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Bohemia Walled Garden

The Bohemia Walled Garden Photo by Zelly Restorick

Horticultural harmony

The Bohemia Walled Garden, hidden within the trees and verdant undergrowth of Summerfields Wood, was once a neglected space in Bohemia, writes HOT’s Zelly Restorick. Now transformed by the vision and determination, hard work and perseverance of a team of local people, the Garden’s door will be open this weekend as part of the Heritage Open Day project.

How lovely it is, when you think you know a place, to discover somewhere new. I felt like a tourist in my own home town when I visited the Walled Garden last Sunday morning. Choosing to take the wilder path behind the Law Courts, I eventually came to a door leading into a world of freshly mown lawn, sunflower sentries, bent-over bodies quietly working with the soil and a profusion of plants and produce all within the perimeter of towering bricked walls.

All the plots in the centre section are owned and tended by a widely international group of individuals. The peripheral spaces are communal, apart from two areas, one belonging to St Paul’s School and one to St Marys Star of the Sea. Pupils come along regularly to garden, play, picnic on the lawn and learn about how things grow.

Honey bees buzz around a bee hive, there’s a wormery, an impressive array of composting, including a Kitchen Composter into which you can put all your waste including cooked foods, huge water containers, an artistically designed shed for the children to play in and a shelter for brewing up a cup of tea [an important part of any gardeners’ work schedule] donated by the Grey Owl Association.

Bob Hart and Sue Thomson are the people originally responsible for the idea of transforming this piece of overgrown, un-used land into a valued and enjoyed community space.

‘I used to walk my dog through the woods and this site was off bounds’, Susan told me. ‘I thought it was a shame, as the site had so much potential. I saw a letter from Bob Hart in the local magazine, The Bohemia Village Voice, asking if people realised there was a walled garden in the area. So I contacted him, pleased that I wasn’t alone in thinking the site had possibilities.’

In 2009, a constitution was written and the key to the garden was handed over to the team by Hastings Borough Council. At which point, the enormous task of clearing the site needed to be faced.

‘Head high brambles needed clearing and digging out,’ said Michel, one of the plot owners. ‘Bonfires were burning for at least a month.’ Frequent bonfires helped reduce the mass of waste vegetation to ashes.

The newly revealed earth was then divided into plots, rented out to raise revenue on an annual basis to cover the project’s out-goings.

‘The project required vision and determination to get off the ground. There’s no running water or power here,’ explained Susan. ‘But the people have made the place. The garden has attracted some very lovely people, sympathetic to the project’s aims. And the more people we’ve had,’ she explained, ‘the more interesting projects we’ve been able to develop.’

I asked Matt, a non gardener, but a nevertheless vital member of the team who maintain the garden, about the lack of running water on site. Having explored a variety of methods, including carrying buckets of water up to the site from the ponds, the members have now initiated a creatively inventive, Heath Robinson type plan.

‘Water flows nearby from an underground stream into all of the ponds’, Matt explained, showing me a place from where, when raining, the water vigorously gushes forth. ‘We have to be here when it’s raining or within an hour of the rainfall. We have a bucket, a petrol water pump and about 40meters of flat pipe and we can pump about a 100 litres of water a minute into our containers on site.’

The containers hold about 1000 litres and can be filled in ten minutes. Isn’t it marvellous when people use their brains to come up with a resourceful, ingenious solution to what might appear to be a hopeless situation?

One long-term goal of the Association is the repair of one of the walls. Cost is estimated at around £70,000 for under-pinning and reconstruction. Are there any philanthropic people out there, feeling inspired to donate to a good cause? The gardeners would certainly be grateful, especially those whose ears of sweet corn were recently eaten by badgers on the very weekend they were due to be harvested.

Black eyed SusansThe Open Day this Sunday, starts at 10am. For an hour at 10.30am, you have the chance to participate in a Garden Philosophy discussion group with Steven, the garden’s philosopher. His main idea is to stimulate thought, not to push any particular philosophy. After exercising your mind, you can head off for a well deserved cup of tea and cake to satisfy your body’s needs and then satiate your creative yearnings by entering The Decorated Wellies Competition.

You can explore the walls and plots for artworks from local artists, Roz Cran and Sineid Codd. Or take a walk to the Ice House , open between 10am and 1pm and purchase a copy of Heather Grief’s book, ‘Bohemia Farm and Summerfields Estate: A History’. A pound from each sale will be donated to the garden. The book traces the fascinating history of the land on which the Walled Garden sits.

If you have children between the ages of 5 and 10, they might like to take part in Story Time with Mary Rainbow Stories. Kiddies can dress-up as a story character or animal and a musical tale will be created together. [Between 1pm and 2pm. All children need to be accompanied by an adult.]

Everyone is welcome. And if you can’t make the open day, the Garden’s door is open to visitors every Wednesday and Sunday, between 10am and noon. If you’re seeking horticultural harmony, this is a place well worth a visit.

Bohemia Walled Garden Association Open Day : 9 September 2012, 10am – 3pm

How to get there? Go to Summerfields Leisure Centre car park and look out for the garden’s banner. Or there’s a map on the website.

In case you’re interested, the Kitchen Waste Composter ‘that allows you to turn all food waste, including cooked food, into fantastic nutrient material’ can be found at Product code 15888

Roz Cran :

Sineid Codd :


Posted 16:55 Tuesday, Sep 4, 2012 In: Green Times

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