We spoke to Divya HH, urban fruit forager, city park ranger and sustainable design engineer. On her Instagram page @fruitywalks, Divya inspires her followers to open their eyes to what is growing all around us, even in the city.
We asked her about how she got into foraging, her experiences foraging in London and the importance of community orchards in bringing people together and encouraging a more sustainable way of life.
Tell us about yourself and what you do.
My name is Divya, and I run an Instagram page called FRUITY WALKS, where I find and map fruit trees in the city of London. I like to think of myself as a modern-day urban fruit tree forager. Did you know there are fruiting Lemon, Pomegranate and Avocado trees in Zones 1 and 2 in London?! Pretty wild, right?!
The initial concept behind Fruity Walks was the novelty of finding these more unexpected species within the city centre, a page on Instagram to inspire people to pay more attention to their surroundings while going from point A to B during their day-to-day. That has now evolved slightly into more of an emphasis on understanding the stories behind these trees, how they arrived here and the people that planted them.
I’m also a London National Park City Ranger in Southwark and am passionate about creating more spaces for community orchards and making existing orchards more welcoming and accessible, so I share many of the initiatives I'm taking part in through Fruity Walks too.
I balance those hobbies with my full-time job as a sustainable design engineer in the built environment.
Where did you explore during your shoot with Joya, and what fruit did you find?
We explored many of the green spaces in Bermondsey, South East London. We started off with the kiwi vine in Druid Street along the famous Beer Mile and headed to the Rouel Estate Orchard, St.James's churchyard and Southwark Park. We saw a range of fruit trees, mainly apples, pears and plums, and some medlars, quince, lemons and baby kiwis on the vine.
Where did your interest in fruit foraging start?
It all started in my childhood. My mum comes from a small village in Spain called Garcillan, where we spent a lot of our summers on my family’s vegetable farm. Early on, I learned where food comes from and the patience and effort it requires to grow. So I've always been aware of my surroundings and been quick to spot food growing around me.
During the pandemic, when we were all forced to slow down, I started really paying more close attention to my neighbourhood on my walks to the park. When the world felt frozen in a very uncertain standstill, I found a lot of comfort in seeing the trees move on and bloom, flower and grow their fruits. It gave me something to look forward to, knowing that with patience and time, no matter what else happened in the world, the apples would grow, and I'd get to taste them at the end of the summer.
I wanted to capture that and help others identify their local fruit trees so they could feel that sense of possibility as well.
What’s your favourite fruit tree?
My favourite fruit tree is the Persimmon tree, also known as Sharon fruit or Kaki. It was the first ‘exotic’ fruit tree I saw in London at the Imperial War Museum gardens and it just blew my mind that it was possible for this to grow in the UK. The fruit is orange with a smooth thick skin. The taste is similar to a juicy apricot when it’s mature. It’s delicious!
Tell us about a particular moment that stood out to you on one of your Fruity Walks.
Even at the beginning of this project, many people were so supportive, sharing locations of fruit trees they’d seen in London. I got a tip that there was a grapefruit tree growing near Battersea in someone’s garden, so off I went to find it. After taking some pictures of it, as I was about to leave, the owner of the tree came out to take her bins out, and we started talking. She told me she’d brought the seedlings of this tree from Grenada 50 years ago to remind her of home. It shifted my perspective, taking the emphasis off the trees themselves and thinking about the people who grew them. I made it my goal to find the stories behind these trees.
Being an immigrant to the UK myself, I felt instantly the feelings she described, the universal feeling of comfort at finding familiarity in a foreign place.
What is your vision for London in the future?
My vision for a future London would include having dedicated orchards at every single public park. Areas that were clearly signalled and labelled as you walked into the park. When you give people the knowledge of what can be found in the parks, they become more accessible and more equitable for everyone to feel comfortable walking into these spaces, giving them the power to enjoy them fully.
Why are community orchards important?
Planting more community orchards is incredibly important. First of all, for the younger generations to be out in nature, to start understanding where their food comes from and be active participants in their community. When people understand and witness the patience and effort it takes to grow food, it makes them care. It makes wasting food a lot harder when you’ve been patiently waiting to eat that apple for an entire year.
Community orchards are also an incredible tool for community cohesion. They bring neighbourhoods together out in nature and create a sense of common purpose towards making the space thrive for everyone to be able to enjoy the bounty during the harvest.
When do you feel most free in your body?
I feel most free in my body when I'm walking around, getting lost and discovering new places or finding new fruit trees.
How do you balance the urban and nature in your life?
My job is to help design sustainable buildings, and my hobby is learning more about community orchards, which shows my love for both urban and nature equally. Living in London, it is surprisingly easy to balance both as we are spoiled with the number of green spaces within the city. I try to make sure I break out of the concrete jungle after work and at weekends, exploring parks and forests around the city.
Text: Joya Berrow
Photographs and video: Joya Berrow