Gardening might not be the first thing that comes to mind when Tower Hamlets is mentioned, as the East London borough is more associated with its urban style and activities.
But, in fact, the borough also has a thriving gardening culture and love for green spaces.
With different awards for the quality and management of its parks and open spaces, including six Green Flag Awards, Tower Hamlets is blooming.
Now residents are gearing up for the popular Tower Hamlets in Bloom competition, which has been running since 1971 and every year gives the community a chance to show off their gardening skills.
Tower Hamlets in Bloom is part of a nationwide scheme that encourages residents and people who work in the borough to be more interested in plants, wildlife and the environment in general.
Jane Sill, of Cable Street Community Gardens, joint winners of Best Community Growing Site and Wildlife Garden last year, told ELL: “Cable Street Community Gardens have been taking part in this great event for a number of years, and each year it seems to get bigger and better.
“When we set up our community garden in the late 1970s and early 1980s, there were very few community growing spaces in the borough. In fact, there were very few green spaces apart from formal parks and very few trees.
“I remember well when the first trees were planted beside the Highway and what a difference that has made. Over the years, more and more projects such as our own have been set up in local community settings, each reflecting the diversity and energy of the communities involved.”
Sill told ELL that Tower Hamlets in Bloom reflects the diversity and wealth of homegrown talent in the gardening field.
She continued: “These precious oases of peace and quiet can be found all over the borough, from balcony displays and patio gardens, to spaces such as ours, which help to bring together people from all backgrounds and ages, offering a vital breathing space in our busy urban lives. They help to bring that sense of connection and togetherness, which is probably as important as the plants and trees that they nurture.
“Tower Hamlets in Bloom offers a wonderful opportunity for a celebration and appreciation of what so many people in the borough are doing to help enrich all our lives.”
Cable Street Community Gardens were the winners of two categories last year. Sill told ELL: “We were very honoured to have been awarded two prizes last year in the Community Growing Space category and Wildlife Garden. I was also very touched and grateful to have been given a special award.
“These really encourage us to work even harder to make the gardens even more beautiful and show the commitment and support of the borough who have kindly helped us in so many ways.”
This year Cable Street Community Gardens are also taking part in Open Garden Square weekend in June. Sill said everyone is welcome on the day, adding: “This is also a time when communities all over the UK will be taking part in street parties and gatherings to continue the message of Jo Cox, ‘Better Together’.”
Best allotment, best children’s garden, best community growing site, and Gardner of the Year are only some of the categories included in the contest.
Candy Blackham, London traveller, photographer and passionate blogger, recently visited Cable Street Community Gardens. She told ELL: “These gardens, some two acres in a historic area of the London Victorian Docklands, are a magical haven for people, plants, and wildlife in many different ways.
“The gardens tell you about the gardeners, the chairs and benches speak of people who like to just sit here, alone, or in groups, chatting. There are roses of all colours, the scent of jasmine and honeysuckle is heavy in the air, there are fruit and vegetables everywhere, and even organic honey!
“Wildlife is welcomed with birdfeeders and bee friendly plants in abundance and last year I saw a fox in the middle of the day. Cable Street Gardens is a gentle, magical, peaceful haven created by people who care for their surroundings and for each other.”
The site was once a dump, a derelict wasteland between buildings. Then, in the 1970s, the potential of the land was spotted by Sill, and today, thanks to her foresight and determination the land is productive, and beautiful. Cable Street is an example to other, similar sites in London; this is exactly what Tower Hamlets in Bloom rewards and want residents and all people to see.
A representative for Spitalfields City Farm, also Best Community Growing Site of 2016, said to ELL: “We have been entering the competition for several years, we have taken part of Tower Hamlets in Bloom every year. It really helps promote our work at the farm and brings many people here to see what we do, our vegetables and garden, and it acknowledges our hard work.”
Spiltalfields City Farm was originally set up by volunteers in 1978 and today still mainly relies on volunteers.
The spokesperson continued: “We have been a community farm for 39 years, and we do a lot of work with education, children and schools who come here to see plants and animals from close. We are a busy educational business.
“We believe there a lot of great projects in the borough that bring people together, and Tower Hamlets surely is one of them. We truly care about our community and are always happy to help improving life in the borough.”
Spitalfields City Farm also take part of the competition ‘London in Bloom’ every year.
To enter Tower Hamlets in Bloom, visit www.towerhamlets.gov.uk/parks to download a form. Judging will take place in July with an awards ceremony at the end of the year at the Art Pavilion in Mile End Park.
To learn more about parks and open spaces within the borough, click here.