Beyond the island

_DSF2128©Geoff Wilkinson

Marian Temple of the Wanstead Community Gardeners reports on Ingrid Howarth’s latest work revamping another neglected patch alongside the Island Garden. Photos by Geoff Wilkinson 

In 2021, Ingrid Howarth turned the traffic roundabout opposite the gates of The George car park into a delightfully quirky Island Garden, much beloved by drivers and all who live near it. An enormous amount of work went into creating it and there is ongoing maintenance. You’d think that would be enough for Ingrid, but no. In the true tradition of us community gardeners, a forgotten, neglected patch of public soil needs to be adopted and transformed with another enormous amount of work.

Just a hop and a skip away from the Island Garden was the most forgotten and neglected patch in Wanstead. The challenge proved irresistible. Over 10 years ago, large concrete blocks sealed off a half-circle patch of land over the top of the A12 where the tunnel under George Green emerges. Maybe it was a security measure for the Olympics? Who knows? The blocks stayed and the patch went dormant, slowly filling with rubbish. Shrubs died and a thick mat of ivy covered the ground, swarming over the concrete blocks and obliterating the footpath. Overgrown, surrounded by roads and with the A12 emerging underneath, it was an unlikely site for a new garden.

Ingrid made the hop and the skip, saw the potential and got started. Some 37 builders’ bags later, the soil was revealed, ready for planting. The 37 bags – the ones that take a tonne of topsoil – Ingrid filled with a massive amount of accumulated rubbish, ivy and dead shrubs. Our thanks to the council’s wire truck crew who collected all this.

The soil revealed seemed to be tired, but once planting started, it got its second wind. Everything planted there seems to thrive. Stock came from the Corner House Garden, the Gravel Garden and, of course, Ingrid’s Island. This protected half-circle of future garden has its own micro climate and will probably be very sheltered in the colder months. Within an incredible 10 weeks, a garden had been created out of this sad, neglected patch. Next year, tall flowering plants will be visible over the concrete blocks. The locals, now using the long-lost footpath around the blocks, peer with delight into this secret garden. They are well aware of Ingrid’s record of magicking gardens from unpromising patches.

As well as making the interior attractive, Ingrid wanted to make the outside equally appealing. To keep the drivers happy, flower beds have been made outside the blocks along the footpath. She dug down into the gravel, created wooden surrounds from skip-harvesting and filled these frames with compost and soil from wherever. Again, everything planted there thrives. It’s a sight for sore eyes in the most unexpected of places.

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