Gardening on the Roundabout
An annual ritual in Victoria Park Village at this season is the harvesting of the lavender on the roundabout, where Caroline Bousfield has been gardening for the past ten years with spectacular results. So I went along to lend Caroline a hand last week, out of curiosity at this extraordinary horticultural endeavour which happens in the midst of the traffic.
Wearing the regulation high-visibility vests that are an essential safety requirement for gardening on a roundabout, we crossed the road carrying secateurs and baskets. Even now at the end of summer when most city gardens are frazzled, the roundabout presented an impressive display of flowers, including valerian, marigolds, evening primrose, cosmos, achillea and euphorbia – all set against the dramatically contrasted foliage of Caroline’s planting which creates such a luxuriant vision for those passing on the bus or shopping on the other side of the street.
“It was before the days of guerrilla gardening,” Caroline informed me, revealing that when she first began gardening on the roundabout, it was borne out of a gardener’s frustration in witnessing the neglect of such an attractive location for planting.“There was just a mass of green vegetation with straggly weeds around the edge. Every time I walked past it my fingers would itch to pull some of it out and plant something better in its place. And I think I did, once or twice, before I realised I should ask permission.” she admitted, as if she had no choice in her actions. Over the intervening years, Caroline has entered into an agreement with the council to lease the roundabout so that she can continue tending it on their behalf. “I think things have changed and Hackney Council is more open to this kind of thing nowadays,” she confirmed sagely, as we started work, cutting the lavender in handfuls while the buses and trucks sped past just feet away.
Yet the pungent scent and the absorption of the work induced a state of concentration in which the presence of the traffic did not register. We were consumed by our task, gathering three large baskets of lavender – but leaving enough for the bees that swarmed upon the plants, equally preoccupied in their work. And, once the lavender was cut, it was time for tidying up. I undertook the unravelling of bindweed which was choking the smaller shrubs, while Caroline pruned the buddleias that had reached the end of their flowering. As the branches were cut away, she called me over to see the scattered paper and foil food packets revealed beneath the buddleia – the debris of foxes’ takeway dinners scavenged from the bins and enjoyed here in peace, as a moonlight picnic within the depths of the shrubbery at the heart of the roundabout.
Carrying the armfuls of pruned branches off the roundabout proved to be an activity which required a certain knack to find the gap in the traffic and haul it across to the pavement in time. In this task, Caroline demonstrated expertise borne of experience and an innate sense of timing, while I undertook the less challenging work of carrying the lavender. Then we stashed the sweet-smelling baskets in Caroline’s pottery workshop nearby where she has been making and selling her own pots since 1975. Here she stores the lavender in the loft of this former carriage house, and when Caroline fires the kiln it fills the entire workshop with a powerful and intoxicating scent. By making her lavender up into bags and selling it through the local shops, Caroline makes enough money to pay for any new plants that are added to the roundabout each year. Although she also confided to me that she was off on holiday to Cornwall, where she hoped to get some seeds of a deeper-coloured valerian which grows wild on the cliffs there.
People driving past and travelling on buses may wonder about the mystery of the familiar “lady on the roundabout,” but there is no secret. Over ten years, Caroline has created a widely-admired garden and a known landmark, distinguished by a more lyrical style of planting than the standardised design of the corporate-sponsored roundabouts which exist elsewhere. During this time, Caroline’s roundabout has become a centrepiece for the life that surrounds it and a symbol of the thriving community in Victoria Park Village. Today, Caroline’s roundabout pays for itself and sustains itself without watering. Caroline’s roundabout owes its existence to her knowledge, insight and imagination, and her passionate and committed gardening.
“People do notice,” she confided to me in modest satisfaction, as she sat in the cool of the workshop to take a break, drink a glass of water and catch her breath.
“a certain knack to find the gap in the traffic and haul it across to the pavement in time”
Enough lavender left to satisfy the bees.
The lavender harvest of 2012 in Victoria Park Village.
Caroline Bousfield - “People do notice.”
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