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Community gardening in Crouch End offers tips and food behind a bus stop

PUBLISHED: 17:30 08 May 2015 | UPDATED: 17:37 08 May 2015

Priory Common Orchard

Priory Common Orchard

© Nigel Sutton email pictures@nigelsuttonphotography.com

Behind a bus stop, at the corner of Priory Road and Redston Road, was an open patch of grass. The council owned it and mowed it … there wasn’t much more to be said, until Joyce Rosser thought it would be a good place to plant fruit trees.

Priory Common OrchardPriory Common Orchard

Haringey Council agreed, so a few like-minded people, including Gemma Harris, got together and started planting.

Since then they’ve become more ambitious, cutting beds out of the grass and making a food-growing community garden, with herbs, salads, vegetables and fruit. The council, to its credit, continues to mow the grass between the beds.

Accessible to anyone passing, this garden is the antithesis of a gated community. First predictions were that this openness was bound to fail, the plants vandalized or stolen. But gradually the comments started to change from “it’ll never work” to “this is great”. Certainly, when I had a quiet look around on a Friday evening, all was calm and bright.

One point of interest is the labelling. Most similar projects go in for a lot of earnest educational labelling but here there’s a lighter touch e.g. “Nettles, Fabulous for Food, Fibre, Fertiliser, Fodder, Flagellation” or “Dried blackberry leaves make a surprisingly nice herbal tea”.

Priory Common OrchardPriory Common Orchard

Pigeons are expected to read, and to behave with decorum once they have understood that it’s undesirable for them to eat brassicas. If decorum should fail, the message is reinforced with a stockade of twigs. I saw no similar communication to slugs or snails, but no evidence of slug damage either.

Another point of interest is grafting. In fruit trees, grafting gets what is called a scion of a chosen variety, apple, pear, plum etc. to grow on to a known rootstock, the eventual size and vigour of the tree being influenced by the choice of rootstock. So, if you want a dwarf tree, you choose one grafted on a dwarfing rootstock.

There is a lot to learn about grafting, and a fair amount of mystique. It is usually done to increase predictability, but at Priory Community Orchard this venerable craft reveals itself as something to play with.

There is a crab apple with scions of Prince Edward, Twyford Late Red and Brownlees Russet grafted on to it, a blackthorn with greengage, a rowan with pear. I asked Gemma if these combinations were completely experimental but she said no, they look things up first to check.

Allowing the rootstock to grow some of its own branches as well as that of the scion is unorthodox, but Gemma delightedly pointed out how the blackthorn was going to give them some sloes lower down, then greengages on top. In theory I believe the blackthorn will be inclined to put most of its energy into the sloes and forget about the greengages, so this will be worth a return visit, to see how things are developing….

Because of its openness you can visit this Crouch End garden any time, but the day to go if you want to meet the group, and be fed, is Tuesday. There’s an upended cable reel table, stools made of a sawn tree trunk and you sit round and share whatever salad or fruit they have picked.

A small nursery school occupies the only building on the site, and there are a couple of other nurseries nearby, so young children may be part of the idyllic scene.

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