another wave of people to take up gardening. I’ve enjoyed learning from other members at the garden this year – so much so that I have started an RHS Level 2 horticultural certificate in my spare time.’

Among the tomatoes at Bandstand Beds was a variety called gallina. These were grown from seeds given to us by London Freedom Seedbank‘s Richard Galpin, at the workshop he ran in our garden in September 2019. We’ll share our saved seeds next spring, and so the cycle of life continues.

People of all ages grow with us at our community garden, and that’s certainly the case with Tom, who says: I have been coming to Bandstand Beds with my dad since I was 12. I enjoy being in the garden because it’s nice to meet people with a passion for the outdoors, and do something that will benefit the community. During Covid, the garden provided a break from spending time inside…

Watch this space!

‘I really enjoy DIY in my spare time, and the garden is a place where I can practise these skills. In 2019, I built a pond in the garden. Ever since I first went to the Bandstand Beds, I had been interested in how frogs could benefit the plants we grow (helping with snails and slugs).

‘I am now 16 years old and the garden is still an important place for me to visit. Now that I am getting older and increasingly busy with school, I have less free time to do my hobbies. But coming to Bandstand Beds on Saturday mornings really gives me a break and a refreshing start to the weekend where I can be outdoors and give back to the community. Hopefully, we’ll see some frogs return to the pond next year.’

The tadpoles we had in a makeshift pond two years ago should return as mature frogs to breed in spring. Walking along Windmill Drive beside our garden you might not see them but listen out for the croaky sound of bullfrogs calling for a mate.

Pretty much everyone at Bandstand Beds is passionate about wildlife, ecology and the environment and how they go hand in hand with gardening. Once our broad beans, garlic and onions are planted to grow over the winter there’s not much to do. We try not to weed and tidy too much to avoid disturbing bugs and other wildlife (frogs) hibernating for winter. But we can usually find some bed building and other tasks.

At the beginning of December, CCMAC and Lambeth Council asked for our help building a bug hotel and two hugels, planted with bulbs, foxgloves daisies and calendulas, beneath the plane trees next to the new children’s playground on the Common.

We also planted four hundred whips along the edge of the green waste site and in the mounds running along the Windmill Drive, opposite our garden. These free whips dispatched by The Conservation Volunteers are a mix of common dogwood, goat willow, blackthorn and hawthorn. In time, they will provide food and habitat for wildlife.

200 of the whips

Managing to keep our garden growing through these trying times has been a tremendous achievement. It has been a tough call, though, having to restrict numbers, enabling distancing and keeping our garden safe. We’ve really missed the social element of gathering together for our shared lunches. Even more, we’ve missed all our regular gardeners who have had to stay away because they are shielding from the virus.

Hoping to start in April 2021

With the Covid-19 vaccine now being made available we’re optimistic that we’ll see some of our older friends next year and will be able to hold our Grown-up Gardening Monday sessions again.

Meanwhile, thank you to everyone who has supported Bandstand Beds during 2020, giving their time or financial donations to help keep our garden sustainable.

For information about Bandstand Beds membership click on this link, or email ccbandstandbeds@gmail.com