Chelsea Fringe | a few thoughts
This feature was originally written for The Guardian
The first Chelsea Fringe is priding itself on an open access ethos, meaning that any project – as long as it has something to do with gardening – is welcome to take part. Over the last couple of months almost 100 different projects have signed up. With anybody and everybody invited to register, the festival now has a rather eccentric events programme. It ranges from one-off topiary demonstrations to three week long art installations, like the Floating Forest in Ladbroke Grove.
Here slices of dark wood have been symmetrically dotted across a murky pool of water that sits beside the Grand Union Canal. The wooden dots look like large lily pads and the temptation is to jump onboard (but don’t as this isn’t allowed). They sit in neat rows, held in place by a just visible frame under the water.
A cormorant was bobbing around among the tree slices the morning I visited. It would dive under and disappear for long minutes, before reappearing in the spot you least expected it. The Floating Forest is an oddly hypnotic installation and the focal point of a series of events grouped under a Dock Garden Festival banner.
The next project I came across were some Vertical Garden Towers in the grounds of the Garden Museum. There’d been an overnight topple and the designer was busy repairing the bushy blocks. There was no attempt to cover up the mishap, which seemed like evidence of a warts-and-all, more honest approach. Things go wrong when you garden, especially if you’re an experimental type. The towers were to be resurrected and the consensus was that they would be stronger for it.
The Bicycling Beer Garden was temporarily parked up round the corner, in anticipation of a party. It had spent the first weekend of the Fringe travelling around town handing out fliers and visiting the likes of the Edible Bus Stop and Garden of Disorientation. One of its owners, Dan Benson stood weary but proud beside a large trailer stuffed with planted lager cans. Packs of salty peanuts were pinned to its swinging sign in true pub style.
I cycled to a few local projects myself this Sunday afternoon, though sadly lacking a beer garden of my own to tow. First stop was the Blackstock Green House, found on a tiny street heavy with traffic, close to Finsbury Park Station. A thin slice of land has temporarily been given over to gardeners, while the landowner ponders his next move.
Its first incarnation was as a polytunnel-come-venue that hosted film nights, cabaret and exhibitions. The structure was squatted and had to come down, so this year it’s to be a garden complete with mint farm, clay earth oven and permaculture inspired planting.
Down the road, the Blackstock Triangle Gardener’s Cake Sunday was in full swing, with kids racing down the street with cauliflowers wedged between their knees, garden hedge topiary demonstrations, a play performed in someone’s front garden and an awards ceremony for the best planted tree pit.
The residents have worked together for four years, turning their front gardens into allotments and beautifying their streets. Community spirit was thick in the bunting strewn air. And the apple cake and rhubarb slice were delicious.
After all that excitement and sugar, something more solitary appealed. I set out to find some of the gardens that were supposed to have popped up on the streets of Mildmay in Islington. I visited four of eight planted sack gardens, each with its own character and each looking harassed sitting on street corners in hectic surroundings.
Their ‘please don’t steal me’ signs laid bare the creators concerns at leaving them out to fend for themselves, but other signs shouted more positive messages. They explained why city gardens and green spaces are important and how plants can be used instead of pamphlets to spread the word about urban greening.
The Chelsea Fringe runs on until 10th June.