We have invented a new tradition: Orange Day. It was inspired by our discovery that oranges were grown in Hackney in the 17th century in one of the grand houses that used to stand not far away from Cordwainers – Brooke House, in Clapton (who’d have thought?). Samuel Pepys (no less) was impressed: “Mrs Pen carried us to two gardens at Hackny (sic) (which I every day grow more and more in love with). Mr Drake’s one, where the garden is good and house and the prospect admirable. The other, my Lord Brooke’s, where the gardens are much better but the house not so good, nor the prospect good at all. But the gardens are excellent; and here I first saw oranges grow.”
As winter is marmalade and orange season and as February is a pretty dreary month, we thought we could combine all these orange things to cheer us up with an event (and colour) that anticipates spring: a seed swap. So we made orange cakes, punch, tea and marmalade and gathered in the biting wind to swap interesting (or otherwise) seeds and, perhaps more importantly, those we’d collected ourselves – and so were well adapted to local conditions.
The day was part of Our Grow a Gardener project (funded by Hackney Council), which supports people who want to set up or maintain community gardening projects. A few alumni from our 2015 course came along, including Raul who had an amazing collection of seeds he’d gathered from a wide variety of chillies, tree cabbage, dwarf tomatoes, giant Greek butter beans, achocha, amaranth and much more. Our plan is to start a local seed bank, gathering seeds from those plants that have adapted well to the unique east London conditions. In the meantime it was a chance for gardeners with a common interest to meet each other and talk about growing veg in general (Raul has a huge well of knowledge – some of which he was passing on to Derek), or growing in small spaces – yes, you can grow chillies on a windowsill; growing activities for children; how to get a TRA to get going and start a community garden on an estate; where to get wood to make raised beds and how to make orange punch.