The bells of St. Columb’s Cathedral sound during a beautiful morning in the Fountain’s community garden.
The garden rests at the foot of Derry’s Walls and the sixteenth century cathedral is its stone sentinel.
The sun’s out and Fountain residents make their way to the garden, and there they are greeted by the most magnificent mouth-watering aromas.
As a celebration of the Fountain’s community garden, Ian Orr, owner and head chef of Brown’s Restaurant in the Waterside, is spending the morning in the garden and is using locally-grown herbs and vegetables to prepare an array of culinary delights.
Fountain community worker, Jeanette Warke, is delighted that such an event is happening in the small garden and said that the residents are the reason why the project has become a success.
“A few years ago, this area was just waste ground,” said Jeanette.
“I’d initially wanted a build a play park here but in the end we opted for a community garden - it’s one of the best decisions we could have made.
“Audrey Hepburn [community worker] helped me with it all and I think it’s looking great today.”
The community garden is filled with over a dozen raised wooden planting boxes. Each planting box offers its own herbal delight; the garden has an abundance of carrots, cabbages, mint, parsley, chard and more.
“Isn’t the smell of that food amazing?,” commented Jeanette as Ian Orr prepared pan-fried lamb using mint grown in the Fountain.
“I don’t think I am going to be able to wait until lunch,” she laughed.
Jeanette explained that the community garden not only helps to develop relationships between residents in the Fountain area but said that the project is also a cross-community one.
“There are Catholic people with allotments in the community garden.
“They come here most days to tend their vegetables and herbs - there’s a great atmosphere here.
“I would also like to thank our funders and Co-operation Ireland - they have supported us and for that we are very thanful.”
She added: “We’ve also been working with residents from Leafair Park who have their own community garden. Along with Leafair, we put forward a joint bid to win the Irish Community Garden of the year - we’ll find out if we’ve won next week.”
The Fountain’s community garden is funded by peace building charity Co-operation Ireland.Project manager, Michelle Menice, attended Wednesday’s al fresco cooking lesson and said that she had never seen the garden looking so well.
“This is the third time that I have visited the community garden here in the Fountain,” said Michelle.
“I can’t believe the transformation of the garden - it’s remarkable,
“Jeanette [Warke] and the people of this community have helped change this place into what was a piece of disused land into a place that not only provides fresh produce for the local community but is somewhere where people can come and relax.
“Co-operation Ireland fully support what is going on here and I think it’s amazing that there’s a local chef here cooking dishes using herbs and vegetables grown in the local area - it’s a wonderful initiative.”
Dorothy Thompson and Kathleen Simpson live next door to one another in the Fountain.
Both Dorothy and Kathleen decided to share one of the raised planting beds when the garden was officially opened last year.
“I’ve lived here for a long time and I never remember anything quite like this community garden project,” smiled Dorothy.
“It’s because of people like Jeanette Warke that we are able to enjoy something like this.
“Myself and Kathleen shared a an allotment last year and we harvested quite a bit from it.
“I remember taking a cabbage home one night and cooking it with a bit of bacon - there’s nothing quite like the taste of something you have grown yourself.”
Kathleen said that the community garden enabled her to spend time with her grandson.
“My grandson is 13 years-old but I made sure he gave me a hand any chance I got. It was nice spending time with him and I think he enjoyed it too.”
She added: “It was always good fun coming here - myself and Dorothy would do nothing but chat.
“I find it very satisfying that a chef like Ian Orr is here today and showing us how to make best use of the vegetables and herbs we have grown here - it’s just magic.”
Community gardener, Gareth Austin, assisted the local residents with their development of the garden and said that he thought their garden one of the best in the city.
“The people here in the Fountain have really taken this community garden into their hearts.
“All you have to do is look around you and see all of the vegetables and herbs they have grown.
“Ian Orr is using herbs and vegetables grown in the Fountain today. Just smell the food he’s cooking - it’s like something you’d expect to experience in his restaurant.”
He added: “A big part of what we are doing with these community garden cooking sessions is showing the residents all over the city how to make best use of their ingredients and cook food that’s healthy.
“It’s about teaching people that cooking with locally-grown ingredients can not only be fun but it can also be good for them,” he said.