Monday 26 March 2012

Building a Permaculture Garden at the Royal Free Hospital

The Royal Free Hospital has very kindly given Transition Belsize a plot of land for food growing. It’s in the Heath Strange Garden above the hospital car park.

After a winter of permaculture design in the tearooms of the Royal Free, the physical work began last weekend. At 8am on Saturday morning London Waste very helpfully brought us five tons of compost - the reconstituted food and garden waste of hundreds of Camden gardens.

A huge, steaming pile of compost, it seemed to shimmer in the morning sun, making the surrounding buildings fade into the background. There was perhaps just a touch of the farmyard in the air, but nothing to make a pig unhappy in shit!

We had until Sunday night to move it. Otherwise, it was said, the hospital's Director of Estates would be lynched on Monday morning. When they heard of his plight, volunteers aged between 2 and 70 came from all over our land. Their Herculean task - to move the compost by hand from Rowland Hill Street to our food growing plot.

Some Sisters from the nearby nunnery stopped by to praise our blessed work. We offered them free compost in exchange for tea and cakes. "Oh, we don't do cakes during Lent, dearie," said one. Alas, there came no tea either. But maybe, just maybe, the nuns conjured up a little divine intervention. Ten minutes after they left, just as the morning shift was flagging, along came seven burly lads from the hospital maintenance department. "Thought we'd help out during our lunch hour," they said. So there's the proof, Richard Dawkins - God does exist!

Even more miraculous was the Sunday morning shift. A group of Amazonian warriors made light work of the remaining tons. By Sunday 1pm the compost had vanished and we'd saved the Royal Free's Director of Estates from a Monday morning lynching!

The next task was to dig deep holes in the site and put half barrels into them to prevent root penetration into the hospital department below the site. "Is my hole big enough?" was the question on everyone's lips.
Seven barrels for seven heritage fruit trees under the burning sun. Two types of apple, a hazelnut, a cobnut, a plum, a cherry and a pear. Plus fruit bushes - two blueberries, a tayberry, a loganberry, a thornless blackberry and an edible honeysuckle. All very kindly donated by Thornton’s Budgens of Belsize Park.

By 5pm on Sunday, 25 volunteers had moved five tons of compost by hand, and planted seven fruit trees, five fruit bushes and some early Timpany rhubarb! These are the sort of adventures about which songs are written. And if dancers are needed for those songs, then we have a few willing souls in Transition Belsize!

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