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Urban Veg

watering seedlings at Winterbourne 
Working on the Urban Veg plot at Winterbourne House and Gardens
Once we had recruited the participants of Urban veg the first step was to find out what they were interested in growing. Some had a very clear idea, some were less certain and many were interested in learning how to grow food at home in limited space or in containers indoors. This prompted a change to the original plan. Having been quite adamant that all crops should be grown outside in the plot, it became clear that the project plan would have to be flexible and able to adapt to the participants needs. Urban veg now includes a dedicated glasshouse for those vegetables that prefer a warmer environment, outside of which you will find the Urban veg container grown potatoes proving that almost anything can be grown in a pot.

Throughout the project we have held a number of informal workshops that aim to tie-in environmental messages linked to the activities being undertaken by the participants. A desire to remain as organic as possible has prompted participants to produce their own organic liquid feed using comfrey leaves and it is hoped that the carrot root fly have been thwarted with companion planting of marigolds in amongst the rows of carrots. Participants have been introduced to ideas stemming from permaculture with regards to the most efficient use of space. By planting fast cropping vegetables in-between rows of slower growing plants they are achieving the highest yield from the available space therefore growing many more vegetables than would otherwise have been possible.

The Urban veg plot is located in Winterbourne’s walled garden and in order to give the plot a strong identity and distinguish it from the rest of the garden one of the participants created a wooden plaque that would be meaningful to both participants and visitors. The plaque, coupled with the unusual calligraphy of the multilingual plant labels, has raised visitors’ interest in the project. Interpretation boards have been created with the assistance of the participants, to further inform visitors. The languages that appear on the interpretation, English, Arabic, Urdu and Somalian, have been chosen to reach the widest possible audience.

The rapidly changing nature of a project based around growing plants requires a means of editing interpretation. To address this issue a monthly newsletter is produced throughout the project with input from participants. The newsletter is made available on the Winterbourne website and a hard copy is placed on the plot. The most rapidly changing piece of interpretation appears beside the plot in the form of a chalkboard that is updated weekly by participants in a range of languages. This is where they tell visitors what they have undertaken that week.

Urban veg has only been in progress for four months, however the plot has been transformed from bare earth to a productive vegetable garden. Whilst some vegetables will take several more months to mature, we have already started to harvest faster growing crops such as lettuce, rocket, spinach, mangetout and coriander. By the end of October, when the project draws to a close, participants from both the Muslim communities of Birmingham and Winterbourne House and Garden will take away many new skills and cultural insights from the experience.


by Phil Smith, Winterbourne House and Garden, University of Birmingham, UK