A Tree Grows in Brixton
Just a few short years ago, in 2017, when Britain was still in the EU and people bustled about city streets without a care for global contagions, Brixton made headlines for an environmentally notorious reason. The intersection of Brixton Road and Coldharbour Lane blazed through the legal limits for nitrogen dioxide (NO2) just 120 hours into January 2017. Rather than bemoan becoming London’s most polluted road, a group of citizens took action to tackle the problem with nature’s original air filters – trees! Trees have the remarkable ability to absorb NO2 and use it to build amino acids, in addition to transforming CO2 into oxygen that we breathe. What was once a neglected patch of Rush Common at the intersection of Brixton Road and St. Matthew’s Road, is now a blossoming, vibrant and welcoming orchard that beautifies the road and tackles air pollution.
Brixton Orchard broke ground in March 2017 with the aim to create a community space that reconnected people to food and nature, while also addressing the vehicle emissions problem. The project was a collaborative undertaking between Brixton BID, Urban Growth London, the Open Orchard Project, and Mayor of London’s Air Quality Fund. Three years later, there are 35 fruit trees, an edible hedgerow, and sustainable fencing, all planted and built by volunteers.
The variety in the orchard is exceptional, given its small size. Currently there are apple, pear, quince, plum, damson, cherry, sloe, rose hip, hawthorn, mulberry, gooseberry, and alpine strawberry plants thriving together in the orchard. Many of the varieties are from English heritage and showcase a unique and diverse selection that can’t be found in the nearest supermarket. Each tree is tagged with an informative card, detailing what it is, its history and growing habits to spark curiosity and educate. The plants were also selected with biodiversity in mind, ensuring a healthy and resilient mix would take root and feed pollinators all year round. The hope is the orchard will become its own ecosystem that may also strengthen and support the rest of Rush Common, and possibly even benefit Brockwell Park.
While air quality is vital to our health as city dwellers, the orchard has the equally important role of being for the people and animals of Brixton. The orchard is maintained by Urban Growth, but relies wholly on volunteers to care for the plants. All are welcome to enjoy the space, whether for a short, peaceful wander or to get your hands dirty and help out. Weekly volunteer sessions are held on Thursdays and gardening workshops are coming back to the schedule. There is so much to learn about planting, biodiversity and horticulture in this brilliantly crafted corner of Brixton. The orchard is so inviting, it even had a pheasant briefly take up residence in 2018.
Brixton orchard is a testament to what can be achieved when a community comes together to care for their neighbourhood. By Urban Growth’s estimates, when buses were running at normal capacity, over 500,000 people would pass the orchard every day via the many buses that travel through Brixton Hill. They hope this flourishing green space lifts the spirits of those passing by and allows us all to breathe a bit easier. A little bit of the countryside is now in Brixton, and you’re invited to enjoy it, visit, participate and make it yours.
Sign up to volunteer: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/o/urban-growth-learning-gardens-9835383098
Learn more at https://urbangrowth.london/project/brixton-orchard/