One of our esteemed residents, who lived in Onslow Gardens during the late 1860s was Anne Isabella Ritchie, the eldest daughter of William Makepeace Thackeray. Like her father she was a novelist, among her more popular works was Old Kensington and she often drew upon old folk tales. Some credit her with coining the maxim in her 1885 work Mrs Dymond “give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, show him how to catch a fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”
Whatever the origin of the proverb the sentiment rings just as true today. Just look at the success of our community kitchen garden projects. What started off as a modest plan to beautify forgotten areas among the harsh concrete of North Kensington has magically promoted a sense of community throughout our borough. Not only are residents becoming keen gardeners, reaping the benefits of growing their own vegetables and herbs, they are also getting to know their neighbours.
Organisations are currently working with the Council to identify further unused scraps of land which our own council gardeners will then prepare for community gardens, each new space offering anything from 12 to 50 plots.
Last year the bigger sites all received a fruit tree or flowering plant to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee and several won prizes or were highly commended in the annual competition organised by the wonderful Brighter Kensington & Chelsea scheme.
No one would seriously claim that our borough’s 42 kitchen gardens (providing 500 garden plots) are making residents as self sufficient as the characters Tom and Barbara in TV’s The Good Life, but they are creating something unique and innovative which strengthens community bonds – as people get to know their neighbours, form new friendships and between them create thriving gardens.
In particular it is good to see children learning that patience, luck and care can reap very tasty rewards. Adults are also embarking on life enhancing activities. Once you have tasted home grown succulent cucumber, seasonal runner beans, spinach or purple sprouting – to name just a few – airfreighted supermarket vegetables become just a pricey, and bland, second best.
Our kitchen gardens might not be feeding families for a lifetime but in bringing neighbours together, they are sowing seeds which are taking root and helping our community.