1997 the Growfil Garden. The idea of urban food growing as a means to sustainability and better physical and mental health was emerging in 1997. A large number of people came to a meeting about it held in the barn at Hollybush. Most of them went away disappointed that we didn’t have a complete set of answers and a path forward. But a few of us stuck with it and decided to make a garden to demonstrate that it was possible to grow food in “A Leeds backyard”. We applied to the City Council for a grant and they gave us £500 for materials.
The group included Eric and Elsie Ostle, Deirdre West, Alan from Burley Model Allotments, Pete Middleton, myself and a couple of others whose names I’ve forgotten (my apologies to them).
The 5 x 6 m garden was in a corner where there had been large compost bays and we re-used the old railway sleepers and organic material we found there to make 2 raised beds. At one end we fixed panels, painted to resemble 2 windows and a door ,to the old stone wall that borders Leeds and Bradford Road. On one window I painted a black cat, reaching a paw up towards a butterfly. This represented “Snowy” (Hollybush humour) a jet black cat which had taken up residence in the wildlife garden. (Someone found her a new home eventually because she kept eating the wildlife.) On a later repainting one of the windows I featured the Gruffalo and the intrepid mouse from the children’s story. A real live bluetit made a nest in a crack in the stonework, raised a family, and bluetits continued to return to nest there year after year. Birds seem to feel safe at Hollybush, and often nested in the ivy on the wall.
In the Growfil garden we planted an apple tree and built domestic-scale compost bins. Eric commissioned a friend of his to carve a sign “Growfil Cottage” and made a gate. We put edible plants in all sorts of pots and containers, but it soon became apparent that these dried out too quickly. However, the raised beds and the rest of the garden were a success and continued in use for almost 20 years, being adopted by the Learning Disabilities project. The cottage garden was eventually swept away for the Roundhouse.
Two years later the Growfil group took on another corner of the same wall and planted a medieval herb garden which included a variety of apple, the Court Pendu Plat, which was grown in the middle ages. (This area is still a herb garden in 2019, but it has acquired a few more flowers and a seat for the smokers). The idea of the original herb garden was to show some the of many herbs that would have been used by the monks of Kirkstall Abbey. I wrote a short pamphlet about the plants. A lot of the information came from Ellis Peters’ book “Brother Cadfael’s Garden”, although I checked it using modern herbals. We had a celebration for the opening of the garden where some of us dressed in monk’s habits and a local herbalist, Donald Purves, talked to people about his uses for the same plants. Eric Ostle, being tall, spare and wise, particularly looked at home in a monastic habit and we speculated that we might have known each other a past life incarnation where we were both monks.
Eric and Elsie Ostle did a lot of work in the garden and continued to come to Hollybush once a week for several years. They were the sort of people it does your heart good to know. Both in their late seventies, they were lively, tolerant, and interested in every thing and everyone around them. They were founder members of the Soil Association, committed organic gardeners, vegetarians, with an active interest in natural complementary medicine. Eric in particular was a great conversationalist. He only stopped coming to Hollybush because he wanted to follow a part time university course in archaeology and Hollybush clashed with his field work day.
We remained friends. I visited Eric in hospital 2 weeks before he died of lung cancer at the age of 84 (He thought it was probably caused by exposure to asbestos during his work as an engineer during world war II.) The hospital nurses turned a blind eye to me staying long after visiting time finished – we talked for over 5 hours! Elsie was also articulate, and devoted to Eric, their family and to the environmental values they shared. After Eric’s death she moved south to be near her daughters, but she continued to write to me and to other friends she’d met at Hollybush.