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Chris Kelly’s Cable St Gardeners

July 18, 2017
by the gentle author

Photographer Chris Kelly returned to Cable St Community Gardens to take these vibrant portraits of the gardeners. Previously, Chris made a set of portraits in black and white, which became an exhibition and a book, and were also featured here on Spitalfields Life

Jane Sill – I hope to grow more vegetables in future. Other plants have taken over the space, especially poppies. They remind me of my grandfather who was wounded and left for dead of the first day of the Battle of the Somme, 1st July, 1916. He survived, was nursed in France and eventually brought back to this country. The Tibetan prayer flags were brought back from Lhasa by a friend.

Ray Newton – There are more younger people in the gardens now and more flowers. I’m still growing mainly vegetables. We’ve had a plague of snails this year because of the wet weather. I’m kept busy with my work as secretary of the History of Wapping Trust, I give talks and guided walks.

Anwara Begum – I’m growing more varieties of vegetables now. I have Bangladeshi pumpkins and different types of Bangladeshi cucumbers. I grow aubergines and chillies in my greenhouse – one of them is too hot even for me.

Manda Helal – Manda’s vines, pretty and delicious.

Marian Monas – I’ve been coming to the gardens for a few months. I live just around the corner. Eventually I hope to have a plot or to share one, but in the meantime I’m growing things in a raised planter. I’m happy with anything that grows really. I’ve got herbs, chard, rhubarb, lavender – and there are visits from a friendly rat.

Ron Osborne – I was one of the original gardeners here back in the seventies and I had a plot for about ten years. Then I started the Shadwell Basin Project for local youth and became involved with other things. I came back when Gina got this plot and we both spend time on it, but it’s basically hers.

Anne Herbert –  Anne moved out of the area in 2005 but always comes back to the gardens on Open Day and keeps in touch with some of the other gardeners. Part of Anne’s former plot is now a well stocked pond.

Ann Ahern – I moved to Tower Hamlets from Notting Hill in 1999 and I’ve had my plot here since 2005. I live just eight minutes away. I’m growing mixed flowers, a few vegetables and I have a pond. My nephew has a seed bed on part of the plot. I’m not so good with seeds.

Monir Uddin – My latest project is to specialise in roses. I’m transplanting them, but they are quite tricky to grow and it takes at least a year for the roots to become established. I’m a photographer and I hope to photograph the roses for cards and calendars.

Helen Keep

Emir Hasham – Emir’s plot houses one of two beehives introduced to the gardens recently.

Hasan Chowdhury – I’m twelve and I’m the youngest gardener here. I first came with our neighbour Angel, who has a cat, and then Jane let me take over these raised planters. I’m growing spinach and potatoes, three different types of pumpkins, peas and coriander. I first learned about gardening from my mum and I like it because gardening is fun.

Suzanne & Mark Lancaster – We started gardening here fairly recently. It’s lovely to come to this beautiful oasis of flowers, birds and greenness in the heart of the East End. We live on busy Brick Lane, so it’s a joy to have somewhere so pretty and tranquil for a break. We hope to grow french beans, rhubarb and herbs in our raised planters.

Devika Jeetun – I’ve been coming to the gardens for a long time. I had to give up my plot when I was caring for my brother and I’m on the waiting list now. I’m growing herbs and vegetables in raised planters – potatoes, tomatoes, runner beans, spring onions and coriander. And I’m looking forward to having a plot again.

Balkis Karim

Annemarie Cooper – I’ve been gardening here for sixteen years and I don’t bother so much with vegetables now, my garden is basically a wildlife area. Those of us who encourage frogs have been using lion poo to keep the cats away from the ponds and it seems to work.

Sheila McQuaid – My gardening is more organised now. I come here at least twice a week. I’m growing different types of vegetables such as squashes and courgettes and I use the greenhouse for tomatoes. But the fruit has not been so good this year, so I’m growing more herbs, especially varieties of mint – I’m into mint tea in quite a big way.

Photographs copyright © Chris Kelly

To learn more about Cable Street Community Gardens or buy copies of the Cable St Gardeners book, contact Jane Sill or visit

You may like to see the black and white series of Chris Kelly’s Cable St Gardeners

or take a look at these other pictures by Chris Kelly

Chris Kelly’s Columbia School Portraits 1996

Chris Kelly & Dan Jones in the Playground

8 Responses leave one →
  1. July 18, 2017

    The gardens are an oasis of peace in the bustle of the East End, and I am happy to see so many people enjoying and caring for them. If more people worked in gardens, the world would be a better place. Valerie

  2. July 18, 2017

    A splendid mix of gardeners we have on scene today, with a mix of cultures. They are all so photogenic ‘star posers’ I say, well done Chris Kelly. Not sure about the pussy’s are they interlopers, mousers or residents living in the sheds. These people are not just gardeners I detect a nice community here. My two favourites at the moment are mint & lavender both on my dream ticket. I bag up the lavenders then they go under my pillow. I see Sheila is into mint tea and the Lancaster’s are from the iconic Brick Lane, Hasan is doing well in his garden. Its all going on in this gardeners delightful place. Poet John. PS – Gardener’s I hope you read my blog, be happy in your garden every day, of course.

  3. Marpleyard permalink
    July 18, 2017

    Does anyone know if the Cable Street gardens were started on the site of Thirza street which was finally demolished un the ‘slum clearance’ of the mid sixties? I ask because I and my sister were born at no. 10 in 1950 and 1953. When my mother was seriously ill I was sent to a nursery at the local convent for day care and my grandfather who lived with us and was a stoker in the merchant marine (served in First World War at Jutland) used to look after their boiler. His name was William Palmer and several of the family lived in Thirza Street.

  4. July 18, 2017

    I’ve seen these gardens every day on my commute in from Southend and often wondered what the story is – a treat to find out their individual tales

  5. July 18, 2017

    I love these gardening posts. Next time I am down I will look out for them.

  6. Eva permalink
    July 18, 2017

    I live in Edmonton, Alberta, and found your site by wandering through book blogs. And so glad I did! This is a side of London I, as a tourist, have never seen, but–believe me–next time I go there I will visit Spitalfields. Thank you a most interesting view of London.

  7. July 19, 2017

    Long may the gardens continue to flourish…and its gardeners.

  8. Christine Ann permalink
    November 4, 2019

    I’d like to contact Chris Kelly regarding a celebration for a mutual friend Sybil. I believe that Chris lives in Kent/Maidstone now but have lost her email address. Can anyone help?

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