An update from one of our garden volunteers…
Queen Elizabeth Hall Roof Garden has now reopened, and visitors are returning. Among them are regular fans and first-timers who have never seen it before.
It’s always exciting to greet people when they arrive. Visitors are blown away to find a wildflower and vegetable garden growing peacefully at the top of the yellow staircase. They are amazed to hear the story of how this mature garden flourishes on what was once a bare concrete plateau. That story begins and ends with Grounded Ecotherapy: Recovery for people and places, which created and continue to run the garden.
Only two thirds of the garden are open to the public this year. Work overhead on the Hayward Gallery building means the shady woodland area over the bridge is temporarily out of bounds.
You might think our resident birds would have chosen to nest elsewhere in greater peace, but the blackbird is raising a brood (first clutch of eggs already hatched) in the pergola where the tiny yellow roses of rosa banksiae are already in full bloom. It’s lovely to hear the parent birds singing among the leaves, right beside people sitting and chatting at the tables.
We also have hedge sparrows nesting, and the first butterflies and bees are returning. If it weren’t for the garden and the food and shelter it offers wildlife, then birdsong and the hum of bees would rarely be heard anywhere in the concrete canyons of Southbank Centre.
The popularity of the garden grows year on year, and last season was another hard one for the lawn. Coupled with a wet winter, the wear and tear of thousands of feet took their toll and the garden needed re-turfing while it was closed.
Once again, this hard task was made much easier for Grounded’s volunteer gardeners by the invaluable help of the GoodGym runners, who appear to positively relish the challenge of bringing the heavy rolls of turf up to the garden from the delivery area downstairs. No light task in any sense, and one for which we are extremely grateful.
The wildflower meadow is already lush and green, its many species of native wildflower each poised to break into full bloom at their appointed time. The trees are in leaf, and red campion, yellow charlock and the delicate white flowers of greater stitchwort are all out.
Despite a winter during which we often couldn’t get into the garden because of the renovation works, the vegetable boxes are now looking beautiful, having been prepared and given a layer of new compost. Onions, garlic, coriander, potatoes and some salads have been planted, with tomatoes, courgettes, pumpkins and many other crops to follow.
As well as our normal public visitors, on a sunny Friday 13 May Grounded Ecotherapy’s gardeners played host to part of Southbank Centre’s Festival of Us. This day allows Southbank Centre workers to choose from a huge list of activities and get a taste of something new.
Over 50 people chose to learn more about gardening from Grounded. Total beginners and greener fingers alike came in both the day’s two groups, and they all had a great time getting their hands dirty.
They learned how to make funky pots from recycled plastic food containers, and how to sow into them the tiny seeds of mixed salad leaves and oriental salads such as mizuna and mibuna. Afterwards, they were able to take home for their own windowsills a crop that can be eaten as microgreens. They also planted pea shoots to take home for later consumption as a delicious cut-and-come-again crop.
They helped the garden by planting all the sunflower seeds and runner bean seeds we saved from our plants last year. When they look out Royal Festival Hall’s windows this summer, or visit us, they will see the fruits of their work.
It was great to meet everyone, and they told us they’d had a brilliant time, which is our best reward. Thank you Southbankers, and a special thank you to the kind afternoon group for helping Grounded pack away our equipment, thus saving us many hard slogs to our store.
So the garden is poised to plunge into another Southbank Centre summer. As life seems to get ever more hectic, gardens are becoming less a luxury and more a vital necessity. Grounded are very proud that the roof garden has been able to remain open while the major renovation works carry on all around (and underneath) us. We hope the garden will once again provide a haven of quiet and beauty for many in the middle of the busy city.