What is it about a lockdown that sees humans emerging out of their enclaves and venturing forth into nature? The moment we are told to stay behind our doors is the moment we seek earth and solace in the sun.
Gardens are a curious thing. They're a way in which humans can tame, claim and frame the earth – as if the earth was ever something up for the taking. Gardens can act as a place of privacy yet also leave humans exposed to nature. Growing up in the city of London, I enjoyed my back garden and never once thought about sharing it. To the urban dweller – shared spaces seemed to belong to the vernacular streetscapes and parks. 'Community garden' was not in my lexicon. In 2019 having just moved to Durham from London I began to see farms with animals, fruits and vegetables in a semi-wild state on country walks. I began to wonder what it might look like to bring this facet of nature into the city.
Learning from Naturvation, I divided six weeks of my 2019 summer between the offices in Durham and boroughs of Camden and Islington researching community gardens for sites of wellbeing and interaction. As a research opportunity, it was particularly valuable as I got to meet people from all walks of life- and learn the power of plants. When it came to the write-up it seemed as though my fieldnotes, questionnaires and interviews did not do justice to my experience of gardening. The story I wanted to tell about community gardens had to be a visual one and needed to be told through multiple lenses. As 2020 approached bearing new challenges I was devasted to not be able to return to Camden. Given so much data and experience having hands in the soil, a friend posed the idea of creating an academic blog to chart my experiences and observations.
More than a space for opinion pieces, an academic blog gave me the freedom to incorporate my photography alongside illustrations of some of the people I met, create updates with interviews from those working academically and those heading up projects. Somewhere in the space between a portfolio, a diary and a journal came this academic blog. I was so drawn to the study of community gardens as a place to experience vitality and growth, that my findings and outcome needed to be just as visual. The blog titled 'Project Community Garden' centres around the Calthorpe Project and Castlehaven Community Garden with photographs taken during my time.
Central to writing a blog is a time for personal reflection – and in such light, I would like to take this opportunity to thank three individuals who allowed this to happen. Suzanne - my Laidlaw university coordinator for pushing me to be more creative in the face of challenges, Nichola – my friend at Castlehaven who always made time for my interviews and finally my supervisor Professor Harriet Bulkeley for teaching me that research is a skill requiring practice, patience and inspiration – virtues I was incredibly fortunate to learn under such women.
Navya Lobo is studying BA Geography at Durham University