Germinating community: Newnham students create a Food Forest Permaculture Garden

As part of our 150th Anniversary celebrations, Newnham Gardening Club have begun work on a Food Forest Permaculture Garden: a new area for students to grow their own food and flowers in community with one another. The Food Forest will incorporate fruit and nut trees, shrubs, herbs, vines and perennial vegetables.

Just as important is the sense of community that the project provides: spring has seen seeds posted out to students around the country, for them to germinate at home and to bring back to college.

The gardens of Newnham College have always provided a space of refuge and serenity for its members. The philosophy of gardening – including self-sufficiency, friendship, respect and learning – have been at the heart of the college’s development since 1871.  The first Principal, Anne Jemima Clough, was a passionate gardener (she even kept pigs!) and sought to share her love of the earth with students by providing them with medlar trees under which to debate and window boxes for those who lived in town.Students at work in the garden

With the support of the College gardeners and the Garden Committee, a group of students organised into a garden club, growing their own food and flowers in the existing allotments together.

The students have now designed a Permaculture Garden as an extension to the existing allotment. Permaculture uses the patterns and resilient features observed in natural ecosystems, to create low-maintenance and sustainable ecosystems. At least part of the garden is to be given over to a ‘food forest’, where students can harvest fruits and nuts, vegetables and herbs.

After many months of planning, the group has begun work. Those in Cambridge during Lent Term have been planting fruit and nut trees, gooseberry bushes and rhubarb. They have started building raised vegetable beds in hugelkultur style (which will break down over time and nourish the growing vegetables.

Students who have been away from Cambridge during Lent Term have been taking part too. They have been sent a range of seeds to start off at home, in windowsills or greenhouses: the seedlings will be carefully brought back to College and planted out.

Lily Hands, of the Garden Society, said “This project has helped enormously with wellbeing and retaining a sense of community during a challenging time for the college and its members.”

This project is funded and supported by the Garden Committee, and is part of the 150th Anniversary Open Programme. To create your own 150th Anniversary project, put in your bid for the Open Programme here.