There’s been a lot written about London’s community gardens so far this summer. Whether it’s on a housing estate in Kennington, a floating allotment in Hackney, or in the Meanwhile Wildlife Garden in Kensington, it’s fair to say that community gardening is trending. But none intrigue me more than Union Street’s pop-up Urban Physic Garden.
The garden was created on a piece of wasteland in Southwark that is set for development in the autumn. It’s divided into wards, each one sprouting medicinal herbs and plants that are traditionally thought to cure particular ailments. Everything in the garden is made from reclaimed materials, including the Rambulance eatery – a decommissioned ambulance serving up yummy seasonal food. Throughout the summer, the garden is hosting talks, workshops, film screenings and mini health consultations aimed at teaching and debating the role of plants in healing.
The garden is the brainchild of Wayward Plants, a collective of designers, artists and urban growers led by landscape architect Heather Ring. Last year, the team was commissioned by The Architecture Foundation to design and produce the Union Street Urban Orchard for the London Festival of Architecture. This year, they are taking community gardening to the next level.
The Urban Physic Garden defines what a community garden should be. The Wayward Plants team has created somewhere to grow and conserve rare plants, but also a space for learning and for bringing people together. It’s not just about the plants themselves, but the science, well-being issues and history surrounding herbal healing that sparks interest, discussion and debate. I particularly love the dermatology ward, with its towering eccinacea, aloe vera, arnica, evening primrose and tea tree plants. The familiar names are enough to make any herbal cynic think twice. This project is proof that a garden can be so much more than a pretty green space.
The Urban Physic Garden is open until 15 August. Check out our What’s On guide for events in the garden over the coming weeks.