Kingston’s magical garden

Kingston’s magical garden

Tucked away by the Hogsmill River, you’ll find a hidden oasis that is the perfect example of community collaboration…

Walking around the Hogsmill Community Garden, you wouldn’t think you were in the middle of Kingston’s bustling town centre. It’s a lush urban hideaway, filled with bright blooms, herbs and beds packed with leafy veg. Dotted around are a range of buildings: a striking greenhouse is centre stage with its angular metal roof. There’s a Wendy house made from a recycled wardrobe; a structure that looks like an upturned hull of a boat is actually a compost toilet, and a meandering path takes you up a multi-storey wormery.

I’m shown around by Alison Hood, a local volunteer, and Brian Mulley, who helped set up the garden 11 years ago with Julie Blythe, who spearheaded the project, turning an overgrown and unloved patch of scrub into the oasis it is today. An energetic 80-year-old, Brian is a great advert for how gardening is good for body and soul. It’s clear how much of a labour of love it is for Alison, Brian, Julie, and the rest of the volunteers.

The project comes under the umbrella of the Kingston Environment Centre. There is close collaboration with the Stanley Picker Gallery nearby and Kingston University’s School of Art – architecture students worked on the design and construction of the fabulous greenhouse.

The university’s halls of residence are just across from the garden and it is a good source of volunteers. Alison notes that for the students there, who are perhaps away from home for the first time, it is a great opportunity for them to make friends and it provides a safe space. Plus, there’s the promise of free pizza – there’s an oven onsite.

There’s a real co-operative buzz about it all. Local schools are invited to make use of the space – one recent example saw SEND pupils plant their own sunflowers to take away and nurture. And there are ongoing collaborations to help schools in the borough establish their own green patches.

The aim is to be as eco as possible, using recycled materials where they can. The garden even generates its own electricity with a solar panel. And it follows organic gardening principles. There are seedlings for herbs, veggies and other plants available for the community to take away (in return for a donation) to encourage people to grow at home, even if they have just a windowsill.

Brian is passionate about the benefits of gardening – we will have to grow more food in Britain, he says, not to mention that gardening is great for mental wellbeing. Volunteers of all ages and capabilities are welcomed – and you don’t necessarily need greenfingers as the plot requires all sorts of skills. Equally, you can learn as you go and come just to make friends.

You can also simply pop in – it is a peaceful spot in which to have your lunch, and visitors are most welcome…

Swan Path, off Mill Street.

Open:  Tuesday Wednesday Thursday and Saturday 11-3pm