The Lemon Pip Garden is attached to the Abbey Centre in Victoria – it is a space for people and plants to grow. We first became involved in this as part of the social strategy for 105 Victoria Street, a commercial project in Westminster that we have been working on since 2020 with developer BentallGreenOak for Welput. The Abbey Centre is a multi-facetted hub serving the community near Westminster Abbey, in London. This area is very mixed; as well as the wealthly and influential residents you might expect, there are many social housing projects, recently arrived residents granted asylum (many of whom do not speak english), high indices of social deprivation and rough sleepers. The Abbey Centre wanted to make a community garden that could be used by different groups who regularly used the centre.
When we first saw the garden, it was a jumble of stacked furniture, containers overrun with bamboo, and a few other unwanted objects. An enormous Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus henryana) was growing three stories up one side of the courtyard, seemingly out of almost nothing.
Amazingly, in amongst the tables and chairs were a couple of gems – Lemon trees, complete with fruit! No-one knew how they had got there or when they arrived – the consensus was ‘at least thirty years’. As soon as I looked at them, I realised they had grown from seed – each from a single lemon pip. Citrus are not normally hardy in the UK, but London has a unique microclimate, and this courtyard was well protected from the worst of the winter weather.
I mused on these trees, thinking that they were a wonderful metaphor. They had come from a distant country, and were planted here in Central London. And, despite all the odds had not only survived, but grown and borne fruit. We decided to make them the main feature of the garden. We worked with Mark Linehan from the Abbey Centre and creative agancy J2 (who were part of the 105 Victoria Street team) on a name and identity for the garden. ‘The Lemon Pip Garden’ was soon a favourite.
Meanwhile, Wing Tang from the B&W Design department had been working with the Abbey Centre on a layout for a few weeks, agreeing all the details. In line with the sustainable aims of the development, the containers were almost all rescued from other sites, and had been returned to our warehouse.
After a lot of planning, work started on the garden. Once a small team from the Abbey Centre had removed what was to be kept, Erith (the demolition team from 105VS) made short work of clearing out the existing bits and pieces and jet-washing the paving. The railings and other metal work was soon cleaned up and repainted by Clipfine (again from 105VS). Jeff Stephenson – Head of Horticulture at Bowles & Wyer – was on hand to carefully lift and root prune the Lemon Trees, ready to be replanted in new containers. The re-purposed containers from our store were cleaned and moved into place according to Wing’s plan.
Finally, it was ready for soiling and planting. Jason Lock from Boughton had kindly agreed to supply the topsoil for the planters. Once this was in place, we could plant the specimen tree (supplied by Deepdale Trees). We had chosen a Crataegus prunifolia, which would give blossom and some fruit for birds – although hopefully not so much as to be a nuisance!
Along with the garden, we felt that an indoor space was needed for tool storage, potting up and planning, so that even in poor weather activities could continue. An adjoining room was made available and was soon re-fitted and decorated by members of the Clipfine team before being fitted with a sink, toolstore and potting bench.
At the end of the main installation, everybody got together to celebrate. The garden will now take on a life of its own. The garden club is made up of a number of interested groups that use the abbey Centre. Following its completion, these various groups will get together to plant it up with fruits, vegetables and salad crops. This is the best part of a community garden – it is never finished as such – the end is just the beginning. It’s all about the journey…