Square Roots Lewisham

Stratford: How Awoke Plants is serving up peat-free greenery to east Londoners

Sioḃán Wall’s mini-garden centre can be found at View Tube on the edge of the Olympic Park

Sioḃán Wall, founder of Awoke Plants

Subscribe to our free Wharf Whispers newsletter here

Coincidentally, Sioḃán Wall’s career has consistently featured the earth beneath our feet and the places that we live in.

Having studied German literature at university, she embarked on a career in logistics, working for DHL as it consulted on what to do with all the excavated matter from the forthcoming construction of Crossrail. 

A move into project management saw her transfer to Bechtel, directly working on the epic scheme she’d helped plan – shifting millions of tonnes of material, dug out for the Elizabeth Line’s tunnels, to help build Wallasea Island Wild Coast – an RSPB nature reserve covering the Crouch and Roach estuaries in Essex.

Following that, a job in the housing industry beckoned, as head of construction and logistics at Barking Riverside – the vast east London regeneration scheme on the banks of the Thames.  

“After nearly four years, I was made redundant and I really wanted to work for myself,” said Sioḃán.

Awoke Plants is my first little business and I opened it last year.

“My local garden centre – Growing Concerns, on the edge of Victoria Park – had just closed down and I’d been doing community gardening with the local Women’s Institute.

“We were all mutually disappointed by this because we felt there was a need for one. People still wanted to buy plants locally, get advice and enjoy browsing.

“Garden centres aren’t just about plants – you can get everything you need – gifts, cards, pots, tools and accessories.

“Outside London they are often day trip destinations – you get a lovely experience, cake in the cafe and so on. In the capital we miss a bit of that. 

“I started Awoke to learn the trade and switch over to gardening.

“I did a future gardeners course, sponsored by the London Legacy Development Corporation, which employs Idvere – a garden maintenance firm.

“That included work experience on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and really introduced me to horticulture as a career.

“It also allowed me to make contacts at Idvere, so I continue to work part-time for them – this winter I was out on the park.”

Sioḃán took all that experience and poured it into a small unit at View Tube on The Greenway in Stratford – a community of small businesses, housed in former shipping containers at the edge of the park.

Awoke Plants, in addition to a wide selection of grown specimens, sells seeds, pots, gifts and kids’ kits – pretty much anything the urban gardener might want available online or in person.

Awoke Plants boasts an extensive array of plants, products and gifts

Reopening its doors in March, the business sells troughs, baskets and upcylced containers of plants – all of which have been grown without peat.

“It’s a natural resource that can’t be replaced in our lifetimes,” said Sioḃán.

“It takes hundreds of thousands of years to make – it’s essentially rotted down mosses, leaves, vegetation and trees, that lived millions of years ago and decayed to form bogs, moorland or fens.

“For centuries humans have been draining the land, drying out the peat and digging it up to use in horticulture.

vBy doing this we’re taking something that absorbs and holds carbon and releasing it. 

“It’s currently hard to find plants which have been grown entirely without peat, but that’s what we offer here.

“And there are great alternatives. I’m using a mix of coia, which is chopped up bits of coconut husk, worm castings for nutrients, sand or grit and compost.

“All of these hold moisture and micro-nutrients, which help support a healthy root structure and growth period.

“In this area, gardening is all about how to decorate our small gardens and balconies with as much attention as we would give to our kitchens, dining rooms or bedrooms.

“There’s so much you can do. You can grow food, flowers or exotic plants in small spaces.

“The key elements are making sure you’ve got a container which will fit in the space and some light.

“Then, you just need to remember to water, feed and look after the quality of the soil.

“We can also fill our homes with houseplants.

“I’d like to encourage people to experiment. Some species will work on widow sills, for example. 

“If you’re thinking of growing vegetables, then summer leaves, micro-greens – seedling salad leaves, bean shoots and so on – only need to grow to one or two inches before they’re ready to harvest – they’re a really quick turnaround for salads and are packed with nutrition.

“They can be the most expensive things to buy in a supermarket, and they’re so easy to grow.

“If you do have some outdoor space, even if it’s small or north-facing, think about having flower boxes on the railings, or use a corner to do a rockery-type garden – a container with sedum or mosses, and low-growing plants that love shade.

“All of this is possible in London.

This potted specimen costs £9.99 at Awoke

“Not only do plants give you something to look at, they can be used to screen you off from tall buildings and they take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen.

“They’re also generally good for your mental health and wellbeing.”

Sioḃán has big plans for her small garden centre, including expanding to a bigger site when the time is right.

“It was really exciting to open last year and it’s evolved since then,” she said.

“Once I’d got myself into the mindset, with my children now at school, I thought that I should just go for it. 

“Working for myself, the only limit is my self-belief in how far I can go.

“I really want to make my business meaningful for this area – there’s a lot of possibility and a lot of growth potential.”

Watch this space. 

  • Awoke Plants reopens to the public in March, 2024. In the meantime, orders can be collected from the garden centre or Bridget’s Cafe in E20. Bike delivery options are also available in selected east London postcodes for a fee of £5.  

Find out more about Awoke Plants here

Awoke Plants is based at View Tube near Pudding Mill Lane DLR

Read more: How Canary Wharf Group has launched Wharf Connect, a network for early career professionals

Read Wharf Life’s e-edition here

Subscribe to our free Wharf Whispers newsletter here

- Jon Massey is co-founder and editorial director of Wharf Life and writes about a wide range of subjects in Canary Wharf, Docklands and east London - contact via jon.massey@wharf-life.com
Subscribe To Wharf Life