The creator of a garden just metres from the Brixton Road that produces grapes for red wine and other fruits and vegetables is appealing for help to save this unique local treasure.
John Spicer, who lives in Angell Terrace near the police station, has spent more than 11 years creating a wonderful garden behind the terrace.
It is also a wildlife haven – one of the few places in central London where pied wagtails, for instance, can be seen.
But Lambeth council’s housing department is threatening to grub up the garden at the end of this week.
Spicer has encountered unexplained hostility to his garden over several years from a minority of other residents of the terrace. One of them did serious damage to the garden in recent years from which it is still recovering.
It contains 29 mature vines producing Black Hamburg grapes, perhaps one of the tastiest dessert varieties in the world.
Duncan Law, chair of Transition Town Brixton, said the council should be “protecting and supporting” the garden not digging it up.
In a letter to senior councillors and local MP Helen Hayes he says: “It is a demonstration project of sustainable, productive gardening and food-growing in an urban environment that should be used as an academy for the future not returned to ‘green concrete’ – grass that yields no biodiversity and little amenity benefit.
“It has featured in several tours by Incredible Edible Lambeth of exemplary food-growing spaces in Lambeth.”
Law said he is a “champion of the rapid system change that we will need to negotiate and survive the climate and other changes that are coming down the line.
“Urban food growing is an essential part of the transition to a net zero Lambeth by 2030, reducing food miles to yards, supplying up to 30% of the fruit and vegetables that Lambeth needs every year (much of which is currently imported), fostering biodiversity, beauty, community involvement around food – a potent rallying point (as the Loughborough Farm and the 100-plus community growing spaces in Lambeth evidence), mental and physical well-being, some relief from food poverty as well as community resilience, which we so need in an era of increasing challenges.”
Law taught on a permaculture course that Spicer did in 2000, when he was also a key volunteer at Brockwell Park Community Greenhouses.
“He has been a champion and practitioner of permaculture – the design philosophy that is the foundation of the global transition movement – ever since,” said Law.
“He is a system thinker, solutionist and pioneer – and, like many prophets, is undervalued and persecuted in his own time.
“Given that by our own government’s risk assessment we will be experiencing Mediterranean temperatures before the end of the century in the summer, John’s conception of an urban viticulture industry is not fanciful.
“Indeed, he is doing a pretty good job already. There is already a Brixton Beer produced from hops grown in people’s gardens and Vauxhall City Farm.
“The Urban Wine Company makes wine from grapes grown in London gardens, famously Chateau Tooting.
“John himself has made wine, jams, grape juice as well as amazing dessert grapes.”
Law said Helen Hayes can vouch for his vintage, as can the Blog.
“Vines are a big multi-functional solution for a warming world,” Law said.
“They can grow up buildings without harm or on pergolas in gardens and produce shade … and heat-gain reduction which will be essential, especially on solid walls, whilst also producing a productive crop.
“John is a real expert in this field and could advise communities and estates on turning this into a productive, community enterprise which could even generate employment as well as resilience and well-being.”
The Angell Terrace garden also produces herbs and vegetables as well as other fruit and soft fruit.
A beautiful sumac tree is also threatened with destruction when, Law says, it is actually a source of high value spice that could be harvested to make delicious drinks and even spice to sell.
He tells the council: “I beg you to IMMEDIATELY put a stay of execution on the destruction of this amazing garden, explore with John and perhaps Incredible Edible Lambeth and Lambeth’s climate and community teams, how this essential ‘future resource’ for Lambeth’s transition can be supported and how John’s initiative over 10 years can be harnessed to contribute to the urgent transition.
“I look forward to hearing this week that the destruction, scheduled for the end of this week or early next, will not proceed. And that a plan will be put in place to support John and this garden to be vital pioneers for a productive, biodiverse, beautiful future in all the gardens and green spaces of Lambeth.”
I have been a resident of Brixton Terrace for almost forty years. I have been under the impression since mid-december of 2021 that the communal back garden is going to be reclaimed for the whole community of all of the terrace residents. I and many other residents have been subject to long-standing abuse from Mr Spicer both inside and nearby our communal garden about which he is aggressively territorial. This has meant that for roughly 10 years now I and other residents have not been able to enjoy the communal garden because John Spicer was so frequently present there and and made most residents feel very unwelcome a lot of the time.
For many years John has behaved as if he owns the back garden. He exerts great control over it. He makes rules for how people should use it and tries to prevent certain people from using it by intimidating them. In the past couple of years Mr Spicer has been serially harassing any residents who own a dog. He tries to bully them out of the garden.
I was present on the day that the photograph in the blog with John Spicer and Imogen Walker was taken. Just prior to the photograph, John had been racially abusing me and making every attempt he could to get me to leave the garden while his photo opportunity was taking place.
Very little work has been carried out on any part of the garden over the past 3 years or so. It has become very overgrown.
