I’m Jillian Wieda, a Master’s of Psychology student at University of Westminster, originally from California. I’ve been in the U.K. just over a year and hope to stay longer to train as a therapist or psychologist. Volunteering with Cordwainers Grow is an amazing opportunity to commune with the natural world, learn new skills and meet amazing people. I hope one day soon to grow organic produce of my own!
Enjoying a warm, delicious cup of tea with biscuits is such a treat for many of us. Now imagine drinking a healthy cup of tea that you grew and assembled yourself, using all of your favorite herbs! Cordwainers Grow, in partnership with Sanctuary Housing, recently presented the workshop: Growing Herbal Tea on your Balcony. It was great fun and a group of young children from the community joined our volunteers to give it a go!
This workshop is part of a free series called Herbs in the Home offered at the Morningside Community Centre in Hackney.
Some upcoming fall workshops include; Creating herbal remedies and a First Aid Kit (September 25), Making Body and Home Cleaning Products (October 23) and Making Anti-Bug Herbal Moth Balls (November 20).
The herbal tea workshop started with clipping a few fresh herbs, like rosemary and sage, from the Morningside Community Centre’s own garden. We then learned (as I’m a volunteer as well) how to clip segments of the plants and replant them in small pots. These small, potted herb gardens can grow on balconies and window sills to provide fresh herbs for tea and cooking.
The next step was to create our own customized tea bags from a variety of dried herbs. The children used their sense of smell to select from chamomile, echinacea, lemon balm, lemon verbena, lavender and nettle. The volunteers also shared some of the natural healing qualities, historically linked with the herbs. Some children added hot water to their creations and sipped on them right away, while others crafted ingredient labels and were off to give them to their families.
Corwainers Grow would love for more community members to join us for free fun and education, so please spread the good word!
If you’ve never witnessed the magic of a woad (or indigo) vat, seen the alchemy of one thing turning into another, book yourself a place on a workshop now. Forget the wow factor, the woad factor will bowl you over. The nearest thing I could think of in twenty-first century terms is the awe we felt the first time you see an iphone swipe. That wonder soon wears off. Never with woad.
We set up an informal workshop at Cordwainers Garden to experiment with our woad harvest and went through the exacting (but not difficult) process of turning a handful of leaves into a permanent dye. It took about three hours in all. We had a great turnout of people from all corners of the world. People from Uruguay, Argentina, Spain, Leicester, and Wembley came to have a go and help us with the magic.
When a small garden signs up to host corporate volunteers, it’s a skills lottery. Someone who looks after huge amounts of money cannot necessarily distinguish a dandelion from a dahlia or knock in a nail. We need to find jobs that suit all levels of aptitude – from writing labels and digging holes (most people can do that) to designing furniture. With Barclays, we had a very skilled and focused team – heralded by one person bringing his own drill. A community garden’s dream. They were so efficient that we ran out of jobs and they got to go home early. We had perfect weather which may have helped – as well as plenty of tea and some good home-made cake. Of course.
January is the hardest time to get outside. Some days it doesn’t seem to get light at all so the temptation is to put the heating on, watch crime dramas and wait for spring. But it is the best time to get outside, which is what we found on Saturday. We were helping out on the Wilton Estate – planting a new herb bed, painting stepping stones, making plant labels (jobs for the children) and putting up a poly-tunnel. We started, as ever, with cake and tea, then with a group of companionable volunteers, got down to some gentle weeding. Talk was of how we wanted to be buried and the sex lives of worms – perhaps not surprising subjects considering our task; we were contemplating the earth. After a couple of hours we had another delicious veggie lunch supplied by Cafe Morningside. The adults loved the food. The children were less sure. Sean said he couldn’t eat it as he wasn’t a vegetarian. We put up the poly-tunnel and ended the day, pleasantly tired and glad to have spent the day outside, with more cake – satisfied that we had now earned the right to put the heating on and watch crime dramas — till next time.
Despite a few blustery showers to begin with, we were lucky with another sunny day for garden volunteering down at Cordwainers Garden. Teams of people got stuck in with various tasks including bagging up soil, clearing and planting a new bed, cutting kindling with a newly sharpened axe, weeding rogue areas, planting bulbs, collecting leaves for leaf mould, patching up the shed and clearing out and re-arranging the composting corner. Fuelled by an almost continuous supply of tea from the storm-kettle (powered by wood) and a delicious spread from Cafe Morningside we got a huge amount done. We even dug up and relocated an enormous Callas Lily which had planted itself rather annoyingly in the dye bed. It was great to have a mix of old and new faces at the garden, to share some of the heavy lifting and chat about Star Wars and the merits of science fiction over lunch. Thanks to all our hardworking volunteers, the garden has been given a new lease of life as it braces itself for the cold months ahead.
We’ve been doing a series of workshops to turn our flax into thread. Here’s a short blog by Antoinetta, who came along to our drop-in day last week.
“Before I went to the flax workshop, I had no idea that linen is made from the cellulose fibers that grow inside the stalks of the flax plant. When on Tuesday I arrived at the lovely garden in the heart of London, I found many volunteers helping with a project which tries to connect people and place through a greater awareness of the environment.
I did not know anybody but a warm atmosphere made me feel immediately comfortable.
It was a very good experience where I learnt about part of the processing of flax and where I met many interesting people to chat to.
Delicious refreshments included soup, bread and an amazing cake with tea and herbal tea were provided!
Our small community garden is maintained entirely by volunteers. We run it with enthusiasm (mostly) and a belief in the power of gardening to bring people together – as well as improving the environment of course. We have learnt that amongst our gardeners we have a variety of skills – composting, seed-sowing, planning, raising veg, PR, samosa-making, taking photos, organising things – but most people have other things to do – other lives – and sometimes we need a boost to help get things done.
Our first big volunteer day in February 2011 was to build two big beds. Local people and students from the London College of Fashion turned out on a bright (but cold) day to shovel, carry, dig and construct. We found that getting together to drink tea at the beginning, middle or end of the volunteer day was as important – maybe more – as getting the job done – especially if we try to make tea on the camping stove. The waiting makes it taste so much better.
Our biggest ongoing project so far is what we call the Slow Shed. We’ve built it almost entirely from reclaimed materials and voluntary labour. With a general lack of building skills amongst us it is a slow business with lots of set-backs but it has brought lots of people together and provided everyone with an enormous sense of achievement. The Slow Shed – like a Herculean task – is never finished so we always have jobs to do on it.
We got a big boost when a corporate group came for a day last summer. They helped weave the front with willow, painted some lockers we’d found in the street and put up some shelves.
It’s usually not usually money we need — the garden is cheap to run and we raise money through cake and plant sales and subs cover most of our day-to-day expenses. Occasionally we need financial help with a specific project (like the willow-weaving where we needed to buy materials). More important to us is energy and enthusiasm – and a keenness to drink tea together.
For such a small organisation like ours, it’s wonderful to get an injection of vigour and good will from people who really don’t need to help but do anyway. We’re looking forward to seeing more groups from our neighbours in the business world and beyond.