Thursday, December 9

‘It’s a quiet paradise’: the gardener transforms his town’s farm into a green paradise | Life and Style


TThe first thing Ivan Markov grew was a mango tree. His father showed him how to take the seed out of the mango when it is fresh and put the head in the ground. “One mango bean can produce more than 20 plants,” says Markov, 57, who lives in Lewisham, southeast London. “Can you believe it?”

Markov grew up on Bougainville Island, Papua New Guinea, and learned to love nature in these tropical climates. “I used to chase butterflies through bushes and walk through streams,” he says.

When he was 12 years old, he moved to Brisbane, Australia, to go to school. As an adult, he worked as a built environment consultant and structural landscaper. In his spare time, he grew things. “In all the properties I have lived on,” he says, “I planted bananas, mangoes, papayas.” Gardening gives Markov the “feeling of creating something out of nothing. It gives me a lot of pleasure. “

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In 2007, he moved to London to work as a teacher.. One morning in 2010 he woke up terribly ill. Markov made his way to the kitchen and asked his daughter for help. He was having a heart attack. “Every breath I breathed was pure pain,” he recalls. “It was pure horror.”

Diagnosed with heart failure, he limped doing a part-time job until 2016, when he was permanently laid off. The doctor said that the best way for Markov to improve his health was by exercising. He read about a Lewisham council award for best residential garden, and although he only has one front garden outside his council apartment, he thought the competition would be something to work for. He worked on his plot for most of the year, planting seeds and plants from pound shops and cuttings given to him by neighbors: bleeding hearts, daffodils, tulips, berries and herbs. He won the award for best front garden. “I couldn’t believe it,” he says. “I almost fell out of my seat.”

That was the beginning. Markov created a community nursery next to his house and began planting bushes across the road. “I had so much beauty in my garden,” he says. “I wanted to share what I had.” One day Markov heard a chainsaw. Town hall workers were cutting down some conifers. “I started a new garden where the trees were cut down,” he says. “Beautiful things grow there: stone fruits, strawberries, figs.”

News of Markov’s green-fingered altruism began to spread through the estate. He started offering free one-hour consultations. “I go to someone’s property and give them advice on how to plant a garden,” he says. Deliver cuttings and seeds and help people transplant plants; he charges a pound to cover the ground, but everything else he does is free.

Ivan Markov with his new cordless lawn mower.
Ivan Markov with his new cordless lawn mower. Photograph: Alicia Canter / The Guardian

Slowly, Markov’s property was transformed. “It is a quiet paradise here,” he says. “There are orchards. Children can learn to plant and propagate plants. “When he sees a young man interested in gardening, he nurtures him.” As soon as a child comes over and gets curious, “says Markov,” I give them a shovel and show them how. dig a hole correctly with your foot ”.

Resident associations from neighboring farms began contacting Markov for advice. His first project was in nearby Deptford. To date, Markov has helped six farms adopt sustainable gardening. “What amazes me,” says Sian Griffiths, who met Markov through a local community center and nominated him for a gift, “is how he uses everything, including grass clippings and weeds.”

He wants to show people that you don’t have to live in the country to create beauty. “It doesn’t matter how much space you have. Outside my house there is a tiny, tiny square. I grow tomatoes there for dinner. The opportunities are endless. “

Markov does all of this despite living with heart disease. He walks with a cane and is often dog-weary after a day of weeding or digging. Just talking to me, Markov is out of breath. “It gives me angina when I push it,” he says. “But it’s okay. I know what my body can do.” His dream is to create a meadow next to his farm and he is in negotiations with the city council.

When I offer to make something nice happen for Markov, his thoughts immediately turn to the community gardens. He tentatively says that if it weren’t too annoying, a battery-powered lawn mower would change life. I could finally mow the grass around the nursery and the central courtyard, where there is no power supply. Online retailer Very offer to send Markov a complimentary Einhell cordless mower. I reach it the day after you arrive and you have already used it.

“It’s fantastic,” he says. “Much better than I thought.” He has run it around the communal gardens and used it to shred some leaves, which he will pack later this week and take to a farm in Deptford. “I’m making a bed of daffodils and tulips,” he says. “I’m going to layer it on the floor.”

With one bag of mulch at a time and a new mower, Markov is making this corner of South East London a bucolic paradise for all.

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