The flax project is progressing. We have two schools, two children’s centres, a park, several housing estates and community spaces and individuals growing. It’s now getting pretty late to sow but last week I went to Daubeney Fields in east Hackney to sow a strip with Gerry Tissier, who’s involved with the park users’ group. I roped Cristina Consuega, who’s doing research into urban agriculture, in to help and Gerry asked a couple of people along too. I also texted Ben, who lives on a boat and who we’d met when we looked at the site a few weeks ago. We were lucky with the weather – bright and warm – and the site next to the River Lea which was alive with wildlife, boats – and people. The place was bursting with blossom and new leaf. A perfect May day. What I didn’t expect was the meeting of all the different people using the space – river dwellers, land lubbers, dog walkers, loiterers and some small children. Through our common purpose – of clearing and sowing a strip of land – we met and chatted and talked about common (and some uncommon) issues, and made plans to talk more about other projects meetings and plans. One child buried about half a packet of seeds in a hole he dug (that will be an interesting patch), A dog scraped at the newly-sown seeds and then lay down on them. We ran out of steam at the end so there’s a very weedy stretch and the dog put her nose into the cake I made. So several things went wrong but it didn’t matter a jot as we all had a great time. So good that I didn’t realise my watch had stopped for an hour and a half. The power of flax.
A few weeks ago we ran a dye workshop at the nearby Wilton Estate. As well as some residents, we got a handful students from the University of the Arts studying a variety of subjects. The majority, as usual, were women but one man, Lewis, took particular interest. He is studying 3D design and is coming up to his final submission. He emailed a week or so ago saying he’d like to make some linen lampshades using natural dyes for the colour, so we did a test swatch on the washed and loose-woven linen he brought. Our main ingredients were red onion, hollyhocks, beetroot leaves, iris berries and something yellow that we forgot to note. The steam of about half an hour produced rich and deep colours. We were both pleased with the results. Instead of payment, I said Lewis could help harvest the hollyhock flowers later in the summer but he told me that his father, a former fireman, now makes resin moulds of mushrooms. I’m quite keen on one of those – if you’re reading this Lewis.
Nice to have inspired someone. Lewis told me that one of the other students had dyed a lining (of what he wasn’t sure) with rhubarb leaves. A small revolution. I hope.
Once again the Wilton Estate provided excellent snacks (top scones. Thanks Debbie!) and good weather.
We set up shop for our herbal teabag and lip balm workshop with no-one actually signed up to come but because we were outside and welcoming (a lesson there), we picked up quite a lot of passing trade – three children who came to our last workshop, and a handful of adults who were lured with promises of an interesting afternoon – and cake.
We started with the herbs for making tea. We tried out some mint and lemon verbena first. The children were slightly reluctant but discerning tasters and a young man was a keen tea drinker but seemed to be a little suspicious of drinking anything quite so fresh and obviously home grown. But he was game and was interested in learning about all the different medicinal properties of the plants. We rubbed and sniffed all the herbs and then made our own mixes from mint, feverfew, chamomile, lemon verbena, comfrey, thyme, nettle and yarrow.
Next Nat produced an array of essential oils and we sniffed them all feeling quite dizzy with the headiness of them. We chose one or two scents to go into our calendula oil and beeswax concoctions and got some lovely combinations of perfumes using neroli, lemon, ylang ylang, rosemary, sandalwood and orange, to name a handful. An elderly man calling himself John the Baptist turned up and asked lots of questions about herbs and how to grow them as he said he was tired of all the medicines he had to take. He said he’d be back for our next workshop on the 25th.
What’s been so enjoyable has been the spontaneity of the workshops; how a disparate but companionable group can gather in the sun being peaceful and curious and, hopefully going home with a little more wonder about plants. Let’s hope they’ll be back next week for more creative wonderment.
We’re nearing the deadline to sow flax and we’re getting a flurry of interested groups – from parks, to estates to primary schools. I’m spending the weekend with bags of seed hoping to pressgang people into getting involved. As part of this mission I went over Clapton way (scarily out of my postcode) to Daubeney Park which is a beautiful space that I’ve never been to before – or even knew it existed. That’s the wonder of London; there’s always something new to discover. And we found lots of space for sowing flax but decided on this strip – out of the way – next to the river. The nice young man on the right is (or will be) included.
And here’s another lovely plot in the Gascoyne Estate – in the Mandiba garden. The girls want to grow a dress.
On Monday Susie Wareham and I will be going to the Castle Climbing Centre garden May Day fete on Monday for more recruiting.