Open Garden Squares: Wenlock Herb Garden

I must admit, that on first sight, this small plot, surrounded by high-rise blocks and bordered by a basket-ball court, looked like it might be disappointing: but how wrong I was!

Surrounded by high-rises, a small, productive plot with unusual produce

Michael Turrisi has created a community garden with a difference: he’s helping to grow food not just for the community, but also for a top London restaurant, and it’s not just any food, but the kind of thing you won’t find at New Covent Garden.

For the produce from this small garden has more in common with the results of a foraging trip than a trip to the (super-) market: here we find cultivated varieties of weeds that commonly plague the allotment gardener: Goosefoot anyone?

Yes, as an experienced forager surely knows (I am not one!), we are surrounded by things that we can eat, indeed, that we used to eat, but are blinkered by what is ‘normal’, restricting ourselves to the same few commercially easy-to-grow fruit and vegetables.

However, with the growing interest in foraging and more ‘interesting’ food, Mr. Turrisi has spotted an opportunity to supply unusual but tasty leaves and vegetables, without all the trampling of nature that normally accompanies their acquisition.

Alas, some of the names may have escaped me, but from (collective) memory we were treated to French Sorrel (Rumex scutatus), with it’s tangy lemon snap, like a milder form of Wood Sorrel (Oxalis acetosella, which it doesn’t resemble), the rampant Salad Burnet (Sanguisorba minor) which is used as a garnish, the succulent and nutritional Purslane (Portulaca oleracea), red Orach (Atriplex) AKA Mountain Spinach, and a spectacular variety of the afore-mentioned Purple Goosefoot (Chenopodium purpurascens), which looks like someone has spray-painted the tops purple!

Chenopodium purpurascens

This rich assortment of unusual leaves and herbs tickle the taste-buds of foodies at the nearby St John restaurant, providing income to support the project.

Michael says that his priority is to make the project as sustainable as possible: he spends two hours a week at the garden, and wants to make sure that a combination of community involvement and labour saving devices, such as the leaky-pipe irrigation fed from water-butts (the site has no mains water, or access to gutter down-pipes to supply it, so all water needs to be carried a few meters to the site), means that the garden will bring long-term rewards.

WOWga get to taste nearly everything! Here the French Sorrel

What may look like a little scruffy patch on a housing estate is actually a taste-bud expanding culinary treat, and it was certainly worth the visit.

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