Skip Garden provides a Nomadic oasis in the heart of Kings Cross

Paul Richens, manager & founder of The Skip Garden in King's Cross. Picture: Nigel Sutton

Paul Richens, manager & founder of The Skip Garden in King's Cross. Picture: Nigel Sutton - Credit: Nigel Sutton

Re-purposed skips and coffee bags lend rich city colour to this interesting, purposeful garden, says Ruth Pavey.

When the heart-warming Skip Garden on the development site at King’s Cross came into being in 2008, it was understood that it would have to be nomadic, hence the planting in movable skips. In the spring of this year it made its fourth move. It is now more accessible to the public, being just beyond the Granary, near the wild swimming pond. Global Generation, the charity behind the garden, has made itself at home in the new site and is busy with many projects in tune with its website statement “We connect people to each other and the natural world”.

Visiting on a dull November morning, I found the garden full of life, interest and purpose. Young adults on a YMCA training scheme were either hammering up recycled wood panelling, preparing pizzas to cook in the outdoor cob oven or making skip-shaped seed packets, to be filled with wildflower seeds and sold in support of Global Generation. Mothers with children in buggies were visiting the café and the Head Chef was engaged in extending the kitchen. Since the move the café has become busier than before, which means it not only needs more space, but more produce from the skip gardens. As Paul Richens, the Garden Manager, remarked, café kitchens are amazingly hungry.

I had imagined that the skips would be full of soil, with drainage holes at the bottom, but Paul’s design for them is cleverer. Raised beds are a familiar idea, but this is a system of lowered beds. Around the inside edges of the skip, large boxes of soil are supported from the base, but not reaching right down to it, thus saving on soil. The beds have a drainage system leading outside, so the skip doesn’t fill up with water. A passage left in between the beds allows people to get down inside to tend the plants. The original six old skips supplied by Argent, the developers, have moved with the garden each time and are still going strong. Argent, incidentally, comes out of all this well - an unusual case of a Benign Developer Story.

As with a normal garden divided into sections, the skips have different uses. One is for herbs, another for the orchard, three are for a crop rotation of legumes, brassicas and roots, the sixth, currently containing sweet potatoes, chillis and Cape gooseberries, has a poly tunnel over the top. Everything is grown organically, helped by the products of the onsite wormeries and composter. On this new site the skips have been joined by a number of imaginative, if not always finished, structures designed and made by students from the Bartlett School of Architecture.

These structures are varied, but have in common the use of recycled materials – a two storey greenhouse made of old windows, a cool store for the kitchen with walls of earth-filled coffee sacks, a tall building with walls of rammed earth and polythene (the earth the colour of concrete with bits of glass and china squashed in, having come from the construction site) a sort of zenana screen henhouse and a shapely canopy for the tables outside the café. There is also a small enigmatic enclosure suggestive of an itinerant dentist’s booth. The fittings of the café are made from the thick Baltic pine floorboards of the old Granary.

Jane Riddiford, who founded the charity, was there folding seed packets and directing a workshop when I visited. From an initial project to take inner city children to an organic farm in Wiltshire, Global Generation has grown into an inspirational charity, well worth visiting and supporting.

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The Skip Garden, Tapper Walk, King’s Cross, N1C 4AQ, is open Tuesdays – Saturdays, 10.00 – 4.00

The café offers a wonderful alternative venue for seasonal celebrations and there is a bookable Fire Feast 6.00 – 10.00pm 17th December. All details from the website