A little update on what is happening with the River of Herbs project…
I have chosen two sites to focus on for the course which I’m running between February and June 2013. One will be Fraunhofferstraat in Oost Watergraafsmeer and the other is hopefully going to be a portion of Spuistraat, in Amsterdam Centrum. We will work on the two sites as a group, helping to spruce up the neighbourhoods and to create public examples which will hopefully inspire people to recreate the idea in their own streets.
By planting appropriate medicinal and edible herbs in dull patches of land (however small or large) we aim to make the place more beautiful, more attractive to wildlife, to increase urban food security and to encourage community participation with improving the immediate environment. I don’t envisage Amsterdammers harvesting heaps of herbs from doggy tree pits but I do see them harvesting useful seeds to grow in clean spots or use directly, taking cuttings from the public herbs, making spaces look and feel better and safer and of them learning about how useful and essential plants are to us on every level. All this in addition to boosting the wildlife population of the city – that’s more pollinating insects, birds & bats which feed on them and less mosquitoes! If people get something from these deliberately planted “herb meadows” then I trust that they will be better maintained and provide usefulness to people and wildlife for far longer (than the insect friendly plantings I notice here and there).
If you have ideas of other areas which could benefit from a River of Herbs makeover then please contact me via the comments box below, or directly by email (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Fraunhofferstraat is a street which I look at from my front windows at home. It’s a typical tidy Watergraafsmeer street that has a children’s play ground partway along and about a dozen bare treepits. the tree pits are so uninteresting and uninspiring, especially those running beside the playground. They are simply strimmed back by the council a couple of times a year and left to do their own thing for the rest of the time. When most lucky, we get Chickweed, some Brassicas and Fat Hen growing there along with poisonous Euphorbia species and heaps of low growing tree burrs. The pits get plenty of dog interest and they are sites where a small amount of litter collects at times. Because they are unplanted (aside from the trees of course) the pits beside the playground get a fair bit of human trampling. The Fraunhoffer tree pits are next to the road, a local street which is a turn off from the Middenweg (a main road into the centre of town).
I have been quietly collecting seeds from locally growing Hollyhocks, Poppies, Calendula, Rocket and other easy to grow plants. Whenever I remember, I strew a handful in the tree pits of Fraunhofferstraat and nudge them into the soil with my shoes. Maybe some will germinate in the spring, maybe not but either way I believe it’s a better fate than the seed being swept up and thrown in the garbage and incinerated. In the early spring the River of herbs group will start by looking at the site, thinking about the uses of the area and how the tree pits could be planted and simply managed with minimal effort and upkeep, to create a more useful and beautiful scene.
My friends at Funky Chickin hotel, Spuistraat 90 have been inspired by the River of Herbs project from it’s conception. They are located on part of a busy central street which could do with some greening. I have chosen that area as the second location. Just as with Fraunhofferstraat, I’ll be working closely with the local council to ensure that the herbs and exact locations chosen are suitable and useful and that they help to enhance the area in many ways.
On my quest to get this project going I’ve learned about tree pit adoption protocol, geveltuin (pavement garden) regulations, council spraying policies and realities, restricted plants, invasive plants, perfect city herbs and people who consider matching unmanaged geveltuinen with folks who’d like to tend them. There is a lot of interest and need, it seems. I’m really excited about starting with the group in February, I hope it takes off.