Think Dalston, and your first thought probably isn’t green space. Dalston Junction is one of the borough’s busiest crossings, where the arrow-straight former Roman road that cuts through the borough collides with gritty Dalston Lane. Energetic and a tad edgy, it’s not the most relaxing place to be. But hang a left at Hackney’s inspiring visual icon the Peace Mural, and the siren sounds fade. You are entering the Dalston Eastern Curve Garden, a place of natural beauty, brilliant community projects, wildlife-friendly plants and delicious homegrown food.
Built on the site of a railway line which closed in 1944, this urban oasis is reminiscent of the gorgeous flowering of community gardens in New York’s East Village. Timber pavilions, open at the sides, are swathed with fabric from Ridley Road Market and dotted with jars of flowers. A little café serves up delicious produce with homegrown ingredients – funds from the café are vital in allowing the garden to run events and to stay open and free year round. And on summer nights Latto’s turn out sourdough pizzas from the clay oven.
This is one of the borough’s best loved and best used community spaces, with kids gathering for Easter chocolate-making and egg-decorating workshops, weekly music sessions for a group of adults with learning disabilities and craft and herb sessions throughout the year. On Saturday afternoons volunteers weed, water, plant and dig the veg and flower beds, and each spring the garden takes a huge order of London Waste compost, which is then free for local gardeners to collect.
It’s hard to pick a favourite event from Dalston Eastern Curve’s packed calendar, but Eat Hackney has a big soft spot for Halloween in the garden. Kids carve hundreds of pumpkins at the weekend, and as dusk falls on Sunday they are lit, creating an atmospheric panorama of candelit jagged grins, startled cats and flying witches. Alongside these magical events, the garden has a serious intent in growing edible produce and wildlife-friendly plants such as hazel, hawthorn, birch and bracken.
Dalston Eastern Curve Garden was showcased on Gardeners’ Question Time last year, with topics ranging from favourite homegrown pizza toppings to growing edibles on a fire escape. Panelist James Wong waxed lyrical about the garden’s beauty, likening the wooden pavilions to a hip Asian backpacker lodge. As far as aesthetics go, a very special East London touch is two site-specific artworks by Stik, featuring his trademark vulnerable minimalist figures. A monochrome mother stretches a hand to a child peeking from behind a (real) shed, and another childlike figure decorates a green-painted wall, with downcast eyes and legs which stretch their feathery roots towards the Hackney soil.
You can get involved in the garden’s activities by joining the volunteer sessions, or by buying lunch, coffee, cakes and beer at the café. Three Hackney cheers to Dalston Eastern Curve Garden, for creating a treasured green space, for sharing your compost bounty with Eat Hackney and others, and for passing on fab recipes for seasonal cream of fennel and celeriac soup, and Irish soda bread with rosemary and sultanas!