Monday, 19 April 2010

Spread the word

With the meadow now in full swing, it's time to get as many people involved as possible. But 'getting involved' doesn't just mean digging and planting (though help with that is always welcome). It can simply mean knowing more about what's going on, telling your neighbour about it or sharing the a picnic there with your friends and family.

So to help get the word out, we've put up posters in the information boxes around Mabley Green. But if there are any other places you think we should put them up too, just click on/copy the image below, print it out, and stick it up anywhere you like. Or for a high-res PDF version, email and we'll send you one right away.

New(ish) arrivals

Often, there are loads of different plants quietly growing in grassy areas. But because they get mown before they can flower, you probably wouldn't even notice they're there. So while we're getting our Community Growing Scheme started, Hackney Council have agreed to relax the mowing and simply wait and see what turns up. Already we've noticed more flowers on the site than ever. And we're not the only ones - bees and butterflies have been spotted taking advantage of their new food supply too. So the meadow is working already!

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Digging for victory

Our volunteering day was a huge success with loads of people from Hackney Wick, Homerton and beyond coming to help out.

The first half of the day, we got stuck in digging over the soil (which was rock hard after two weeks without rain - well done team!). Then we got to work building temporary fencing, making a sign and sowing the seeds. We also planted some fox gloves to give the meadow little head start.

A huge thank you to everyone who came along - and if you want to get involved in future days, just keep checking back here for updates or email

For more pics, check out our flickr or take a look at the Hackney Wick Garden blog.

Volunteering day: Saturday 17 April

If you want to get stuck in and help turn part of Mabley Green into a beautiful field of wildflowers, we'll be holding our very first volunteering day on Saturday 17 April. The key things we'll be doing are:

- Digging over the ground to make it more seed-friendly. If you have a large garden fork, please bring it along.
- Sowing the seeds. This is a bit trickier than it sounds, so we might leave that to our resident expert.
- Making temporary fences out of bamboo and string to protect our young seedlings.
- Erecting a sign to tell everyone about what we're doing.
- Drinking tea and have a chat.

See you there!

The big guns

Today Andy Day from Hackney Council had enough of digging with forks. So instead, he rolled up to Mabley Green in a tractor, with a big stone burier strapped to the back. In a few minutes, he'd ploughed up the turf where the clearing will be so we're almost all set to start sowing. Hoorah!

A necessary evil

The meadow will be a huge ecological asset for Mabley Green. So it makes sense that creating it should be as environmentally responsible as possible.

That's why initially, we were against using chemical sprays. And as it turns out, Hackney Council don't like using them either.

The thing is though, our annual plant seedlings won't stand a chance against grass. It simply grows too fast and too thickly. So we consulted the inspirational experts at Pictorial Meadows. And they said it'd be best to spray. Which we did - but using glyphosphate, a low-toxicity spray that doesn't hang around doing bad stuff to the the soil or the water.

It may not feel like the perfect solution and there are other options if you have a bit more time. But if not (like us), this spray isn't nearly as bad as you'd first think. So it seemed worth mentioning because if you're keen to set up a meadow too, you should consider factoring spraying (or something similar) into your plans.


An odd thing about the B&Q grant we applied for (and got - yessss!) is that you have to send them a letter on headed paper from your organisation. But the Mabley Green Users Group didn't have anything like that. So I again engaged the services of the generous Si, and we got to work creating a logo together. So here's what we came up with.

The idea behind it is that it's a stylised map of Mabley Green, with a big square bit (the main part of the park) and a little triangular part along the side (where the meadow will be). I'm really pleased with it. What do you think?

Saturday, 10 April 2010

B&Q to the rescue

Thanks to Essex Flour and Grain, we're well on our way. But to make the meadow really amazing, we also need to set up a Community Growing Scheme.

The reason is that there are lots of shady areas on the site, so it takes a little longer to get really spectacular flowering plants to grow there. The best thing to do is grow woodland plants in pots, then when they get a bit bigger, transplant them.

