Growing a Rainbow

In conversation with gardener and visionary Clair Battaglino, founder of Rainbow Grow, a gardening initiative supporting the LGBTQ+ community in Hackney

By Google Arts & Culture

Clair Battaglino

Clair Battaglino, Founder of Rainbow Grow

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Meet Clair

My gardening style has recently been described as “rebellious” and I quite like that. I love growing fruit, vegetables and herbs, but I also want a garden to be pleasing to the eye and productive throughout the year.

Orderly rows of veg may suit some people but I delight in interspersing mine amongst wildflowers, shrubs and ground cover. At home right now, my tomatoes are growing amongst nigella, cornflowers, violas, and calendula. And my sage is sharing space with Californian poppies and brassicas that have gone to seed.

From Manhattan to London

I grew up in a part of Manhattan that back then was devoid of greenery. We had a little vegetable patch where we spent our summers on Staten Island which used to be a bit of rural idyll. I loved planting things as a child so, maybe I carried that with me throughout all these years.

When I first came to London, I was shocked to see gardening crews on the Embankment chopping the heads off flowers because they were leaning the wrong way. I never understood “The British Garden” or the obsession with roses and as time went on, I became convinced I was useless at growing things.

The Rainbow Grow Banner (2021)

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How did Rainbow Grow come about?

Rainbow Grow from the start has been intergenerational and by its nature attracts people who are that little bit different. 

As I have a “no particular rules” style of gardening and we have never had a professional gardener as a member we have been able to try different things and make mistakes together. 

I took a course on setting up a community garden and in February of 2017 I put forward the idea of creating an LGBTQI+ led gardening initiative in Hackney.

It grabbed people’s attention as something novel and two months later Rainbow Grow was born.

Growing from Prejudice to Pride

Why has Rainbow Grow been so successful?

Early on we decided to be very much “out there”. We joined Capital Growth and the Social Farms & Gardens group. We have hosted a number of events as part of The Chelsea Fringe and in 2018 we found ourselves crowd funding participation at the Hampton Court Flower Show with our garden called, Growing from Prejudice to Pride

I designed the main structure – a rainbow-shaped planter rooted in, but rising up, from a bed of pansies. Judith Glynn made the wire figures holding up our symbol of pride. 

It was a real test because without any real garden infrastructure, growing the edibles for the show was very difficult. 

The Rainbow Grow terrace (2021)

However, we got a great deal of support from the public and now have a most beautiful centrepiece for our garden. 

The Rainbow Grow Garden flower display (2021)

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What makes Rainbow Grow unique?

We are also unique within the LGBTQI+ community and offer a different way of socialising for people who have an interest in things like growing food, eating healthily, visiting different gardens, etc. 

Fresh produce grown at Rainbow Grow

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We used much of our funding to do outreach in the LGBTQI+ and wider community. We have run sessions with LGBTQI+ youth groups, carers groups and older persons groups.  

The Rainbow Grow Banner (2021)

What are your plans for the future?

We still have a dream of creating a food growing space at a London LGBTQI+ Community Centre sometime in the future. But for now, we are just pleased to be able to provide a sense of community and some food growing experience. We continue to welcome new members. So, do get in touch.

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