May 312016
 
Rose 'Blush 'Noisette'

Finsbury Park

In an interview in the February issue of Gardens Illustrated, Edward Flint, head gardener at Tidebrook Manor and tutor on the Art and Craft of Gardening course at Great Dixter, said something that really struck a chord: ‘If you see something that needs doing, it’s probably too late.’ His words ring in my ears every time I dash out into the garden to sow, plant or prune, just before the window of opportunity closes. Good gardeners – especially head gardeners, whose job it is to stay on top of things – stick to a pre-ordained timetable. Somehow I never manage that.

Naomi is a good, organised gardener like Edward. In the depths of winter, when training a rose is far from most people’s minds, she was out in the inclement weather working some magic on this climbing rose with her friend Catherine. She says it was the last thing she felt like doing, but it was the right time to do it, so she did it.

The rose is now blooming its socks off and clothing the wall of the house perfectly. And it’s not even against Naomi’s own house – it’s in the ‘community’ corner plot at the end of her road, home to all kinds of edible delights that local residents can help themselves to. Every time she walks past the rose she thinks to herself: ‘I did that’. She jokes that if she can do that, she can do anything.

This winter, I too will be out in the garden in the freezing cold, pruning and training my own climbing roses. Just you see if I don’t.

Sep 102013
 
Englishcombe, near Bath

Englishcombe, near Bath

This handsome owl is the unofficial mascot of the Millstream Project in Englishcombe Village, just outside Bath. I stumbled across it by accident one day and now drag all of my visitors there, crossing fields and streams and taking a few unnecessary detours thanks to my appalling sense of direction.

The area has been renovated and planted by the local community with help from the Duchy of Cornwall, which seems to own a lot of the land around Bath. It has brooks babbling through it, over 400 new trees and is teeming with wildlife and interesting plants. There’s a den for kids and a barbecue that anyone can use. It’s a lovely place to wander around or sit in (on some extremely nice handmade benches that were an eBay bargain). The organisers have a 21-year plan for the site, and I’m looking forward to seeing how it evolves.

Jun 082013
 
Finsbury Park

Finsbury Park

If I could live anywhere in London, it would be Ambler Road. Who wouldn’t want to live on a street that is home to its very own topiary elephants (and a baby owl)? There’s also a shop around the corner that only sells naan breads. I just love that idea.

The street also has the perfect mix of ages and socio-ethnic groups, and thanks to Naomi Schillinger and her band of Blackstock Triangle Gardeners, some great front gardens and tree pits. The sense of community as a result of all this greenfingered activity is astounding and if I hadn’t witnessed it for myself many times, I don’t think I’d really believe it.

Ambler Road isn’t manicured in a Britain in Bloom way – you won’t find neat bedding displays or immaculate lawns. What you will find is a community veg patch, crops in dumpster bags and some small front gardens that are cleverly planted.

Robert’s garden (below) was tarted up thanks to an Islington Council grant – a few years back they were trying to encourage people to plant up, not pave over, their front gardens. Needless to say there’s no funding available nowadays, but quite a few gardens were tarted up as a result.

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Robert’s neighbours’ garden (below) is filled almost exclusively with veg in dumpster bags. I’ve always thought dumpster bags were a bit unsightly, but these are packed closely together. The rhubarb makes a great centrepiece.

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But back to the topiary. The elephants came about because the formerly overgrown hedge was a magnet for antisocial behaviour – you can read the full story at Out of My Shed. The aptly named Tim Bushe created them – here’s more of his handiwork.

 

Jun 052013
 
Finsbury Park

Finsbury Park

As part of Out of my Shed‘s street party for the Chelsea Fringe, I was asked to judge eight tree pits that had been planted up in the local area. It’s the second time that I’ve been given this job, and it isn’t easy. Any tree pit that is planted up is infinitely prettier than one that isn’t, and who am I to judge one community-minded gardener’s plot against another? This year, I roped in gardener and fellow blogger Colin to help me.

Boy, was Colin a hard taskmaster. I was inclined to take each pit at face value – ie. what it was looking like on that particular day. But Colin’s assessments went much futher than that. He was looking for great structure, appropriate plant associations, good use of colour and more than one season of interest. All from a couple of square feet at the base of a tree!

Luckily Mr Mian’s tree pit looked great on the day AND met most of Colin’s exacting criteria, so we were unanimous in voting it the winner. The scheme was simple – mostly hardy geraniums – but there were also other perennials and lemon balm. The billowy plants were spilling over the pavement and could be seen from several metres away. We saw some other lovely ideas, too – one pit was planted with wildflowers, and another with yellow wallflowers that matched the front door of a house.

All of the ideas for the tree pits were infinitely better than those suggested on a recent Chelsea Fringe edition of Gardeners’ Question Time – Eric Robson suggested planting ground elder. The residents of N4 could show the panel a thing or two.

Jun 022013
 
Finsbury Park

Finsbury Park

Naomi from Out of my Shed hosted her second Chelsea Fringe street party this weekend. The sun was shining and there was a great turnout (and supply of cake) from Naomi’s local community. This year, gardening bloggers were also enjoying the event virtually, via a parallel Fringe event called the Bloggers’ Cut (geddit?), organised by Michelle over at Veg Plotting. How very 21st century!

Naomi scored a bit of a coup as she managed to get three Chelsea Pensioners to declare the party officially open. They always visit the Chelsea Flower Show, so it was fitting that they visited a Fringe event too. They caused quite a stir, posing expertly for the (many) cameras and chatting away to the fascinated crowd. And what lovely, twinkly chaps they were. I asked Bob (in the middle) how he’d got there, and he told me he’d walked (he’d got a taxi). Bill (on the right) told me all about life at the Chelsea Hospital. Apparently the food is excellent, especially the crumble. He took some pics on his smartphone. I’d love to have talked to them all for longer.