So that's the plan. But to do it, we'd need a truck load (literally) of seed compost and all the pots we can muster.

Luckily, Sam Parry from Hackney Council mentioned the B&Q One Planet Living Grant. Community groups can get up to £250 worth of B&Q stuff to get their project going. And after a bit of to-ing and fro-ing, the Leyton Mills store agreed to give us everything we need. So the Community Growing Scheme is going ahead too!

If you want to apply for the B&Q grant too, you can find all the details here. They're really busy people though, so my best advice would be to keep calling again and again and again. Stalk them, basically. Until you speak to the right person. My other top tip would be to contact more than one store. The only restriction is that the store has to be less than 20 miles away. So if you're in London, and the Leyton store turns you down, try the Waltham Forest one. Or the Greenwich one. Just keep trying.

And if you're interested, here's the proposal we made up for the grant. It's an adaptation of the other funding document, so it wasn't as much work to produce as it looks. And if you apply, you certainly don't have to go into this much detail. A letter and a phone call would probably do. But here's what we did:

Doing good by doing nothing

It'd be wrong to say that there was nothing on the site before we started making the meadow. That's not true. There are trees, mown grass, and the odd patch of other greenery.

But what it doesn't really have are places for bugs and worms to hide and thrive. And as they're the things that will attract birds and help make the area much more ecologically healthy, we need to do everything we can to encourage them to live there.

But as it turns out, the best thing we can do is do nothing.

By that, I don't mean not do the meadow. Because doing that will definitely make living spaces for butterflies and other insects. What I'm talking about are the big piles of leaves that the trees drop in autumn. Usually, these are meticulously collected and taken away in a big truck. But because we're doing the meadow, the council have agreed that this year, they're going to leave them just where they are. Which will create a rich, useful habitat for all kinds of creepie crawlies. So while sometimes it takes a lot of work to make something better, this time, the best thing to do is leave it to nature. Which sort of makes you wonder, with good bugs in short supply, why don't we just stop collecting the leaves?

If you want to your leaves left alone too, get in touch with the parks department at Hackney Council by calling 020 8356 3000 or emailing

They might say no. They might say yes. Either way, the bugs will appreciate you for it.

Getting started

With the funding challenge now safely behind us (thanks again Michael Spinks!), we're now ready to get started. So that meant getting in touch with Andy Day from the Hackney Council Parks Department.

Andy starts work every morning at 7.30am. So to meet with him, you have to get up EARLY. But when you do, it's completely worth it. Not only is he enthusiastic, passionate and really nice, he's also incredibly helpful. When we met up earlier today, he offered to help by preparing the ground before we sow the seeds.

Essentially, that means digging the ground by hand to break it up and make it easier for the seeds to get a foot hold (or root hold, or whatever). As the ground is quite hard and full of rocks, this is a pretty tough job. But almost right away, his team got to work. And within days or meeting him, most of the ground was freshly dug and perfectly prepared. Frankly, it's a massive job. So Andy's saved us hours of time (and done one of the hardest parts for us).

What's more, he's also ordered a big tractor to do the same thing further inside the site - but on a much bigger scale. Which will save us days of hard labour too. Thanks Andy!

We love Essex Flour and Grain!

Well, after an up and down week of cap-in-handing, I got in touch with Michael Spinks from Essex Flour and Grain on Lee Conservancy Road. He loved the idea of making a meadow, and offered to give us all the money we need to get going. Which is the best news yet!

Michael Spinks (who runs Essex) is an amazing member of the community. He's a staunch supporter of the area and puts copious amounts of time and energy into making it better for the people who live here. He's also incredibly generous and works with charities and community groups all over London. AND he's standing in elections for Hackney South and Shoreditch. But that's another story, which you can read about here.

So a huge, huge thanks goes out to Michael Spinks and Essex Flour and Grain. We wouldn't be able to do it without you.