With another award from Britain in Bloom for the Phoenix café garden, feature writer Mark Taylor talks to Dan Farmer, head chef in the Café Bar, about what’s behind this urban gardening success.
Britain in Bloom assessors recently gave Phoenix Green Finger (the project behind the garden) a Thriving Award, with 80 marks out of 100, and said the project had taken a “huge leap”, with impressive horticultural skills and site cleanliness.
Anyone who sits outside Phoenix Café Bar enjoying a meal or drink will have noticed the large raised beds – what’s more curious is the sight of head chef Dan Farmer snipping off a few herbs or harvesting some veggies.
It’s not often you get to see the food you are going to eat growing right in front of you, especially in an urban environment like Leicester, but that is what’s happening at Phoenix, where we’re doing our bit to promote home grown vegetables and community horticulture.
It’s the brainchild of Dan, who’s been cultivating fresh veg and herbs from the garden with a lot of help and input from volunteer gardeners Jenny and Hugh.
“Phoenix Green Fingers was initially a group of patrons planting up stuff. I liked the ethos of it – no food miles – and there are not many places in a city that you can grow your own vegetables,” says Dan.
“Initially it was just me scattering some seeds about and seeing what grew. I didn’t really know what I was doing. But Jenny and Hugh have come in and given us loads of advice and help, and I understand more about gardening now.”
The scheme has been so successful that there are plans to expand the number of beds being used. And everyone benefits –from customers to the organisation.
This autumn a willow screen sculpture by artist Tom Hare was added to the site, providing shelter from the wind and possibly space to grow more plants.
“We grow garlic, spring onions, radish, mixed leaves and cucumber. We’re currently looking at winter crops, so we’re going to plant up cabbages, carrots and kale. It’s supported by staff in the kitchen, and visitors know it’s going to taste good. And going forward I’ve got an idea it could easily save Phoenix a few thousand pounds on its food bill,” says Dan.
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