website / main menu

EDIBLE ESTATES regional prototype garden #4: LONDON, england - GARDEN PAGE

Watch the video, go to exhibition page, or read the London Olympics 2012 proposal

Owners: Tenants of the Brookwood House Council Estate
Location: coner of Webber St. and Lancaster St. in Southwark, London
Commissioned by: Tate Modern
Established: May 25–27, 2007
Size of garden: 31 x 52 ½ feet

The Tate Modern commissioned this garden for Southwark, the neighborhood just to the south of the museum and the river Thames. This area has many council estates (public housing) and happens to be one of the least green parts of the city. A month after the garden was planted, an exhibition in the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall included a display on it.

The Edible Estate was established on a highly visible triangular lawn in front of the Brookwood Estate, located a ten-minute walk south of the museum. This rare green space is fenced off and was previously unused. Twenty-four units at Brookwood and another sixteen in Lancaster House (another council estate) all face the triangle. Placing the garden here meant that everyone would be watching: the local gardeners would perform for their neighbors. In the center of the dense city, the production of food would become a public spectacle.

Initially many residents were skeptical about the prospects of such a garden in this location, and they feared it would be vandalized. But there is a school across the street, which insures a steady flow of children past the garden. It was the children of the council estates who were the most excited about the garden and eager to get their hands in the dirt over the course of the three days of planting.

This garden is intended as a new model for urban agriculture. It is not a true community garden (or “allotment,” as the popular practice is referred to in Britain) with separate private plots for each gardener. It is one holistic design that also integrates spaces where people may gather; a  pleasure garden made up entirely of edibles. Those who tend it will eat from it.



The intricate design for the garden was inspired by the ornate, curvy, raised flower beds that you find in front of Buckingham Palace and Kensington Palace, in Hyde Park and in most of the Royal Parks in London. The intention was to demonstrate that a place for producing food can also be a beautiful urban amenity. The arabesque shapes allow for easy access to all planting beds and create two oval gathering spaces, one carpeted in turf and the other in gravel; the latter has a ring of tree stumps for seating. The optimal view of the garden is from above; each day the resident gardeners will look down on it from their balconies. 

The first planting included a combination of perennial and annual fruits, vegetables and herbs:
- apple trees, to eventually enclose the gravel-paved gathering space
- plum trees at the center of our floating “island” garden
- various berry bushes, to grow against a brick wall
- eggplants
 - brussels sprouts
- a forest of tomato plants supported by trimmed tree branches
- rows of scarlet runner beans, which will eventually cover the small brick structure
- peas and sweet peas, which will use small bamboo wigwams for support
- lettuce, rocket, chard, and spinach, to cover an entire “wing” of the garden as edible ornamentals
- bok choy and fennel, planted in concentric rings around the plum trees
- artichokes planted in the center; someday each one could reach over six feet in diameter 
 - onions
- an entire bed of parsley and coriander
- purple sage
- ornamental bay trees trimmed into standards (globes) with corkscrew trunks
- an oval of alternating bay and rosemary plants, which will eventually enclose a small lawn for gathering
 - a row of French thyme surrounding the gravel-paved gathering space
- oregano, mint, and basil, to fill out beds along the apple trees and tomato plants
 - calendula (which produces edible flowers and attract beneficial insects), arrayed in a row around the oval lawn
 - marigolds and nasturtiums (these also produce edible flowers) as edging around most of the planting beds



Carole Wright

“I don't want a garden! I pay my taxes, and I want a car park!” That was the response of one of the residents of Brookwood House, the social housing flats where I—alongside Fritz Haeg and Kathy Noble, assistant curator of Global Cities, the exhibition for which the garden was being created—did doorstep consultations for Bankside Open Spaces Trust (BOST), my new employers. Here I was, one week into a new job, with no experience helping to create a garden from scratch—let alone a community garden—working with an artist with a deadline for a museum opening. My three years as a volunteer at BOST had only barely prepared me for the highs and lows of community gardening. How do you prepare someone for working with disenfranchised residents of a block of flats who have a deep mistrust of anyone they see as a figure of authority, have no real sense of community spirit, and haven't had much to do with environmental improvement?

Against that backdrop, and in only one month, we were charged with completing a garden that had the backing of the local authority, Southwark Council, but needed to have the support of the residents. The door-knocking continued for two weeks. We recorded the residents’ responses on a questionnaire; over 80 percent were in favor of the garden being created. The one resident who was the most enthusiastic was Denise Withers, who wanted to know if she could come and help right away. She was dying for a chance to get back to working in the community; she'd previously been a youth worker but was unemployed at the time. Even though it was just one resident coming forward, we really needed that type of response because we knew what a slow process it would be to gain the trust and confidence of the other residents. With one person at Brookwood House leading the way, over time we could get others.

