Growing Spaces is a wonderful project which creates, plants and maintains edible gardens in the city which can be harvested by anybody …. anybody at all and the food is free!
The Growing Spaces team, run by Sandra Cortijo, plants these gardens in unloved and underused public spaces in Cambridge (having first received permission from the landowner!). There are currently six gardens dotted around the city – you can check out their locations on the website. “Each garden has its own story,” Sandra tells me. “They’re generally not high maintenance but they are regularly checked, so they’re kept healthy and tidy.”
If a volunteer can commit to giving some extra care during a growing season, the group will plant vegetables such as tomatoes, courgettes and beans. If not, they’ll plant herbs like rosemary, sage and thyme alongside fruit bushes.
Growing Spaces gardens for and with the community. Volunteers supply seedlings and nurseries often donate plants while YMCA volunteers build frames for the raised beds. The team installs, fills and plants these tall raised beds on the same day. To make sure that their edible gardens thrive, they have perfected the “lasagna method” of filling the beds with layers of cardboard, branches, hay, paper, soil, dried leaves, grass cuttings and mulch. This creates a nutrient rich permaculture that decomposes over time and needs less watering. You’ll find full details of this “lasagna method” on the Growing Spaces website under the “Resources” tab.
The group organises cycle tours of its gardens, so people can see what’s growing and where. It also has a free gardening club where people of all ages get together to grow their own vegetables and herbs. The team runs a fresh produce swap and share stall at events like the Pumpkin Festival, giving everybody a chance to share their excess allotment or garden produce or just to come and choose some fresh fruit, vegetables and herbs for free.
Growing Spaces is part of Transition Cambridge, an organisation which “aims to help the city make the transition to ways of life that are more resilient in the face of rising energy prices and a changing climate”. A grant from the Council got the Growing Spaces group started and Sandra got involved in 2013. Growing up, Sandra had always gardened with her mother and grandparents at home in France but had then stopped. “I relearned gardening with this group,” Sandra says “and really, no knowledge is necessary. We try things out and see what works best.”
If you’d like to volunteer to plan and plant with the team or if you know of a space in the city that needs care, just email Sandra through the Growing Spaces website.