Emily Dickinson-Holdcroft, BA Social Anthropology
‘If colonisation was the reaping and draining of land for hoarded wealth, the act of care and connection with our world, that many have dissociated from, is strongly decolonial.’
Space in London is allotted within the tight grid of an urban centre, built for function and productivity. Parks, even trees, act as generous gifts bestowed via council bureaucracy. It goes without saying that the distribution of ‘green’ space in London is influenced by the wealth and the intersectionality of the race of residents. Black people in England are almost four times more likely than white people to have no outdoor space.
You won’t find too many sun-lit benches on the De Beauvoir estate but a short bus journey to the freshly gentrified Stoke Newington you’ll find Clissold Park – complete with overpriced flat whites, an aviary and manicured flower beds.
This isn’t to say that the land isn’t there – 18% of London is green space, but increasing amounts are privately sold for further capitalistic endeavours. ‘Green’ space in London takes a very specific format, indigenous plants and trees that bloom natural ecosystems are replaced with monotonous grass lawns. Instead of a varied interconnected network of plants that help offset carbon, lawns further contribute to soil infertility and kill habitats.
The ‘enclosure of the commons’ in 1500s Britain led to mass amounts of land being privatised, meaning open fields were constricted into compact units. These beginnings of profit from land linked to colonial exploits further down the line. Colonialism functioned off the same values of growing wealth for a few elite— no matter at what cost those deemed dispensable pay.
A functioning tool of colonialism, lawns, were a sign of the elite in England during the 18th century. In the US, they helped to forge an ownership over stolen land by presenting green ‘cultivation’ as another thread of ‘cultivating’ the colonised peoples; an attempt to validate their brutal imperialism.
It’s a symbol that has retained its weight — you only need to notice the distribution of private gardens in London today. Just as colonialism worked off a constructed entitlement to space and resources, it is not just an echo of this history, but a loud, tangible shout that this space still does not belong to us.
I say this to highlight the absolute necessity for publicly owned, community garden spaces. Not only does a garden grow biodiversity — it grows livelihood in the form of accessible food, strength in the form of unity; knowledge in the form of replenished indigenous heritage and a decolonial world in its re-owning of space by those who still today are dispossessed.
These, to some, may seem like grand claims for a garden. Yes, gardening and growing are also ‘just’ living — yet it can also be read as a not so quiet act of resistance and reparations when you see the power of hands working soil.
If colonisation was the draining of land for hoarded wealth, the act of care and connection with our world, which many have dissociated from, is strongly decolonial. Land has been co-opted and stolen to such an extent that we can’t even see it below these concrete paving slabs. When a plant springs through it is labelled a ‘weed’- ‘a wild plant growing where it is not wanted’, it offers no aesthetic value or functionality so it is disposed of. The urban community gardens featured present opportunities to partake in this growth of our future — and the seemingly simple chance to find peace, community and solidarity within London today.
This food-growing collective is multi-generational and Black-led, focused on generating collective wealth and investing in your health, be that mental or physical. Growing Tiger Nuts, Oca and Jamaican thyme, are diversifying the soils and simultaneously promoting and preserving knowledge relating to foods of Caribbean diaspora. In the words of co-founder Pauline Shakespeare this is ‘a project aimed at challenging and disrupting some of the structural inequalities that exist within the current peri-urban food growing sector in London.’
Get in touch – [email protected]: Wolves Lane Horticultural Center in Haringey
Coco Collective’s Ital Community Garden
An Afro-diaspora-led food growing space in Lewisham – named after a word with Rastafarian, Jamaican origins ‘Ital’ connotes ‘vital’ and refers to growing food naturally on local land. Founder, Valerie Goods built this upon council-owned land that was completely disused; now it is full of flourishing, culturally diverse foods and healing herbs. Workshops span beyond food growing into mental, physical health and arts and crafts, with a growing team to help facilitate. Having worked in sustainable fashion, Valerie entered the community garden project with ambitious expectations but she notes that working with the earth has been a learning curve taken together with her mother who has helped the garden become what it is.
Get in touch: 07801 794884
Open to all every Sunday 10 am-3 pm: 73 Firhill Rd, London SE6 3SE
Led by ‘soil sistar’ Sandra, also known as ‘Miss Dandelion’ to kids, this garden is a community-run, not-for-profit. Organised by majority women of colour, the philosophy of this collective is centred around the West African concept of Sankofa, interpreted as ‘we must continue to go forward as we remember and honour our ancestral past and plant a seed for the generations after us’. They aim to contribute to people in a positive way by promoting traditional skills and creating sustainable food systems for today’s generations. Get in touch – [email protected] : Butterfield Close, Haringey, N17 7NT
Photo Credit: Go Grow with Love