Bandstand Beds: growing in public

Bandstand Beds: growing in public

In 2011 I was on a compost crusade: fresh, peat-free dirt for the masses! One of the major problems facing food growers in the city is good, affordable growing medium. London, with its history of light industry and WWII bomb damage, has soil with an unknown risk of heavy metal pollution.

I was introduced to Clapham Common parks manager Victor Chin-Kit who had a stockpile of Common green waste material, and the compost giveaways were born. Here are some images from the Incredible Edible Lambeth site of the first giveaway. I’m very pleased that three years on the Common depot is to become a growing medium hub for the borough, under a programme called ‘Edible Lambeth’.

A farmer at heart, Victor had contractors build some community growing beds as planning gain, and asked me to come up with a plan. Wanting to start a discussion on food resilience I made a cropping design for a balanced feast. Volunteers came through interaction with the giveaways, plentiful signage at the beds, regular gardening sessions and events.

Taking a cue from Incredible Edible Todmorden’s  propaganda beds, and not just because the site is adjacent to the very fine Bandstand, we named the project Bandstand Beds, an interactive showcase for all to see how and what to grow.

See the slide show below for the Bandstand Beds story, or click this link to see it in a new window that you can embiggen on your screen. Read on for what happened in 2012 and 2013, and what’s next.

In 2012 the Beds were a hive of activity, growing beans, squashes, quinoa, lettuces and strawberries. They suffered very little vandalism. Instead, they attracted lots of interest. There was a core of ten volunteers tending the beds. We had three (and a fourth in March 2013) very successful free “Compost Giveaways”. Through these activities people local to the Common could get advice and growing experience, as well as sharing their knowledge and experience. We encouraged sustainability from growing your own food, reducing food miles, seed saving and producing food which can be stored and used in the winter. 

In 2013 we formed The Bandstand Beds Association, a constituted body to be able to receive funding and take the project to the next level.

I conceived a growing a project for the 2013 Chelsea Fringe, The Squash and Bean Swap. This built on the networking potential evident from the giveaways as well as ideas around growing beans and pumpkins for winter storage. It saw a year-long cycle of sowing, growing, harvesting and feasting events. It aimed to link growers and growing projects and across Lambeth. Partner organisations holding events included: Myatt’s Fields Park, Ruskin Park Community Garden, Streatham Common Community Garden (SCCG), Brockwell Park Community Glasshouses (BPCG), Rosendale Allotments and The Edible Bus Stop. 

Some core volunteers remained and new arrived, in particular Diana who became treasurer and brought a wealth of experience in setting up the association, Emma who cycled to work past the beds each day, managed the watering rota of  many volunteers and brought such enthusiasm to all our events, and Camilla who produced graphic design that was just perfect. Later in the season David, Fiorella and Gill came on board and the cycle culminated in a very successful and enjoyable feast at Notre Dame Estate Hall sited on Clapham Common Southside.

For 2014 we have planted a blackcurrant farm at the Spinney Beds, adjacent to the playground and Spinney kindergarten, thinking summer sunshine and vitamin C preserved as cordials, jam and fruit leathers.

I am standing down as chair as I go away on my travels and exploration.  I leave the project in the very capable hands of Diana, David and others, who have plans to seed the Bandstand Beds to local estates. Can’t wait to see how it unfolds.

Read my Chair’s report 2013-14 at and follow @bandstandbeds