Plants were bought from local community gardens and a poster was displayed inviting people to come and meet Fritz, the curators of Global Cities, and me. No one turned up. We kept talking to Denise, she kept talking to other residents, and slowly they started to approach us with their questions. They wanted to know who would look after the garden, and if we would be cutting down the five existing trees. There were so many questions. A date was set to create the garden. It needed to be done in three days. The residents sent their children down to help. Only Denise and one other adult from the neighborhood, Sara Burrowes, turned up, along with volunteers from other BOST projects. The housing support officer scoffed that the garden “wouldn't last the weekend,” as he handed over a key to a water-supply cupboard. The garden was planted in two days flat with a day to spare.

The challenge was now to keep the residents interested in the garden and help them develop a sense of ownership. It was their garden. I was there, with Denise by my side, every day for the first ten months of the garden’s life. The first time there was low-level vandalism by a few children, the parents stepped in and spoke to them. The parents apologized, the children looked shame faced. The garden was already policing itself. Some people let their dogs into the garden, but residents spoke to the dog owners. More questionnaires were issued, to ask people how they felt about their new garden and how it could be improved, but more importantly if they were involved and if not, why. Neighbors who had not spoken to each other for years started having discussions about growing food and gardening in general. They’d talk about okra, yams, plantains, and the merits of growing chard when only one person liked it. They would, and still do, use the garden as a starting point for a wider discussion on their neighborhood and the improvements they want to see. If they can be involved in this, why not in other things?

As for Denise, she is now a seasonal gardener/playworker with BOST. She helps to plan the school’s gardening club and works with children from the local primary school in the garden. She visits other neighborhood gardens giving advice on community engagement—and not just related to gardening. It makes me smile when children come up and ask her when the next gardening club event is happening at Brookwood. Denise is aided and abetted by Sara and another local mother, Sharon Reitz. Their love of the garden is evident to all. Their children are growing up with the garden as part of their lives. For them, being part of the garden's life isn't about the awards it's won or its press coverage; it’s somewhere they can get some herbs or the odd squash, come to a barbecue, and just sit down to have a good chat.

It still amazes me that this garden, which is on such an exposed site in a very public place, is so loved and respected by the community. Here is this edible oasis in a very urban part of London that has hardly any other green spaces, let alone private gardens. Day in and day out the garden is passed by school children, residents from the neighboring social housing flats, office workers, and many others. They all stop to look at the fruit and vegetables and chat with Denise, Sara, and Sharon, who are the bedrock of the garden. The women are true community gardeners, out there in all weather with their children, answering questions, and harvesting food for their families and passers-by. My work and life have been enriched by the support of these three. I have learned so much from them, even though my job title is Community Gardener/Educator. Part of my job is to support the garden by arranging volunteer workdays, school gardening clubs, and seasonal events at Brookwood, and they have encouraged neighbors, friends, and family to get involved not only in the garden but other community initiatives as well. Why settle for an environment devoid of green space, living next door to people you don't talk to?

There have been conflicts over where the harvested food goes, how much work people contribute, the occasional visiting dog, or people taking food when they have no connection to the garden. I have a quiet word, and give the involved party information on the next gardening day. It still remains a challenge to keep people interested in the Brookwood garden, and even though, as renters, they are a transitory population, it is vital to involve residents in the neighboring houses. New people come and go, but there is a core of supporters, especially children, who help to maintain it and use it as their hangout.

We'll be celebrating Harvest Festival there soon. Another questionnaire will be done and the answers scanned over to see the direction we should take in the New Year. Recently while Denise and I were talking in the garden, we were approached by one of the residents. He came up to us and said, “I've called my daughter in Ghana, my country, and asked her to send seeds for me to plant in the garden.” He is a retired gentleman in his mid-sixties. Two years ago he asked for a car park instead of a community garden. Enough said.

Text from EDIBLE ESTATES: ATTACK ON THE FRONT LAWN (Metropolis Books, 2nd Ed., 2010)




Proposal presented by Fritz Haeg at Debate London, organized by the Architecture Foundation and held on Saturday, June 23, 2007, in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern

Every night our London dinner plate becomes the venue for a sort of global Olympic event:
Representing China: SWEET POTATOES, traveling 5,000 food miles
From Egypt: GRAPES, at 2,200 miles
Ghana: PINEAPPLES, 3,100 miles
India: BANANAS, 5,100 miles
Mexico: AVOCADOS, 5,500 miles
Peru: ASPARAGUS, 6,300 miles
Saudi Arabia: TOMATOES, 3,100 miles
South Africa: CARROTS, 6,000 miles
Thailand: CORN, 5,900 miles
And from the United States: APPLES, 3,700 miles

Over four-fifths of London's food supply is imported. This supply is entirely dependent on the oil market.
–Jenny Jones, “’Farmers' Markets: Building the Bridges between Farmers and London Shoppers,” report written by the deputy mayor of London for the Greater London Authority, October 2003

Agriculture and food account for nearly 30 percent of goods transported on British roads. Over the last ten years, the distance food travels from farm to plate increased by 15 percent.
–Hattie Ellis, “Food Miles,”

Forty-three percent of all fruits and vegetables contain detectable levels of pesticides.
–Pesticide Action Network U.K., 2004


More than 600,000 Olympic-related guests each day are expected in London for the 2012 summer games.