In this neglected state it has encouraged vermin and a colony of foxes that for many years have been leaving their mess and stench for us residents to contend with. Also, during the summer’s drug addicts have come to use the overgrown area more frequently for their drug taking. They have even become so bold as to openly use their drugs on our garden bench.
The garden is not about one person. It is about all of the residents of the terrace.
I welcome Lambeth council’s pledge to restore our garden to most of its original state.
The residents of the terrace voted democratically as to the outcome of this garden. The garden has been sadly neglected for many years now and no longer represents anything similar as to the pictures featured in this article. It’s become dirty, disgusting and dangerous – therefore the residents all voted to move this garden into the future where all residents of the terrace could enjoy it.
Here’s hoping to a follow up article where the Brixton Blog can come by and see the new garden being enjoyed by all the tenants, as the misinformation being peddled on this post is a far cry from the sad reality of the current communal situation.
After many, long years of distressing harrassment of many of us residents of Brixton Terrace, particulatly of some of us who are elderly, female or of a different race to Mr Spicer and of one female who was terminally ill, we were, in mid December 2021 finally given the opportunity to be heard and supported by Lambeth Council in our endeavour to restore in some measure the now dangerous, unsightly and entirely overgrown, unkept and neglected communal garden of the terrace which used to be a pleasant space available for all to enjoy and have social gatherings in. One third of our garden has been dominated by Mr Spicer who has exerted a reign of social terror over it and has prevented all other residents but one from feeling safe enough to plant anything they would like in any part of it.
Furthermore, the densely overgrown bushes and brambles of the back garden in the last yeat became a hiding and using space for many local drug addicts which made going into the garden just as frightening as when Mr Spicer is in it.
Mr Spicer has for two years now left an enormous amount of gardening paraphernalia and clutter in the back garden, a large amount of which is very sharp and dangerous for the children of some of the residents who play in the garden sometimes. Many of the brambles are thorny so these are hazardous for children as well.
Mr Spicer has not been willing or able it seems in the past 2 years to clear the clutter or the growth yet anytime council workers came to try to prune it or clear the clutter, Mr Spicer had ostracised them away.
Therefore, we residents are inexpressibly grateful for the time and actions of our housing officers and to Councillors Scarlett O’Hara and Donatus Anyanwu for, in mid December, giving us the opportunity to convene a very democratic meeting amongst 14 residents about the immediate future of the garden in which it was unanimously decided by vote of 13 to 1 that the dangerous brambles & shrubs should be cleared from the garden, along with the dangerous clutter and that all of the 60 or so residents should all be offered a small patch to garden, rather than just one resident being allowed to garden a third of the garden.
Many residents appreciate the fruit trees John planted and successfully nurtured to their current maturity. Some residents requested that these trees should stay, and Lambeth Council has honoured this.
The sumac tree had become an issue with some residents due to its nature of springing up in different places in the garden. Lambeth saw fit to examine it and it was chopped down some weeks ago – therefore the information in the article about it is a little outdated.
The brambles are dangerous and the garden area is dangerous and useless. There are multiple crack heads who climb over the fence and use the area to hide and take drugs. John is also verbally abusive and pretty unreasonable. John does not actually let anyone else contribute to this area of the garden. With over 44 flats it’s a shame that over half the garden is controlled by one man. This garden is dangerous for the multiple children who live in the block and are unable to use the space at all. It’s so unused multiple foxes hang out there throughout the day. There is a lot of drug activity in this part of Brixton as a result of multiple unused spaces. The reuse of this space will help to move antisocial behaviour away from this area and away from our children. I’d prefer not to bump into a crackheads every time I leave my house. Thanks for the beautiful fluff piece but this is just not the reality. I’d a appreciate it if you used a more recent picture of the garden. The plants can be replanted elsewhere.
Totally misleading piece of fake news. This is such a significant departure from the truth. The garden is a jungle, residents besides john spicer voted democratically and unanimously to have the garden returned to a useable and aesthetic state in the interests of the many. It is currently unsafe for use and not in the interests of tenants of brixton terrace.
The above piece, was driven by one individual, who has monopolized the garden for over ten years, and been the subject of numerous complaints around intimidation and harassment. Nothing that has been produced in the garden has ever been sold or consumed to benefit residents or tenants aside from one person. In the last 5 years it has been unkept, unattended and overgrown to the point that it is dangerous for children to even walk on the paths and is not an area that tenants spend any time in comfort. Many tenants are frightened to use the garden – a tiny pocket of sustainability at a price of residents/tenants safety, security and mental health. If Duncan Law would like to get in touch for a full picture of a situation he has blindly given guidance on then please contract firstname.lastname@example.org and he is welcome to an informed picture on this situation. Lambeth are enforcing the overwhelming consensus of residents who chose to take a decision on the garden. There was one objector – that same objector in the piece above. The garden is for everyone not just the one…..
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