OpenFoodGardens articles

Focus on  Marshalwick Lane – an OpenFoodGarden in September 2014

Helen Haran, a retired educational psychologist, has been growing her own food at home on and off since bringing up her children, and now her grandchildren often help out in the garden. Her confidence has grown so much that she opens her garden up every year as part of Transition St Albans’ annual OpenFoodGarden programme.

This year her large garden is open to visitors on Sunday 7th September, and is the last of the five gardens in St Albans district that have taken part in this year’s very successful OpenFoodGarden programme.

amberwithcasablancaThe programme encourages visitors to be inspired by different food garden designs, and to get ideas, tips and techniques for growing their own food at home.

Helen is a keen volunteer with Transition St Albans and is especially involved with the Food Group. “Eating your own produce is glorious,” she says, “and my favourite is purple-sprouting broccoli, or anything that grows well.” Her other successes in the garden this year have been green beans, tomatoes and Swiss chard.

The garden, which has a range of shrubs, lawn and seating area, includes fruit trees, with a recently planted quince, and soft fruit including a jostaberry, raspberries and blackberries.

squashThere are narrow beds for vegetables with sea kale, purple sprouting broccoli, courgettes and collards) and a few potatoes are grown in potato sacks. Lettuce and endives are also grown. The garden has several composters and water butts and many features to attract birds and other wildlife, including a small pond.

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Slugs or not to slug
Although Helen’s garden isn’t organic, she only uses small amounts of fertiliser, and refuses to use pesticides. She says that the best way of ridding the plants of aphids is using washing-up liquid, and the way to get rid of slugs is removing them by hand.



While Helen does most of the gardening, her husband, Nicolas maintains the lawn with a hand-push lawn mower, kept permanently on the highest cutter level. For more information about hand-pushed lawn mowers, click here for newspaper article about them with tests and recommendations.



Go For it!

Asked if she has any tips for budding food gardeners Helen simply says:

Go for it! It’s worth being able to grow your own, even if it’s only a few salad leaves, just for the pleasure and the taste”.

FoodSmiles and HomeGrown Food events

Becky Alexander in the Herts Ad
Thursday, June 19, 2014

I visited the FoodSmiles community growing project last week over near Hammonds End Farm, on the edge of Harpenden, and we were surrounded by trees, with horses playing in the fields near by. It was an idyllic, relaxing place to be, yet it has also been a hive of activity in the past few months.

Kick started by some members of Transition St Albans and Candice Luper, the sustainability officer at St Albans Council, FoodSmiles St Albans developed from a steering group of keen growers. The idea is that members help with whatever needs doing, whether preparing the beds or tending seedlings and plants, and in return, share in the harvest. There are similar Community Supported Agriculture schemes around the country, but this is the first in our area.

The site near Hammonds End was chosen as it was the right size for the group, and farmers Stuart and Howard are very supportive of the scheme. Work started in April to clear and plough the land.

Site coordinator Naomi Distill gave me a guided tour and explained how the site had been divided into 22 beds ready for planting, along with three polytunnels. The group received donations from Aylett’s Nursery of tools, wheelbarrows and water butts which has really helped them make swift progress.

The seeds and plants are grown organically, and the group make their own organic compost. We could see rows of plants starting to thrive, along with further seedlings in the tunnels. Inside the tunnels we spotted tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and courgettes, and the herb beds nearby were looking very healthy too.

The group plans to focus on vegetables at the moment, but fruit bushes and trees may follow at a later stage. I asked Naomi why she had got involved, and Naomi explained that although she already looks after an allotment, she wanted to help with the initiative to get it going and to “grow a true new source of local food”.

Naomi explained that they may take on another site in St Albans in the future. At the moment the group has about 10 spaces left for new members – email the secretary at or follow them on twitter (there is no website).

Members pay an annual fee of £50 or £100 and commit to one or two working parties on site each month, on Wednesdays afternoons and evenings until dusk and on Saturday afternoons. FoodSmiles aim to be at the St Albans Farmer’s Market on July 13 if you would like more information. You can also follow what the planting is, and the daily tribulations and successes are on twitter @FoodSmilesStA. They are also on Facebook at foodsmilesstalbans.

Open Food Gardens

Now in its fifth year, this event is always very popular. This is a wonderful chance to visit local gardens to see how you can grow fruit, vegetables and herbs, in whatever space you may have.

You can ask for advice, and seek inspiration. Organised by Transition St Albans, the aim is to encourage more people to grow their own food and it’s an enjoyable way to meet your neighbours. We have taken the children along in the past and we have been inspired to grow vegetables for the first time this year, alongside our rampant fruit bushes and herbs. If we can do it, anyone can.

Parking can be tricky near the open gardens, so walk or cycle if you can. Sadly, dogs (except guide dogs) are best advised not to go along and wheelchair access is restricted as some of the gardens are tiny with narrow paths.

Skills Sharing

You may also be interested in the informal monthly drop-in sessions on garden skills sessions run by Heather Teare and June Whetherly from now till September (see for more info).

Open Food Gardens 2014 programme Each garden is open 3-5. Suggested donations of £2 for adults. Saturday, July 5, 2 The Almonds (off The Poplars), AL1 1UZ, Sunday July 13, 24 Oaklands Lane, AL4 OHR, Friday, August 15, 23 Gresford Close, AL4 OUB, Sunday September 7, 104 Marshalswick Lane, AL1 4XE

One response to “OpenFoodGardens articles

  1. Pingback: OpenFood Garden Event – Be Inspired! Sunday 7th Sept | Transition St Albans

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