strip garden

the strip was MADE for street gardening: a gap sixty foot long and ten inches wide, at the edge of the pavement where the slabs had not quite reached the brick wall.

ever since they’d paved our street, how many decades ago? the gap had been waiting for us, the street gardeners. it was the very definition of “fallow”, lying under the normal urban skin of litter, broken glass and dog shit.

rake it up, throw it away. grab the spade: scrape off the weeds, turn over the soil, add compost.

as well know, there is no such thing as a weed, only a plant where you don’t want it.

Goldenrod in England, one purchases at a pot in the garden centre. in Canada, it’s regarded as a weed. Buddleia is the exact opposite.

we put in daffodil bulbs first – for once, we did things in the right order. thankyou Phil-the-Green, who conjured up an enormous sack of bulbs from his regular trips to the all-night wholesale flower market – how can they possibly make a profit on these things?

following on from there, over the years of the project came bulbs of every personality, as they were donated or found at end-of-season reduced price.

the normal hardy public space garden flowers appeared: different ones for different seasons, springsummerautumn overlapping – as one generation passeth, so arriveth another, verily.

all was cleverly organised – tall ones to the back, with climbers to mask the brick wall.

given time, every one cheerfully fit together to become that living, interlocking organism: Garden. all of this in the ten inch strip of wasteland. ah, the pride of salvage.

those little grey corrugated edging tiles cost a pound a piece at the recycle shop; we scrounged up enough for the full sixty feet. people donated handfuls, once they saw the project coming to life.

the strip ended at the mouth of the alley that ran around behind the houses. this of course became an element of the Master Plan… the Dream.

instead of being a convenient dump for lazy idiots, we could gate them, build an overhead arch, to sustain the line of green all along the street… we’ll cover the mud with gravel.

and now, a short story.

I actually caught someone dumping their garbage – in the act, bigod. they parked and were taking full bags of garbage out of the car to stack in the mouth of the alley.

I became Outrage Articulated, I do assure you, Loud and Clear.

how extremely odd that they actually seemed to feel that they had a right to dump their crap there, and I was being unreasonable.

“what do you expect us to do with it?!”

I pantomimed photographing their number plate, faked a call to the constabulary, gave the location, created a scenario, talking into the phone: “you’re on your way? good man.”

bitching loudly, they put it back in the car and took off, blaming me for selfish behaviour.

later, the neighbour said, “oh, I watched all that out the window.”

WELL, why didn’t you come out and join in , for pity’s sake! it’s not all up to me to keep the neighbourhood nice.

back to the strip: it was a glory, come the spring. the kids were proud of it, those same kids that were predicted to “wreck it all”.

“hey Robin, we chased off some kids that were gonna pick the flowers!”

there you go, civic defence begins at home. too bad they weren’t on hand when The Council Struck.

The Council Strikes

well, it all adds to The Tale, I suppose. still, what a damned dismal thing to have to write about. even now, all these years later. I was in Owl Art Studio, Andy Treepirate was there I recall… the neighbour came in, troubled:

“hey Robin, they’ve ripped up that strip garden by the corner.”

what? Does Not Compute.

“they’ve taken away all the flowers and the edging strips in a truck.”

WHAT? no, no, they haven’t!

WHO? the Council workmen

WELL… to be brief, they have. they had. they did.


finally, in full weariness, I simply said to Dominic, Sarah Teather’s associate, “you can’t fight City Hall.”

“yes you can!” he said.

I understood, as it seems so awful just to give up in the face of destructive stupidity, but at this point it was evident that all they do is keep denying, denying.

losing the papers. stonewalling. blanking it out from their paid 9-5 existence, while the citizen taxpayer fights back in the margins of their own full life, until they finally burn out.

“move on,” said Phil-the-Green.

“ours is the Moral Victory,” said I.

now there is a lovely strip garden in containers lining the pavement outside Owl Art Studio, much admired by the community, and so far free from government vandalism.

knock on Wood…

correspondence archive (this never got anywhere, but it illustrates the frustrating process of trying to make sense out of this Kafkaesque, bureaucratic vandalism):

strip garden interviews

note: the interview took place on the phone; it may sound incredible, but I repeated each line the fellow said to me as I wrote it down on the spot… so there we have it…

phone interview
Tuesday 3rd May 2005

with: John Rymer, Senior Team Leader, Brent Council Streetcare
by: Robin Tatham, Artist Director, Owl Art Studio

RT        I’m calling about the destruction of the community garden on Stanley Gardens, NW2.

JR        There was no “community garden” on Stanley Gardens.

RT       We differ. Why were the flowers destroyed?

JR        There were complaints.

RT        Who complained?

JR        I can’t tell you that. There were complaints.

RT        Did you check with the local residents to see if they liked the garden they had created?

JR        No. There wasn’t time for that. It’s Streetcare’s responsibility to take care of the public safety of the streets.

RT        A 13 inch strip of flowers?

JR        The public can use tarmac. It cannot use daffodils.

RT        I beg your pardon?

JR        We returned that area into public highway.

RT        “Returned”? That area had never been tarmac-ed. Why was it previously acceptable, for decades, as weeds and waste, untouched by Streetcare, but not as a community garden?

JR        We probably failed in the past, when it was weeds.

RT        You “failed in the past when it was weeds”?

JR        I didn’t say that… If you’re going to write this down, don’t twist what I say.

RT        Okay, you “probably failed in the past when it was weeds”. Explain how a 13 inch-wide strip of flowers was a public danger.

JR        If a pavement is 14 inch-wide, then a 13 inch strip is a problem.

RT        What?

JR        If a motorcycle is parked along that wall, that would be a problem.

RT        Right.

JR        We have a responsibility to maintain the public highway.

RT        And if the public attempts to improve their neighbourhood?

JR        If you do anything on the public highway without permission of the Highway Authority, it is probably illegal.


phone interview with Streetcare Part 2
Tuesday 3rd May 2005

With: Ms Jacky Brown
By: Robin Tatham

RT        I rang you in November 2004. You were informed this was a community- supported, award-winning garden, supported by all the residents of the street who were upset when you destroyed the summer-flowering plants in August 2004. This was followed up by an article in the Times Chronical, December 2004. Why did you not consult with residents before destroying our garden?

JB        There was a time constraint, so we couldn’t consult with you. We had to send in the contractors. That growth was a danger to the public.

RT        A 13 inch-wide strip of flowers against the brick wall, running behind the Pay and Display unit?

JB        I don’t have time to argue this with you Mr Tatham, I have to go out on a call. I was not consulted in any way about the changes at Stanley Gardens.

Official correspondence

<— back to triangle garden

onwards to Chris and Nicky —>

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