Gardening Against the Odds: Giving Hope to Hundreds of Disadvantaged Youth
GARDENER: Linda PhillipsLOCATION: Kennington. London SE11NOMINATED BY: Catey HillierIt’s impossible to imagine that where giant echiums now obscure the high-rises of the Vauxhall skyline,and roses tumble over the green roofed, solar-powered eco-training centre, this north Lambeth urbanoasis was once a scene from a war zone: its soil polluted with cadmium and lead, the site littered withasbestos lined prefabs, having been fly-tipped for decades.Sheer persistence and a knack for finding beauty in everything has kept Kew-trained Linda Phillipsoccupied for some 29 years, transforming this derelict site to an inspirational horticultural training projectfor young people at Roots and Shoots in SE11. Her vision and determination has made this formermunitions factory and barrage balloon site bloom in more ways than one.The project has given hope to hundreds of disadvantaged young people from south London. A gardentended by those with a wide range of needs: abuse, trauma, mental illness, as part of their horticulturaltraining, has silenced princes with its natural beauty (Prince Charles officially opened the eco-trainingcentre in 2007).This is gardening against the odds in extremis. When I was pasty white and depressed following the birth of my son in 2003 (undiagnosed hypothyroidism) I was encourage to recuperate on the bench in the wildlife garden. Roots and Shoots was my unfailing refuge through spells of anguish and loneliness. Here, half an acre of meadow, with a backbone of shrub roses (Kenningtons answer to Sissinghurst), is gently managed to encourage wildlife: grasshoppers, butterflies, bumble bees...The soil was so polluted that apple trees were planted in five foot trenches lined with pond liner. Where munitions workers once toiled in line, trainees now nurture seedlings in the polytunnel adjacent to the wildlife garden. Five years ago Roots and Shoots took over derelict land owned by Lambeth, adjacent to its southerly gate. On just 8" of soil and rubble from the remains of a demolished terrace of houses, trainees have created a summer meadow at Fitzalan Street Open Space.
Nevertheless, on balmy summer evenings when the garden opens for the NGS Yellow Book scheme,visitors who speak in Latin names, admire the innovative planting, and queue to buy Roots and Shootshoney, it is easy to forget the inhospitable origins of this magical garden.At a recent gardening talk I recall Ms Phillips answering a question about measures of success:"Much later in life, when a former trainee was asked when she was happiest, she said, here at Roots andShoots. Thats good enough for me."Therefore, I would like to nominate Roots and Shoots for the Gardening Against the Odds award inElspeth Thompsons memory, both for its wonderful garden, and not least for the ongoing training andsupport it provides to marginalized young people. Against all odds, Roots and Shoots has evolved as aplace which makes ones heart sing.