It’s been 21 years since Marian Temple first put a garden fork into what she calls an SPPS (Sad Patch of Public Soil). Out of that small action grew the dedicated Wanstead Community Gardeners, who invite you to celebrate with them this month

In April 2003, the power of ‘feduppery’ kicked in big time when I was walking past the Corner House Garden, a sorry sight indeed! Waist-high in weeds and full of takeaway food rubbish and pigeon spikes that had descended from on high. What a sight! What did the hundreds of people who walked past it every day think about it? Something had to be done. 

With the encouragement of the Wanstead Society and agreement of the council, a small group of us got going to turn this sad patch of soil into the cottage garden that has graced our High Street for the last two decades. Weeds and rubbish out, compost and leaf mould from our own gardens added and joined by plants from our gardens and those of passers-by. Hey presto! In its first summer, it was a great improvement and by the second year (pictured here) it was a total delight. The hollyhocks had always been there but they were joined by seven-foot high mulleins, a British native, achillia, crocosmia, anthemis, poppies… the list is endless. We used wild flowers and cottage garden plants that would need little maintenance and wouldn’t be fast food for the slugs.

An old-fashioned garden is a constantly changing procession of flowers, each flowering in its season. There’s always something new to see. This iconic garden has been a favourite with Wansteadians ever since its inception. I loved it when an elderly lady told me: “I haven’t seen that flower since I was a kid. It was in my nan’s garden.” Yes! We’ve arrived. That’s what we wanted. A cottage garden in the middle of a London high street. Not bad!

That was the beginning of the story and it was a long time ago. We still carry on in an effectively ramshackle way, but we are a bit more official now, meaning we are a small charity, have insurance, a bank account, have done our first-aid courses etc. However, our propensity for land grabbery proved insatiable. Our real estate portfolio is bulging. We maintain over 40 patches of former SPPS (Sad Patches of Public Soil) from near to the Green Man roundabout in Leytonstone down to Snaresbrook. Our patches range from modest tree pits to perennial borders and full-sized gardens. We have a Gravel Garden where the drug dealers used to do their stuff. They disappeared. A traffic roundabout has been turned into the quirkiest garden patch ever with a “Back in 10 minutes” sign and the present jewel in the crown is a wall garden. I don’t mean a garden surrounded by a wall. I mean a garden on top of a wall. Basically, no sad patch of unloved earth is safe from our depredations. 

We’ve had 21 years of this. Time to celebrate. On Sunday 19 May, we will be in the back garden of the Corner House for tea and cakery. With photos of our years of activity, we’d be delighted to see and chat with you. Please join us and celebrate 21 years of street gardening in Wanstead.

The Wanstead Community Gardeners will be holding a celebration with refreshments and displays in the back garden of the Corner House (opposite the Co-op) on 19 May from 2pm. For more information, visit wnstd.com/wcg