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Twenty people planting on a large plot in a park - photo credit Hugh Warwick Twenty people planting on a large plot in a park - photo credit Hugh Warwick

Developing an Incredible forest garden in Oxford

By Sarah Ward

Incredible Edible Oxford have taken over a soggy patch of a public park and are creating an Incredible forest garden, which will be used by the local nursery and schools as well as those attending courses run by the group.

The group were already growing herbs in Florence Park, a traditional Victorian park in the East of Oxford, when the council asked if they would be interested in taking on a larger area.  Through a series of collaborative workshops the area was designed, with decisions taken on what to plant and where.  The team had observed the land over the seasons, so were able to take into consideration the challenge of waterlogging in the winter – Hazel trees don’t mind having their feet in water! – showing how important it is not to rush into planting and to have a flexible approach to your design.  Two almond trees, a plum, gage and damson trees have been planted, each forming the centre of a guild which informs the planting under the tree.  The guilds focus on pollinators, salad, medicinal plants, dye plants and edible flowers and herbal teas, with signage to explain about the plants and their uses, providing learning to anyone walking past.

The site also has a hugel bed, following the principles of hügelkultur, a self-supporting raised bed which flourishes on whatever waste plant materials you use to build it up, creating a great way to reuse plant waste to create a heat and nutrient rich raised bed which also requires less bending down to maintain.  And finally, there’s an edible hedge to protect the windy side of the site, with hawthorn, blackthorn, autumn olive and sea buckthorn which will produce crops for anyone to pick.

We know the key to a great Incredible growing site is somewhere that people regularly walk past, so because the site is in a well-used public park, there’s always lots of people passing by and making the most of the harvest, including dog walkers and folk attending outdoor exercise classes in the park.  The park is also used for community events, like an annual festival, and there’s a nursery in the park who are keen to get the children involved in learning and growing.  And as the site develops and matures there’s a local primary and secondary school which the group are keen to get involved in the site.

The site also provides a great practical resource for the certified courses run by Incredible Edible Oxford on a range of growing topics, with some places offered free to enable people who might not usually have the opportunity to gain a practical qualification, which can sometimes lead onto new employment opportunities.  The group run courses with people living in social housing so they can make productive use of the communal space close to their homes.  And Incredible Edible Oxford also engage with a range of other food and growing initiatives which run across the city, including working with businesses on topics like food waste and landscaping with edibles.  Incredible Edible groups spin the three plates in ways that fit with their local context, and this is how it happens in Oxford.

This is a great story showing the potential for developing a truly educational growing space and community resource in a public park.  If you’d like to find your local Incredible Edible group then search on our map here, or to start a group in your area sign up to our website to access our getting going resources.