Cumberbatch, founder of Grown Club, an Instagram gardening club for Women of
Colour, talks to Lichen about the importance of inclusive gardening
in the UK and how to start growing your own garden, no matter how small.
As told to Lichen Journal, text has been slightly edited and formatted for clarity by Mirabella Shahidullah
What was your connection like with nature when you were growing up?
My first memories of nature were in Barbados where I lived for a few years as a child. There were lots of tropical plants and we used to have a cherry tree in our garden and the monkeys used to come and eat the cherries off the tree and we would watch from our house […] then once we moved back to the UK, we lived in quite a rural area that looked onto a field. I remember in summer they used to set off hot air balloons and we used to run off into the field and chase them as if we were going to catch them. I think that relationship that I had as a child both in Barbados and when I came back was that sense of freedom that nature gives you as well; we were quite independent children and we were able to go out and explore […] it’s not something that I put a lot of thought but looking back on it now, it was a really positive thing to have had.
You started Grown Club last year, was there a particular moment that motivated you to create it?
I lived by the sea for a bit last year and I had joined a plant club, it was just white women […] I had been interested in plants for a few years at this point I knew from the Instagram accounts that I follow and who I saw were being called plant people and who were being talked about were always white and I was just fed up by seeing no People of Colour in these spaces and or involved in conversations about plants and gardening. That’s why I thought to create a dedicated space for POC gardeners and plant businesses [who] are celebrated and are the main focus, not just an afterthought.
Do you think there is a disconnect between nature and People of Colour in the UK?
It definitely is an issue… there is a feeling [for POC] that when you go to places like the seaside or countryside where it is more rural, you feel more isolated […] you’re seeking something out that is supposed to feel positive for your mental health and [instead] feeling like ‘I am the only one or I don’t really belong here.’ I do think there is a disconnect but I really am an advocate that you can find nature near you as well, even in cities. The first thing to do is to encourage people to go out and see their surroundings and what nature they can find. They can do it in a place that is already comfortable, and they don’t have to go to a rural location immediately. It’s about finding that confidence to meet people who share that interest of nature and being outdoors […] I think everybody should have access to nature and to things that no matter who you are will have a positive impact on your mental health.
of People of Colour have to have heavy conversations just by virtue of who they are […] gardening and nature should be an escape for us as well, not just white people because that’s how it has been for too long.”
Aimée Grant Cumberbatch
Were you surprised by the amount of people who wanted to join that community when you created grown club?
I am pleased, but in some ways, it is sad that these things are still necessary. I think it has been a really important year that has been bringing to light just how much change needs to happen. We’re having more conversations about access to nature and spaces but also about the colonial past of national trust houses and gardens of botanical and horticulture institutions like Kew and Chelsea Garden. I think for me, Grown Club has always kind of had this dual purpose which is of course, to spark conversations, but also to find joy. A lot of People of Colour have to have heavy conversations just by virtue of who they are […] gardening and nature should be an escape for us as well, not just white people because that’s how it has been for too long.
Due to COVID-19, physical meet-ups have proven a difficulty for most gardening communities, how has Grown club promoted virtual connection through its Instagram?
It has always been important that there is a way to connect outside of meet ups; I have always wanted there to be a way for people to connect with each other [online] and that is something I will always try to maintain. This is why I did a series of Instagram Lives with Women of Colour in the world of plants and gardening to promote these kinds of conversations and get people involved virtually. However, it is sad that we can’t meet up because the physical aspect [of gardening] is what I’ve really benefited from, looking after plants and getting out into nature is the chance to put away my phone and have my hands be busy, so it is a shame that I can’t promote it and bring other people into that at the moment. Ultimately, it is about keeping people safe, but I think also it’s encouraged people to get creative with [their] spaces, to do the little bit of growing they could do indoors, to get house plants and to join these communities.
During the first UK lockdown, Grown Club created a series of talks with Women of Colour in the gardening world to share stories of diversity within gardening, images: Grown Club
Do you have any advice for people who may want to go and create their green spaces but live in small flats?
Learn about your space. A lot of us live in spaces we don’t understand, so the best thing to do is to find where the light is coming from [in] your space, whether that is outside or indoors, where is the best sunlight where are the pockets of shade, is you sun next to the radiator is your sunlight on a small window seal, where is the shade where are the drafts where is the warmth […] Pay attention to this space and understand if you can give the plant what it needs to survive and the best way to do that is often look at its natural habitat and what it needs in nature. […] It’s okay to fail and try again, it is a journey and a learning curve to look after house plants. I didn’t know the first thing about drainage and it was the same thing when I did outdoor gardening, I told my friend ‘I feel like I’m doing loads in the garden and not having much out of it’ and she told me that’s how we started with houseplants and look at us now […] you will make mistakes along the way but, you will get there in the end.
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