Community

The Serge Hill Project for Gardening, Creativity and Health was granted planning permission in January 2020. The aim is to develop a community garden on a one-acre site known as The Orchard, at Serge Hill in Hertfordshire, where Tom and his wife Sue Stuart-Smith have lived together since 1987, and where Tom was born. The project draws on Sue’s work as a psychiatrist, psychotherapist and author of The Well Gardened Mind, a book that investigates the origins of gardening and its power to transform our lives. This not-for-profit initiative will offer resources to local schools and charities as well as local residents who want to get involved in gardening.

The Orchard has been designed to provide the following key resources for use by the community:

The Plant Library

A large proportion of the Orchard site is made up of the Plant Library. This will be a unique and extensive educational resource for anyone interested in plants and planting design: whether they be visiting students of horticulture, gardeners, garden designers, school children, as well as our own studio team. The library is set out in a grid system which holds more than 1200 different varieties of mainly herbaceous plants in its current layout, serving as an interactive catalogue and community of plants that can be walked through and studied from all angles. Varieties and species can be compared, and combinations of form, texture, foliage and flower can be observed and appreciated.

The Plant Library is ordered into communities of plants that suit different conditions, logically graded along the gentle slope of the site. A large collection of drought tolerant plants from warmer, drier climates are situated at the top of the site, planted in half a foot of sharp sand to make our wet winters more bearable for them. The shady and comparatively damp lower end of the site will be home to a community of woodland dwellers, with plants that prefer the more moisture-retentive clay soil. The middle of the site will then be made up of plants that suit more balanced, general conditions.

The Plant Library will be an exciting ongoing experiment: The first plants to be planted in autumn 2020 and spring 2021 comprise of both the familiar and the less familiar, but the collection will constantly be edited, added to, and used as a stage on which to trial and experiment with more unusual plants. Each grid square will simply be numbered, with the name of the corresponding plant logged into a master list.

The Nursery

The nursery consists of an equipped polytunnel and secure plant standing out ground on the east side of the Orchard. Sunnyside Rural Trust started growing high quality perennial plants in this nursery in 2019. We are currently expanding the nursery and look forward to welcoming them back.

Sunnyside is a Hertfordshire-based charity that provides horticultural training for people with learning disabilities and sells plants at Hemel Food Garden in Hemel Hempstead. The plants they grow will be sold to landscape designers and at garden open days. They also grew the herbaceous plants for Tom’s exhibition garden at the Hampton Court Flower Show in July 2021.

The Vegetable Plots

To the north of the Orchard site lie the community veg plots, used for the production of fruit and vegetables following the principles of the no-dig method. These plots are lovingly tended to by the community at Serge Hill and the TSS studio team.

We hope to construct a dedicated composting area for the veg plots later this year.

The Orchard Building

The proposed building at the heart of the Orchard has been designed by architect Ben Stuart-Smith, as part of architecture and design collective Okra, and will function as a base as well as an education and resource centre. It is constructed with radically low embodied carbon from cross-laminated timber infilled with hempcrete internally and vertical cleft oak pales on the outside. The foundations for this building were laid in May 2021, and it will be completed in 2022.

Volunteering

The development of the community garden is a team effort, with designers and volunteers coming together to create a space that will help people experience the mental and physical health and wellbeing benefits of gardens and gardening.

We are very lucky to have a small team of volunteers who are vital for the maintenance and progression of the project. If you are keen to get involved and help out with planting, weeding and keeping things healthy and on track, along with specific projects like the construction of new compost bays, then do get in touch. Please send an email to millie@tomstuartsmith.co.uk with a short summary of your horticultural experience and we will keep you informed when suitable opportunities arise.

Anyone interested in the project can follow the @tomstuartsmithstudio Instagram for updates until we can open the Orchard gates to visitors.