The high-rise blocks and grubby victorian streets in London’s East End accommodate a culturally rich and varied population, but not so much in the way of biodiversity. The Phytology project, by arts commissioning organization Nomad, will create a medicinal garden in Bethnal Green. Artists and botanists are working together to change perceptions of the range of flora found on derelict urban sites, by encouraging people to use these plants to improve their health.
Inhabitat writer Liz Eve visited the modest plot tucked away between the Hackney, Bethnal Green and Cambridge Heath roads to discover a calm green refuge from the busy inner-city. Michael Smythe from Nomad told us “the site requires you to observe and listen instead of just delivering and reacting”. He hopes “that people start connecting the relationship between this unmanicured growth, health & wellbeing, their bodies and their urban environment, valuing what is easily overlooked”
The project references grand botanical schemes such as Kew Gardens and the Chelsea Physic Garden, but with a contemporary, urban and DIY feel. The planting scheme developed by ethno-botanist Dr. Peter Giovannini concentrates on plants we usually disregard and call weeds.
Nomad are working on land where a church was destroyed by WWII bombs. In the 1980s a fence was erected around the site to discourage rubbish being dumped on top of the rubble. Since then, natural plant life, indigenous trees, flowers, herbs and weeds were able to grow unchecked behind steel railings. Members of the local Teesdale & Hollybush Estate Tenants & Residents Association and various volunteers are working with Nomad to manage the site, deal with polluted soil and introduce new plants.
To encourage visitors to explore the properties of the vegetation, illustrator Talya Baldwin is drawing and cataloging each species. The upcoming Phytology website will display these drawings alongside information about how to use the plants to enhance wellbeing and heal. Street artist VHILS will work with the concrete and brick forms remaining in and around the the garden to create edgy, graphic and informative interventions.
From early 2014 onwards a self sustaining meadow full of bio-medical potential will thrive, with regular opening hours, education and events. Smythe tells Inhabitat “The project will be successful if people feel they can confidently harvest the meadow for personal medicinal and nutritional use” Not only will a beautiful verdant oasis be opened up for more people to enjoy, the project will also radically alter how many people perceive plants within our urban environment.
Photos by Michael Smythe