As Brockwell Park Community Greenhouses prepare for a limited reopening to the public, Simone Richardson talked to director Kate Sebag and supporter Mateo Bayles
Brockwell Park Community Greenhouses are about to start opening to the public again. But while they have been closed to visitors and some volunteer gardeners, Kate Sebag’s role as director meant they remained open to her.
‘‘We had to keep working at the greenhouses during lockdown because otherwise all our greenhouse plants would have died,” she says.
“It was so hot and dry that there was a bit of watering and shade setting up to do!
“There has also been quite a lot of work managing everything to keep the working environment safe for the limited numbers of volunteers who have been working on the site.’’
Born and bred in Hampshire, and with an English Literature degree from Cambridge University, Kate Sebag has called Brixton home since 1986.
How was she drawn to gardening, and how did she get into working in the Brockwell Park Greenhouses?.
“I have always gardened, but in my 40s decided I wanted to get more experience, so enrolled in a Royal Horticultural Society course and signed up as a volunteer with Brockwell Park Community Greenhouses to get more experience. “When the job of director came up in 2016, I applied and luckily got the job’’
Kate has kept in touch with volunteers during lockdown and maintained online activities with a regular gardeners’ question time on Saturdays, yoga classes and a singing group.
There is good news for Elm Court School in Brixton. Its pupils, aged nine to 19 years who have learning difficulties, have started once again to garden their plots on Wednesdays.
“We have been harvesting broad beans, radishes and onions,” says Kate. “This week we have harvested quite a few raspberries and loganberries too.’’
There is no typical days at the greenhouses, she says, “which I like, as it keeps it lively, but half the day I might be writing our newsletter, responding to volunteers’ requests for information, having a chat with those who aren’t on email, developing new products for us to make to raise money for the charity, doing risk assessments and other administration.
“The other half I might take a school session at the gardens or run a volunteer gardening session.’’
At only seven years old, Mateo Bayles, who lives on Brixton Road, is a regular visitor with his mum and would love to work as a volunteer at the greenhouses, something Kate says he can definitely do when he is old enough.
His love and knowledge of plants, herbs, flowers and all wildlife is on public display via his Vlog, recorded in and around the Triangle adventure playground – London’s oldest – in Oval.
Mateo says his favourite flower is wisteria “because in spring they look beautiful dangling from the houses”.
His favourite tree is the maple “because I used to love playing with the helicopter seeds”. At seven, he probably still does!
Kate says it is very hard to choose her favourite flower, plant and herb, but “Right now, I am watching our two walnut trees very closely to see when the right time is going to be to pick our green walnuts to make pickled walnuts which will be ready in time for Christmas.
“If we leave it too long, the shells will have formed and the pickled walnut will be too crunchy.
“I love the fact that the walnut flower looks nothing like the walnut and that the walnuts look like brains – and are meant to be good for your brains – amongst other things.’’
Mateo loves watching David Attenborough on Blue Planet. “I discovered he was as interested as me in nature from the age of seven,” he says.
“I would love to meet him and be a brilliant nature presenter like him, and I hope to do that through working with Kate’’ – who will be happy to help.
“I think the need for shared beautiful open green spaces is even greater now than it was before the virus,” she says.
“It has confirmed to me the importance of allowing as many people as possible to enjoy our community gardens and greenhouses and to take part in the activities that we can put on there.’’
The great news is that, from Saturday 20 June, the greenhouses will be open at weekends from 11am to 4pm with a one-way system round the site.
For opening details and activities check the website
And don’t miss view Mateo’s vlog