What will they eat? Food that has been grown, sprayed, packaged, and shipped from each of their home countries?

I propose a new extreme summer event: Olympic Farming.

Visitors will be served fruits, vegetables, and herbs grown exclusively in the host city.

Residents will grow organic food without pesticides or genetic modifications for their guests in every neighborhood across London.

Any resident will be able to nominate his or her front garden, or plots of unused public or private land on his or her street, as the site of an official Olympic Farm.

To feed everyone for the Olympic Games will require over 6,000 acres of densely planted gardens.

To give you a sense of how much London acreage this is:

-All Royal Parks total about 4,900 acres.
-All office space comes to about 4,800 acres.
-And common green spaces around flats comprise about 4,200 acres.

The soil on each site will be tested for contaminants, cleaned and prepared as necessary. This might be a good opportunity to come to terms with our toxic industrial past and the state of the land we live on.

A citywide Olympic composting system will be established. Four years’ worth of London kitchen scraps will be transformed into the most fertile soil the city has ever seen.

An Olympic Farming team will be recruited to represent each neighborhood. Each team will be specially trained to tend one of the thousands of farming venues across the city.

They will wear beautiful Olympic Farming uniforms that will be visible from great distances. Everyone will want to be an Olympic Farmer so they can wear the fabulous outfits that are locally customized.

Olympic sponsorship by fast food chains and soft drink companies will be rejected in favor of this system for a healthy local diet that physically connects visitors to their host.

While the Olympics celebrate the gathering of a global community, Olympic Farms will reflect the increasing value of the local.

The entire city of London will be radically transformed as empty bits of land, neglected interstitial spaces, rooftops, and even parts of Royal Parks are turned into abundant productive green spaces.

All residents of London will watch as agriculture is woven back into the city and public food production becomes a dazzling spectacle.

During the games, each Olympic Farm will be open for viewing, tours, and evaluation. Specially designed carts will make visible the movement of the fruits and vegetables the short distance between the host garden and the guest's table.

Neighborhood farming teams will be awarded gold, silver, and bronze medals for the quality of their produce and the excellence of their gardens.

They will go on to become urban farming superstars, with offers for product endorsements and their faces splashed across the covers of all the tabloids.

After the summer of 2012, London residents will inherit a spectacular network of urban pleasure gardens that will feed them with the seasons, instead of empty monumental shells erected for a moment of global vanity.

Every evening, the children of London (some of whom may not have even known that a tomato comes from a plant) will look at their plates of food that they watched grow down the street and will even know the name of the famous Olympic Farmer who planted it.

Text from EDIBLE ESTATES: ATTACK ON THE FRONT LAWN (Metropolis Books, 2nd Ed., 2010)



Commissioned by: Tate Modern
Presented at: Tate Modern, June 20–August 27, 2007, as a part of the exhibition Global Cities
Partnership and support: Bankside Open Spaces Trust (BOST)
Sponsored by: Better Bankside
Land and additional support: Southwark Council
Research and assistance: Matthew Au
Photography: Heiko Prigge
Thanks to: Resident volunteer garden workers, including Brooke Blades, Dajana Dokaj, Klaudia Dokaj, Rina Dokaj, Silvia Dokaj, Siobhan Eady, Tiegan Eady, Ben Horrigan, Zoe Horrigan, Fabian McDermott, Denise Withers; community volunteer garden workers, including Jessica Beattie, Joseph Bonner, Sarah Burrows, Jill Jerram, Judith Mackinlay, Jeff McMillan, Lily McMillan, Heather Ring, Annina Salo, Reinhard Schleining, Frances Ward, Katie Wright; Michael Osbourne, BOST volunteer; Arthur De Mowbray (for the seating); Mark Barrell, Tenant Liason Officer, Brookwood House Council Estate; Sergio Mutti, Estates Compliance Officer, Brookwood House Council Estate; Carole Wright and Peter Graal, BOST; November Paynter and Kathy Noble, Tate Modern



The Independent 01.04.09

The Garden 01.01.09 {jpeg} [PDF]

New Consumer 05.29.08

Financial Times 06.21.08 {jpeg} [PDF]

Metro 06.23.08

The Guardian 09.04.08

The London Paper 06.20.07

The Telegraph 06.16.07