A bit of Chelsea Flower Show-style planting had also come to Finsbury Park, in the form of some cow parsley in the communal veg patch. I’ve walked past that veg patch many times, and have never noticed any cow parsley. A neighbour told me that Naomi dug it up from somewhere she shouldn’t have, but her secret’s safe with me.

Chelsea-style planting in Finsbury Park

May 282013
 
Rotherhithe

Rotherhithe

‘Gardening and drinking go really well together,’ says Lottie Muir, aka the Cocktail Gardener. And she should know – by day she’s a volunteer gardener at the Brunel Museum and by night she mixes delicious cocktails using botanical ingredients.

I’d never heard of the Brunel Museum, let alone its roof garden, before the Chelsea Fringe. The garden sits above Brunel’s Thames Tunnel and was created last year by Lottie, with the help of a small grant from Capital Growth and Southwark Council. Triangular raised beds are laid out like a Trivial Pursuit counter around a fire pit and sun dial. Volunteers in the garden can take the produce home, but Lottie admits that she’s increasingly favouring plants that she can infuse, distill or use as a garnish for her cocktails.

Ah yes, the cocktails. I don’t generally drink in the afternoon but that policy went out of the window the moment I clapped eyes on Lottie’s Midnight Apothecary menu. First up was a Chelsea Fringe Collins (jasmine-infused gin, St Germain elderflower liqueur, rose petal syrup, lemon juice and soda). It was long and refreshing, sweet and sour, pale pink and sparkling, and garnished with sweet william petals and a sprig of lavender. I could have drunk that all afternoon but for decency’s sake I moved on to the non-alcholic but equally amazing Lavender Honeysuckle (lavender-infused wildflower honey, lemon juice, lemon balm, mint and sparkling water – see the pic above).

If I wasn’t such a lightweight I’d have tried the deep crimson Silver Rose Hibiscus (silver rose tea-infused vodka, Cointreau, hibiscus syrup, lemon juice and bitters). As it was I had to be driven home in a daze – the sun, the alcohol, the hum of the bees, the gentle chatter, the fragrance of the lavender I’d been sitting next to and the fact that I was wearing a jumper in the 20-degree heat had all conspired to make me feel a little… sleepy.

The roof garden is a lovely and unexpected space, free to enter, and it’s a real sun trap too. I urge you to go, especially while Lottie is dispensing her cocktails – every Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon. Just make sure you don’t have anything important to do afterwards.

Brunel

Jun 072012
 

Walthamstow

It’s not often that you come across a street in London that has a real community feel, but Elmsdale Road in Walthamstow is one of them. The street opens its gardens once a year for charity, and neighbours and strangers do the rounds of the houses, admiring the gardens and eating cake.

The houses on the street all have very long, thin gardens, and unusually, many of them are only divided by chainlink fences. I take that as a sign that everyone gets on, and don’t feel the need to barricade themselves in as so many people do these days.

My two favourite gardens (apart from Mel’s, of course, which I’ve featured before) were divided into sections so you couldn’t see the whole garden at once. They both had formal layouts but loose, informal planting and were stuffed to the gills with plants and trees. When I finally get my garden (I’m now looking in earnest, so watch this space) this is the look I’ll be going for.

Jun 032012
 

Shoreditch

Here’s the second of my ‘before and after’ posts – this time the Oranges & Lemons Garden in Shoreditch. I helped oversee the garden for the Chelsea Fringe.

This was an ambitious project: it’s a big site in a churchyard in gritty, trendy Shoreditch that’s surrounded by busy roads, shaded by large trees and covered in concrete. Plus, there was no sponsor and therefore, no money. But that didn’t stop the designer, Dan Shea, pulling off a garden that’s been a roaring success and a highlight of the Fringe.


Dan was going to clad the pillars in real oranges and lemons, but in the end he sliced them and dried them in his  oven, put them between clear tape and hung them: a neat solution. Real lemons were attached to obelisks that he placed in four raised beds (put in place by the Shoreditch Sisters). Dan bought fake turf from RightStep Grass and got hold of some deckchairs from Tropicana. Gorgeous mature olives, citrus trees and shrubs were loaned by Clifton Nurseries.

Dan says that people have been coming to the garden in droves. On a hot day, in an area that’s short on green space, it has proved a big draw – it has a mix of sun and shade and provides somewhere to sit. Dan had a flash of inspiration and turned his leftover lemons (he’d bought 1000) into fresh lemonade, which went down a treat during the hot weekend we’ve just had. A bookseller from Occupy has been selling books for £1 and leaving them dotted around the place for people to read, and Dan has been playing reggae music from his girlfriend’s stereo – this has helped to entice people in and has drowned out the traffic noise.

And in a somewhat bizarre turn of events, the garden was visited on Wednesday by the Duchess of Cornwall. She’d heard about the Fringe and expressed an interest in visiting some of the gardens in the East End. She visited Spitalfields City Farm, the Dalston Eastern Curve, the Geffrye Museum, the Oranges & Lemons garden, and a pothole. I’m no royalist, but it was a lovely, celebratory occasion – she met some gardeners from the Hanbury Project and some local schoolkids (who sang Oranges & Lemons) and everyone who had taken part. She seemed genuinely interested and chatted to everyone.

Dan Shea, Camilla Parker-Bowles and me

The Oranges & Lemons garden encapsulates what the Fringe is about – it’s original, fun, has brought greenery to an urban space, and has given pleasure to a lot of people. I look forward to see what Dan comes up with next year. In the meantime, he’s now  concentrating on a garden he’s creating for the Hampton Court Flower Show in July...

All pics courtesy of Paul Debois – www.pauldebois.com