January 2021


Gardening grows

DSCF4094©Geoff Wilkinson

Marian Temple looks back at Wanstead’s community gardening during 2020. With participation boosted by the pandemic, four previously neglected patches of public soil were transformed for all to enjoy in 2021 and beyond. Photo of the new Gravel Garden by Geoff Wilkinson

A year of pandemic and lockdowns would not immediately seem to be a promising year for community gardening activities, but in reality, 2020 proved to be one of our busiest years ever! Luckily, gardeners were exempt from the lockdowns and there were many who were unable to go to work, so had time on their hands to join us. 

With a lot of hard work, the Cherry Pye Bed – the traffic island between The George and Wanstead Station – was changed from a dreary patch of tired shrubs to a glorious flower meadow. It lasted just a few weeks, but it was at the very time when people felt at their most vulnerable and anxious, so the swathe of bright flowers gave us all a much-needed fillip. The seed sowing was just a temporary measure. Our real aim, the laying of perennial flower turf, had to wait till December when the bed was stripped of greenery and fallen leaves, raked level and the turf laid. We needed the help of our friends the Good Gymmers – a running club who make it their business to do community tasks. The turf was heavy and it was a hands and knees job with Stanley knives to fit the sections in. The turf will be more robust and need less maintenance once established, and the flowers should come up every year. Fingers crossed for this one.

While we were still working on the Cherry Pye Bed, a new perennial border was making its appearance the other side of George Green, against the handsome wall where the traffic on the A12 disappears into the tunnel under the green. This border was created against all the odds during a dry spell. Now, it looks as if it’s always been there, a colourful delight for footpath users and cyclists as well as a resource for the nearby children’s nursery.

Just around the corner at the end of the new border, another classic sad patch of public soil has been changed into a gravel garden (with the gravel kindly funded by Martin & Co). This was a dead-end patch with an overflowing litter bin, smashed whisky bottles, weeds and rubbish. The new dry garden with plants, we hope, will survive long summer periods without rain and should provide year-long interest. It is west-facing and sheltered by the beautiful wall. Plants so far include an olive tree, succulents, Mediterranean favourites and our favourites, cottage garden hollyhocks.

Next to what is now called the Gravel Garden was a small, sad weedy patch with a junction box of some sort plonked in it. Of course, our out-of-control diggers couldn’t resist it. It’s now dug over and planted. Look for spring bulbs and wallflowers early in the year and a host of other plants strutting their stuff throughout 2021. What good company for the junction box!

Ironically, the pandemic has bequeathed Wanstead four new mini gardens, unlooked for, but to be enjoyed in 2021 and beyond.

For more information on the work of the Wanstead Community Gardeners and to get involved, visit wnstd.com/wcg

Deep roots


Wanstead resident Jean Medcalf has published her first poetry book at the age of 89. To Everything There is a Season is a collection of lyrical, spiritual poems about nature. In the third of a series of articles, Jean introduces New Year, a poem about new beginnings.

The new year is always the time when our thoughts turn to new beginnings. I clearly recall the beginning of my life in Wanstead.

I first came to Wanstead to work in the late 1950s. I was recently married and living in Leytonstone, and I found a job in a little plumber’s called Toogoods, which was in Eastway, next to Nightingale Green. I worked there as a shorthand typist along with three or four other girls. One very pretty girl, Valerie, was the envy of us all when she announced she was going on holiday to Lake Como in Italy. We were even more impressed when she returned, engaged to a handsome young Italian fisherman named Mario!

Toogoods was a friendly little place. The cleaning lady was called Flo Clarke. She was unfortunately afflicted with St Vitus’ dance, which meant she was constantly twitching. She had very little money, so to help make ends meet, she used to cook dinner for us girls in her home, and we would each give her sixpence or a shilling. She lived in one of the little cottages along Eastway. They were tiny Victorian houses with little doors that led to the stairs. Flo’s husband, Harry, was a painter and decorator who was well known in Wanstead. Once a week, all of us girls would walk up to the Bungalow Café for lunch.

The boss, Mr Dunham, was an affable man. The first Christmas I worked there, all the girls bought little presents for each other, and we all gave a gift to our boss as well. He graciously accepted the presents, and then said that he was sorry that he couldn’t give any presents to us in return because he was a Jehovah’s Witness and it was against his religion! However, he told us he would keep all the presents, as he would not dream of hurting our feelings by refusing!

So, that was how I first got to know Wanstead. I knew it would be a good place to settle and bring up a family, and when we saw a house for sale in the area, we went to view it. The house felt very homely, with a glowing coal fire burning in the hearth and a large back garden with an old plum tree and a seat beneath it. I loved the house at first sight, and after 60 years, I love it still.

Our house was close to the Nightingale pub and the parade of shops opposite, and there were more shops along Nightingale Lane and Elmcroft Avenue. Back then, we had a butcher, a toy shop, a hairdresser, a sweet shop, two grocers, a rag-and-bone yard, a junkyard, a fish and chip shop and a watch mender’s. I will tell you more about them next time.

New Year
by Jean Medcalf

Midnight tolls
A flock of bells peals out
Swinging on a clapper
We fly
Backwards and forwards
Higher and higher
Soaring and swooping
Balanced like birds on the upstroke of twelve
We poise
And dive
With courage into a virgin year.