Joanna Milewska and Tunde Morakinyo of the Friends of Meath Gardens write:
Meath Gardens is a jewel of a park that is still one of London’s best kept secrets. Set back from Roman Road, it is often overlooked for better known green spaces in East London. Formerly Victoria Park Cemetery, it was converted into a park in 1895. It fell into decline during the wars and even had a chemical plant built on part of its grounds in the 1950s and 60s. In 2005 and the following decade, new buildings were added to the east along the canal and to the south along the railway during which, the gardens were re-landscaped but still remained relatively neglected.
In 2015 a group of residents came together to form the Friends of Meath Gardens (FoMG) and agreed a landscape strategy with London Borough of Tower Hamlets (LBTH) to rejuvenate the green space with emphasis on making Meath Gardens a better place for the community and for wildlife. Over the last three years, FoMG have received donations of trees, shrubs and bulbs from various sources and held regular volunteering days (including this woodland planting day), planting and maintaining mostly native vegetation by dedicated residents.
A few months ago, FoMG asked John Archer, the LBTH Biodiversity Officer, for advice regarding enhancement of biodiversity and habitat creation in the Gardens. They mutually agreed to plant native hedges, install bat and bird boxes, create woodpiles for invertebrates and to plant shrubs and perennials which attract wildlife.
With this in mind, FoMG have been especially busy over this last winter:
- In November FoMG received a donation of 50 trees (oak, beech, birch, rowan and elder) and 350 native shrubs from the Mayor of London and 6,000 native English bluebells from LBTH. An army of 60 volunteers from all over London worked hard and successfully planted the bluebells under trees in one corner of the park. The shrubs were planted to create a native hedge along the eastern edge of the gardens and small trees were planted to enrich native woodland areas.
- In December, another 30 volunteers planted 2,500 daffodils in the native woodland area of the gardens (along the southern edge of the gardens near the railway) and tulips and hyacinths in beds near the Victorian Arch entrance. Common buckthorn shrubs donated by the Biodiversity Officer were also planted to attract Brimstone butterflies.
- In January and February, over four weekends, the Friends planted 9 fruit trees (apples, mulberry, quince, pears, cherries and plums) to create an orchard near the allotments and another 440 native and ornamental shrubs. Many of these are fruiting and flowering shrubs, specifically planted to encourage wildlife, and they extended the native hedge around much of the Gardens’ perimeter.
- The last task in February was to spread 50 cubic meters of leaf mould, donated by LBTH, across the Gardens. Leaf mould, produced locally by LBTH’s Green Team, will support the soil structure, add nutrients, retain moisture, attract wildlife and will give boost to the new planting.
With each of these volunteering events, the Friends have worked closely with LBTH to agree the planting upfront, and have been supported with LBTH’s tools and rangers. This wonderful joint effort has been recognized with a Green Flag Award, a Community Tree Planting Award from the Forestry Commission and a Tower Hamlets In Bloom Award of Excellence for Community Engagement and Participation.
FoMG’s dream is to eventually have Meath Gardens upgraded to a Site of Borough Importance for Nature Conservation (SINC) and for the Gardens to become an urban haven for thriving wildlife – a place where Nature can be observed, felt and enjoyed not only by the local residents but by everyone visiting the Gardens.