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How does your garden go... into the centre of York for the day?
MAXINE GORDON meets the York gardeners who will be turning Parliament Street into a green oasis – for one day only.
DISPLAYING a mobile summer garden in the middle of York city centre seemed like a great idea at the time, back in the cold, dark days of January.
But then came one of the wettest springs on record, followed by a summer heat wave – leaving gardener Helen Hays and her team of trusty volunteers with a ton of hard graft and stress.
Helen works for the York Unifying Multicultural Initiative (YUMI), a local, voluntary, intercultural network whose aim is to link people with different cultural roots to share skills and organise events.
YUMI will be holding one of these events next Saturday, when members will be taking over Parliament Street for a festival day.
Taking centre stage will be the mobile garden – lovingly grown by Helen and her gang of green-fingered enthusiasts at YUMI’s allotment at Fulford Cross.
The aim of the garden is to grow produce that is difficult to find locally.
So beside the usual suspects of potatoes, leeks and onions, you’ll find the likes of oca, a potato-like plant from Peru, huauzontle from Mexico, the top of which is similar to a purple-sprouting broccoli and amaranth, or “red shak”, a red spinach leave from Bangladesh.
Pink poppies are grown too, adding a welcome burst of colour to the garden allotment. But it’s the seeds that are sought after. “It’s used for making Hungarian poppy seed bread,” said Helen.
Beetroot, radish and cabbage are widely used in Eastern European cooking too.
YUMI volunteers will be using some of this produce to cook dishes from their homelands at various cookery stations during the festival.
Nilgun Oner, from Turkey, is already planning her menu.
“I will be making Turkish baklava and an orange cake as well as gözleme, a savoury pastry filled with potato or spinach. I will be using onion, parsley and potato from the garden.”
Monwara Yesmin will be preparing a fish and rice dish from Bangladesh, using coriander grown at the allotment and red shak, the seed of which she brought from her homeland. She says she is delighted to see it taking root so well in the North Yorkshire soil.
Young mum Asa Nguyen is from Vietnam and has been living in York for three years. She has a two-year-old son, Darren, and will be making chocolates at the festival. “I will be decorating them with edible flowers from the garden.”
Transplanting the YUMI garden to the heart of York has taken some planning, admits Helen.
Special wooden beds have been built to display the plants, most of which have had to be grown in tubs so they can be “lifted” and transported to the city centre.
The challenges of growing a mobile garden have been considerable, says Helen.
Old bicycle wheels – recycled from the St Nicholas Fields centre – have been attached vertically to the top of bean plants to limit their growth. “They can only be so high, so they can fit in the van,” says Helen.
The heat has played havoc too – flowers are blooming too early, weeks before the festival – leaving Helen to take drastic action: “I have had to cut the flowers off and try to make a judgement when they might flower again – I am trying to get them flowering for one specific day.”
And the lack of rain has put the potted produce under stress. Luckily, volunteers, including David Rhodes, have been popping down to the allotment to carry out watering duties.
Helen concedes it was always going to be a difficult project, given the vagaries of the British weather. It couldn’t have happened last year, it was too wet.
Given the choice, too much sun is preferable.
Helen says: “You can always add water, but you can’t add sun.”
• The YUMI Community Street Festival will run next Saturday from 10.30am to 4.30pm in Parliament Street, York.
Activities planned for the day include a Garden Trail Quiz for kids, linked to produce and plants growing in the display garden as well as biscuit decorating and rangoli (Indian pattern making). YUMI cooks will be selling recipe cards featuring dishes in the festival. A Mayoral visit is expected at lunchtime.
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