Cactus Kitchens couldn’t be in a more urban setting, but we are surrounded by many green-fingered neighbours. Just a short distance from the cookery school an astonishing number of crops are flourishing in unlikely places. From the subterranean micro greens factory Growing Underground, blooming beneath Clapham High Street to the joyful Edible Bus Stops along the route of the 322 from Crystal Palace to Clapham Common. Alight here for Bandstand Beds.
A corner of Clapham Common, that was once an unlovely green waste depot has been transformed by a group of volunteer gardeners into an edible oasis and thriving community garden, Bandstand Beds. And they’re not alone.
Founded in 2013 by a group of gardening enthusiasts interested in sustainability and food growing the Bandstand Beds began with a few raised beds by the bandstand on Clapham Common and a few fruit bushes in shady patch near by. The aim was to provide a space where the local community (particularly people with no outdoor space of their own) could discover the joys and benefits of growing their own food. With funding and support from the borough of Lambeth and various charities including The Princes Trust, Tesco Bags of Help and Awards for All, the group has grown from 10 to over 90 volunteer members. So successful has the project been that the gardeners will soon start work reclaiming another tract of the waste depot.
Now in high summer, the raised beds spill over with peas, beans, courgettes and salad greens, seedlings are nurtured in a polytunnel and a magnificent shipping container turned field kitchen, has just been installed in time for a season of fundraising Cook-ups.
It is a day of quite un-British heat when Cactus Kitchens arrives at Bandstand Beds. Sun flowers tower majestically over the garden and the sunbathers spread out across the common. Despite the heat, the Bandstand’s plants have remained upright thanks to the diligence of the volunteers who take turns to water them in hot spells. Clapham’s cooking and food blogging duo Will Howell and Conor Harte Howell and Harte are already eyeing up the produce and deciding what to cook for lunch. But first, Gemma our Cactus Kitchens chef and tutor takes to the stage to give the assembled crowd of veg loving gardeners a taste of our knife skills class. Expertly slicing her way through a pile of picked large onions, Gemma gave the gardeners plenty of tips and shortcuts for getting their freshly harvested crops from plot to plate swiftly and elegantly.
Then it was Howell and Harte’s turn to pluck handfuls of the broad beans, garden peas and courgettes growing furiously before their eyes. Quicker than you could say fast food the resourceful pair was dishing up a delightful lunch from their expertly kitted out shipping container kitchen of risotto verde with goat’s cheese spritzed with sage oil and accompanied by crunchy tobacco onion rings and a summer salad.
A few months earlier the volunteers had planted seeds in the ground in the hope and promise of good things to come. Now they were sharing the rewards of their common labour. What could be more satisfying?
The therapeutic benefits of gardening to mental and physical health are well documented. Chair of Bandstand Beds David Dandridge is keen to share this productive vegetable patch with as many people as possible who could benefit from time outdoors - from the very young to the very old.
Don't forget to come down to Clapham Common and eat, drink and generally be very merry with us at the Community Cook Up in celebration of @londonfoodmonth this weekend. We're joining the wonderful @ccbandstandbeds & @howellandharte for what promises to be an exceptional day (with exceptional weather... we hope). We'll be giving a Knife Skills taster session where you can come along and learn how to use a knife with confidence. Tickets are free, follow the link in our bio to reserve yours now.
Unlike allotments which can have discouragingly long waiting lists and demand enormous commitment, Bandstand welcomes volunteers from all walks of life who can give as much of their time as they are able. Volunteers meet on Wednesdays and Saturdays throughout the year. David urges people to come along, dig in and have fun.
We can’t wait to get our hands dirty.
JOIN US FOR KNIFE SKILLS - THE ROUX way
Looking to hone your kitchen skills and gain practical hands-on guidance on how to sharpening your knives?
Join us for our half-day introductory Knife Skills- The Roux Way course. Saturday afternoons - £149.