Tuesday 22 January 2019

A little open space brings us all closer

It's been less about food and more about flowers this week. Not at the allotments but at the nearby park where a group of neighbours have turned a neglected public space into an amenity.

Oscar Square park, or Rosary Park as it's also known, is a tiny triangle of grass, paths and cherry trees with a statue in the centre. For years it had three padlocked gates and a railing which children and dogs could squeeze through, but no access for their parents or owners. It had become a focus of fear about public drinking and drug use. Residents, especially those with tiny gardens and small children, looked over the railings longingly and asked why it was locked.

In the end it was relatively easy to get it opened. There was no selfish giant, like the Oscar Wilde children's story, denying the children access to this city garden. It took an approach to the City Council, a sympathetic official and a resident who became a keyholder. This person opens the gate in the morning and closes it at night.


In August, Oscar Square will have been open for a year. The railings have been painted. Instead of anti-social behaviour we've had lots of social behaviour. Picnics, bulb-planting, scooting masterclasses, small children decompressing from school or creche and umpteen kickabouts with a ball. Last weekend we held a planting party for the circular bed around the statue.

The City Council gave pallets of small summer-flowering plants. The most knowledgeable gardener was nominated to design the bed -- four quadrants divided by taller plants. And then we got stuck in. Children helped to keep the planting from getting too regimented. A couple of dozen people got involved. There was more than an hour of neighbourly chatting and planting. Then we swept up, bagged the rubbish and a bare patch was filled with green.

Back at the allotments an interesting rumour has swept the neighbourhood about the origins of our compost heap. It is, the local kids are saying authoritatively, elephant poo from the zoo. Others are convinced it's spent hops from the brewery. I like the elephant theory. It should mean we get giant vegetables. But the prosaic reality is that it's brown-bin waste, composted in Meath and delivered back here to help grow more food.

Meanwhile, this week marked the first allotment meal, not a complete meal, but delicious nonetheless. I harvested some pak choi -- this stuff grows so well it's a job to keep it from bolting yellow flowers and growing stringy -- and some of the Swiss chard.

A Jamie Oliver chicken stir fry with garlic, ginger, noodles and the briefly boiled greens was fantastic. We've had the Swiss chard a few times now, once with a butter and lemon sauce, the second time just steamed as a vegetable. It's my new favourite.

Every visit to the allotment brings another question-and-answer session with a passerby. How do I get one? I'm happy to tell them about the City Council waiting list. An information sign on the gate is in the pipeline to keep people informed when there's no-one gardening. Approval has just been given for a further 21 allotments on another brownfield site nearby. My pea plants are starting to poke through the soil to my great delight. Now I just have to stop myself becoming one of those tedious gardeners who opens the curtains to sodden grey conditions and thinks, "Mmmm. Good. Rain today. No need to water the allotment."

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