ASKEW MAG : MEET YOUR NEIGHBOURS : Olena O'Leary Street Gardener




Interviewed by Jo Reynolds

When did you move here?

My husband got a job as a teacher in London and we came to the UK in the end of 2014. In June 2016 we moved to Askew Road.

Where did you grow up?

Simferopol, capital of Crimea, south of Ukraine. Now this territory is Russian (since annexation in 2014).

Where did you meet your husband?

I met Barry at an international event in Kiev (capital of Ukraine). He came to Kiev to teach in a British school.

What have you been up to on Askew Road?

I am planting around the trees (in the pavement) and in the empty space behind the library. Why not make where we live beautiful?

I want to make this a better place for everyone

What gave you the idea?

I love gardening but I don't have a garden. Once I decided to clean one of the tree beds near my home and plant a few flowers. This appears to be a very good idea. I can see my flowers every day. My son can learn to love nature.

Did you grow up in the countryside?

Where I come from there is a lot of public land, forests and beautiful nature. I grew up in a big family. Every weekend my father used to take us to the forest for a picnic or to see our grandparents. There was always a lot of work in my grandparents’ garden and we all helped. Everyone in Ukraine grows potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, grapes, courgettes, and many other things. My grandfather taught me how to prune roses, vines and peach trees. He was very proud of his big cherry tree, 'Bull Heart'. I used to climb it and enjoy its very sweet and big cherries. Once he was guarding a huge field of watermelons in a state farm. I was amazed to see them growing so big, about 10 kilo each.

Did you train in gardening?

No, I am a qualified accountant. I went to university. All my knowledge about gardening comes from helping my grandparents, and from books, magazines, Internet, TV...

What's your dream for the project, flowers in every street of W12?

If I can get people to help me, I'd like to do as much planting as possible.

How can we help?

I am trying to get people involved in watering the plants as this is difficult to do on my own.

Where do you get the plants?

I got many bulbs and plants from pound shops and Morrisons, and soil from Wilko for reasonable prices. I am trying to keep the cost down as this is coming from my own pocket. A few neighbours gave me plants. One person has donated a bag of soil, another a bag of wooden chips.

How can people contact you?

I have signs with my email and phone number in the library and on the trees by the plants for people who want to help or just get in touch. As well I have a page on Facebook.

Is this an eco-mission or just making home more pleasant?

Firstly I am happy that my kids can learn to keep the environment tidy and clean. Secondly I hope this will change the minds of people and they will stop throwing rubbish everywhere. And of course I love to live in a beautiful place.

Has anyone tried to stop you?

No, the opposite. I had a lot of encouragement from people passing by. I emailed the council and told them I am planting but no one replied.

Planting suggests a desire to put down roots. With your family growing, are you ever tempted home or to pastures new?

My husband wants to travel more and eventually wants to go to Ireland. I love it here. We will see if I can change his mind.

If you weren't doing this, what would be your dream job?

I love accountancy. Especially I love to tidy up and organise when a company is in a mess. But I often dream about being the owner of a restaurant, or a nursery, or just a flower shop.

How and with whom do you relax?

Planting and watering flowers is a very peaceful activity. You feel physically tired but mentally much better. This is psychotherapy for me and kind of aerobic. I love it. And people love it. I care because now I am a mum I hope my kids will love nature like me. Maxim knows not to break the flowers. Life comes from a seed. I want to make this a better place for my children, for everyone.

Thank you, Olena. It's been a real pleasure to meet you.

Photo: Olena with her son Maxim in Askew Rd

Interviewed May 2019

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