This new Dublin allotment is a little piece of urban heaven

Game Changers: Blarney Park Allotments in Crumlin has grown out of a wasteland of burned-out rubbish

The before and after pictures of the Kingfisher Project at Blarney Park Allotments are quite something. In February last year, the site was mainly mud with a digger in situ, moving earth into large mounds. The mud was already an improvement from what had been there before. Years earlier the site at the end of a long lane off Dublin’s Sundrive Road was a wasteland of burned-out rubbish.

Improvement came when the Dublin City Council-owned site became Blarney Park community allotments. The green palisade gate has willow branches woven through it. They soften the prison-style perimeter into something kinder.

On a warm sunny morning, it’s a little piece of heaven. The Kingfisher project part of it has brought signage and renewable energy to the mix, with photovoltaic panels to power heated mats in a greenhouse for propagation thanks to Creative Ireland funding for several innovative climate projects in the Crumlin area. “The idea is to share this with the community,” my guide Mary Molloy explains. Open days are for people to bring and take plants, so a patchwork of gardens locally can become involved and the greening grows. Volunteers are welcome on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

The place is thronged with life. Comfrey and teasel that were in the soil are growing a metre high, stretching for the light with lemon balm and rhubarb. The “wilder” plants provide food for bees, birds and a thriving soil life, and the food crops thrive in their midst. It’s a magical place, with a lovely above-ground stretch of Dublin’s underground river, the Poddle flowing along its length.

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The Kingfisher Project grew from a HX Grow initiative started in that Time Before (February 2020). Mary’s fellow grower Donal O’Laoire got people together to plant trays of seeds and the idea was to return a month later to swap the young plants. Lockdown came and it became a garden gate swap that people loved all the more for its sense of community and growth in that dark time.

It’s about “food and biodiversity”, Mary explains, “a combination of the two”.

They welcomed Minister for Heritage Malcolm Noonan on a visit recently. In a follow-up letter, Donal outlined the potential of the project to be a blueprint for nature restoration and food security in urban areas. As the recent row over comments by Monty Don and Alan Titchmarsh (who dismissed rewilding as “puritanical nonsense”) showed, propagating a culture war between rewilders and gardeners gets clicks. The Kingfisher Project is a demonstration that nature doesn’t do the either/or them/us stuff. Both can co-exist beautifully and healthily alongside each other. As we retrofit nature into our cities, projects like this one can lead the way to connecting up the dots of wildness, food security and community.

Catherine Cleary

Catherine Cleary

Catherine Cleary, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a founder of Pocket Forests