The Friends of Meath Gardens is a community organisation that is fighting to save, maintain and improve our green spaces.
Meath Gardens, formerly Victoria Park Cemetery, is a large green area nestled next to Mile End Park. You can reach it over the footbridge near the Palm Tree and the Mile End Climbing Wall, or from Smart Street.
The Friends of Meath Gardens was officially set up in 2015 to make this green space more community-friendly, preserve its heritage, and encourage development of wildlife habitats.
Forester, and one of the founders and Chairman of the Friends of Meath Gardens, Tunde Morakinyo became involved with the organisation when he saw Alison Figueiredo, a local resident, running across the grass to stop the council workers who were trying to pollard one of these ancient trees. She was successful on this occasion and inspired Tunde to join the organization on the spot.
The organization came together several years ago initially to oppose the over-pollarding of trees by the council explains Joanna Milewska, a Landscape Architect and Founder of Friends of Meath Gardens. The Friends group now has a collaborative relationship with the council and this partnership has helped facilitate the development of the project.
The Friends of Meath Gardens is an inspiring example of how a partnership between a grassroots organisation and the local authority can work particularly well.
‘With passion, open dialogue, and a lot of hard work we have managed to turn a negative situation into a positive project’ says Milewska.
Following consultation with residents living around the park, and dialogue with the council, a Landscape Strategy was developed with different zones for the Gardens including woodland areas, wildflower meadows, open recreational areas, historical features and significant trees.
One of these is an Ancient Black Poplar, one of Britain’s most endangered native trees. The Woodland Trust estimates that only 8,000 now exist in the UK, with only 400 being female. Meath Gardens has only one left that may be over 200 years old, following the death of another in February of this year.
To try and maintain the final one for as long as possible, the Friends of Meath Gardens are planning to build a flower bed around it for protection.
Other historical and natural features include the archway into the gardens which marks the entrance to the former Victoria Park Cemetery and an Eucalyptus Tree planted to commemorate the burial of Bripumyarrimin, known as King Cole, an Aboriginal cricketer, in 1868.
The Friends group is working closely with the council to restore the arch and, later this year, on an event to honour the memory of King Cole. Local residents have been actively involved in both of these activities which shows how much passion there is for this hidden green open space in Bethnal Green.
As well as planting and maintaining trees, the Friends of Meath Gardens also want to create an “edible playground” gardens so children can learn about edible plants and become more comfortable in a horticultural setting.
Morakinyo says that ‘It is important to engage children with these ideas and encourage them to care about the future of our green spaces.’
The long-term goal for the Friends of Meath Gardens is to create a green corridor across Bethnal Green, linking fragmented green spaces in urban settings with Meath Gardens, Mile End Park and Victoria Park.
It is hoped this green corridor would then “spill out” into estates and heavily concreted public areas like Globe Town Market with trees, perennials and wildflower meadows. The proposal is supported by the Council, local councillors and Globe Town’s newly emerging high street Steering Committee.
So far, FoMG has achieved the first stage of the project – with a grant from the Greener City Fund (GCF), the Friends of Meath Gardens planted 18 new trees at the beginning of April in Meath Gardens as well as Smart and Usk Streets.
These included three lime trees, a copper beech, a red oak, a sweet chestnut, a golden elm, a rowan, a multi-stemmed cherry and a foxglove tree according to a planting plan agreed with the council beforehand.
The GCF grant will also enable a number of other activities later in the year including installation of bird and bat boxes and insect “hotels” with local schools, planting shrubs to enrich the woodlands and erecting signage to inform the public about garden’s history and its wildlife.
Volunteers play an important role for the Friends of Meath Gardens and once the trees have been planted, they require ongoing maintenance.
Volunteers are required to help look after and water the trees and add tree guards for their protection. As well as planting and maintaining trees, volunteers have planted over 2300 daffodils this year alone.
In 2017, one mammoth day of volunteering led to over 70 trees being planted by over 50 local residents with the council being on site to help with tools, oversee the planting and to generally lend a hand.
Protecting our green spaces and trees is something fun and beneficial for the community – keep an eye on the Friends of Meath Gardens’ Facebook page to find out about upcoming opportunities for volunteers.
Visit Meath Gardens at Smart St, London E2 0SN