Growing places

Islington Life pays a visit to two of Islington’s growing spaces – a garden in Highbury Quadrant estate and a plant nursery in Tuffnell Park – to find out how these patches of green are benefitting their local communities

Every Saturday morning, you’ll find a group of residents planting, weeding and harvesting in their communal garden, hidden behind Highbury Quadrant estate. Just two years ago, this oasis was unloved, filled with overgrown brambles. Franie Smith from Octopus – a community group that runs growing programmes across Islington in partnership with the council – has helped residents transform the space thanks to a grant from the Mayor of London’s Greener City Fund. The group has had to overcome many unexpected obstacles thrown up by Covid-19 but now, the first harvest is ready to pick.

Local residents Sandra and Anthony Ayers have recently joined the gardening group and are pleased to see the area being used as something the community can get involved in. Costas Kontos and Hyun Jeong Kim, meanwhile, attend the group with their two daughters. They like the community feel and the opportunity to meet neighbours. “The space has been turned into something great, for everyone to enjoy,” smiles Costas. The family take home some of the vegetables grown on the garden – a perk of being a volunteer. Everything grown is shared.

A recycling and composting area is currently being constructed using pallets and donated wood. The soil here is poor quality, so the compost and mulch will help the plants and trees thrive. A loquat tree and bird cherry trees were already here, and the group has now planted a community orchard with apple, pear, plum, apricot and elderberry trees. These help to attract more wildlife to the area, providing food and shelter for native insects and birds.

Over at Tufnell Park off Holloway Road, the community nursery has been growing plants for gardens across the borough, including Highbury Quadrant. Caroline Humphries, plant cultivator at Octopus, runs the nursery and learning hub. Her job is to coordinate growing and distribution of plants around the borough, as well as run workshops. Young people from Beacon High School’s special educational needs department, the Wing, have been learning from Caroline and have taken plants from the nursery back to their school garden. The students even sold some of them at their end of term fair, to raise money for the school.

Despite a difficult year, the garden and nursery have brought communities together to grow, eat and celebrate food – and these are just two examples of projects Islington residents can get involved in.

Visit the Octopus Communities website to find out more and try your hand at growing.

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