3rd August 2016

On 3rd August Morus Londinium joined forces with the Urban Orchard Project and the Geraldine Mary Harmsworth Park (GMH) in Southwark to lead a foraging walk for mulberries. Sixteen people came along, which was a fantastic turnout, some living only a few hundred yards away from where the walk started, while others had come across town from North London.

West Square, where we started, was looking fabulous, with its three old black mulberry trees now laden with fruit, though the ripest berries had been picked by locals or eaten by birds. I was last here in January when there were no leaves on the trees and I completely missed the six or seven young white mulberry trees standing next to the recumbent seniors, propped on crutches. So it was quite a joy to discover new trees to add to our database, for a site that I already reckoned to be one of the most spectacular in London.

After a talk about mulberries and the Morus Londinium project, the group was let loose to pick what fruit they could find on the mulberries in West Square. Ella Hashimi, Orchard Restoration Project Manager for the Urban Orchard Project (UOP) and Nina Chantry, Contracts and Service Manager for Southwark Council, then led us around the corner to GMH Park, in the grounds of what is now the Imperial War Museum. UOP is helping GMH to develop a family orchard. Ella and Tina talked about the project, while Tom Edwards, Head Gardner at GMH also answered questions. Again, most of the fruit on the (young) mulberries had already been picked, but some of us did manage to taste a plum or two on the way out of the orchard.

Having had slim pickings so far, we were like kids at a jelly party when Tom opened the tall door to his yard, where a huge black mulberry nestled in the far corner, squeezed between a high wall and the tennis courts. This tree was weighed down with fruit, much of it still ripe, even though, as Tom explained, heavy rain the day before had brought much of it down.  This did mean, though, that it was quite a squelchy business under the tree, where the best hanging fruit was to be found. After a good half hour picking and chatting we looked as though we’d been on a savage hunting spree. Many of us left with punnets and plastic bags of fruit and everyone had red fingers. Some say mulberries are best when eaten straight from the tree.

The old mulberry in Tom’s yard is magnificent, but does raise the question of why on Earth it is there?  It probably dates from the time when the grounds belonged to the Bethlehem Hospital for psychiatric patients, which moved from Moorfields to a swampy site at St George’s Fields in Southwark, opening in 1815. It has prompted me to want to look out some old maps and do a bit more research…

Article by Peter Coles. Pictures by Ella Hashimi and Peter Coles

Visit the West Square mulberries
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