May 212012


The Chelsea Fringe has begun! Here’s one of the projects – Living Towers made by landscape architect Adam Shepherd. They’re still a work in progress in this pic, which was taken after a Fringe meeting last week at the Garden Museum. Adam specialises in green walls, and these towers are planted with persicaria and foxgloves.

At the Chelsea Fringe party at the museum this week, the Bicycle Beer Garden (above) also made an appearance and there were also giant tulip sculptures from Jigantics (below). That’s not to mention some cucumber and thyme-infused gin and some barn dancing.

The Fringe now has over 80 projects – not bad considering that the organisers would have been happy with around 20.  And it’s all been pulled off without a sponsor – just the hard work of lots of volunteers. I’m really proud to be a small part of it.

May 162012
Finsbury Park

My friend Naomi is fast becoming something of a celebrity.

She’s the current go-to person when any media outlet wants an interview on community gardening – not least because of her street growing project‘s involvement in the Chelsea Fringe. She’s had Bunny Guinness on the phone for the Telegraph and BBC (radio and TV) crews beating a path to her door. And rightly so – she’s media friendly, knows what she’s talking about and is talking from first-hand experience.

So it’s just as well that Naomi’s front garden is looking pretty good. The raised bed beneath the window is filled with tulips (‘Helmar’ and ‘Burgundy’). Another is filled with veg. Expect to see quite a lot more of it, and the rest of Naomi’s street, on a TV screen near you soon.

May 082012


On a rare sunny day last week (since when did May become the new December?) I went to St Leonard’s Church in Shoreditch to see how the Oranges & Lemons Garden for the Chelsea Fringe is coming along. Things are really progressing – Dan, the designer, has got hold of some astroturf to cover the ground and is borrowing lots of Mediterranean plants from the very classy Clifton Nurseries. He’s secured 25 deckchairs for people to lounge on and is in talks with caterers, too.

The Shoreditch Sisters and a team from the Independent on Sunday are going to help build the garden (the paper’s political editor, Jane Merrick, wrote a great article on the Fringe that you can read here.)

Dan’s still working on the logistics of cladding the church pillars with real oranges and lemons – if anyone has access to a cherry picker or scaffolding (for free), please let me know.

The garden is also being worked on by some students from the Hanbury Project. The project gives practical training to people recovering from homelessness, addiction, mental health problems, learning difficulties and long-term unemployment. The churchyard, to the side of the church, is planted and maintained by them. It looked magical on a beautiful May morning.

Apr 292012

New York

Almost three years ago to the day, I went to New York. Spring comes a few weeks later there – tulips and blossom were only just coming out and there were no leaves on the trees. And the weather was just as changeable as it is here – within the space of a week, the temperatures went from 20 degrees to 10 and back to 20 again.

I loved New York for the same reasons that everyone else does, but I was also intrigued to see how people garden in another big city. Often the plants used were the same as ours, just planted a little differently.

New York really put the idea of community gardens on my radar. The city has a long history of them and they’re found in the most unlikely places, tended by volunteers. This one was on the corner of two very busy main roads.




Apr 022012
Feb 092012


Here’s another plantless pic – this time St Leonard’s Church in Shoreditch. Come 21st of May it will have an ‘Oranges & Lemons’ garden as part of the Chelsea Fringe.

The Oranges & Lemons theme comes from the nursery rhyme, in which the church gets a mention: ‘When I grow rich, say the bells of Shoreditch’. If it looks vaguely familiar, it’s because it stars in the sitcom Rev.

This is the second Fringe garden that I’m involved with and in many ways it’s more ambitious than the first (see previous post). It’s much bigger for starters, and it needs funding – several thousand pounds-worth. Plus there’s the small matter of cladding the church pillars and tree trunks in fake oranges and lemons (if anyone has any ideas, please let me know!).

The designer, Dan Shea, has come up with an ambitious plan and the aim is to get as many passersby to visit the garden as possible, enticing them in not only with lovely planting but also music, drinks and deckchairs.

This church doesn’t do things by halves – it shelters and rehouses homeless people, runs groups for addicts and puts on gigs (it has amazing acoustics, apparently). So the garden will need to do it justice.

Nov 172011


By some standards this garden is a bit ramshackle and could do with a good leaf clearing session. But its location makes it stand out – it sits amid blocks of flats, offices and warehouses near Waterloo. Apparently it was unused, derelict land for ages until some locals reclaimed it a few years back and started gardening there.

I’ve never much cared for chrysanthemums but these were positively glowing in the near dark of a November afternoon. And the dahlias were still going strong, as yet untouched by frost in central London.

Oct 162011


I do like a bit of serendipity. No sooner had I read about Vegmead, a community veg garden in the middle of a park in Bath, than I walked straight past it. A former flowerbed, it was created by a group of volunteers as part of the Transition Bath movement in Hedgemead Park. It was planted in six days – you can watch a lovely video about its creation here. I’m not sure who gets to eat the crops…

Meanwhile Bath has won a silver gilt in the Britain in Bloom Awards. Bath in Bloom gave support to the Vegmead project, which shows that the competition isn’t all about immaculate flowerbeds like the one below. Apparently the Britain in Bloom judges saw much more veg displays around the country this year – I bet we’ll be seeing more of them in the future.


Sep 112011


This weekend, I had a legitimate reason for ogling at other people’s front gardens. It was the E17 Art Trail and my friend Danny had transformed his road into the Street of Blue Plaques. He had trawled old census records to come up with a plaque for almost every house, commemorating an ordinary person who had previously lived there.

It was a simple yet brilliant idea which was great fun and also strangely affecting. In just 100 years, most of the jobs that people used to toil away at have ceased to exist: dairyman, for example, and fur cutter, and (my favourite) train ticket printer. Some people were working with materials I’m not familiar with, such as Xylonite and mica, and one chap built Britain’s first motorcar. In the spirit of the art trail, most houses in the street were sporting a plaque, and where a house had been bombed in the war, Danny hung a plaque on a nearby tree or railing. Those that weren’t claimed adorn Danny’s own windows (above). You can see them all here.

The art trail, of course, was also another chance to have another look at Danny’s garden. It was looking as lovely as ever, and there was a small gathering of garden aficionados out the back cooing at his imaginative plant combinations. The patio is surrounded by a trellis that’s draped in a large-leaved vine, Vitis cognetiae, and Clematis armandii. I would never have thought of putting a trellis in that spot as it obscures the view of the rest of the garden, or of covering it with such bold plants, but of course it all works brilliantly.

Aug 142011

Walthamstow (by Paul Lindt)

My current accessories, a Nora Batty-style bandage and a crutch, are not conducive to taking pics for this blog. So it’s time to call in some favours. For the next few posts I’ll be employing some roving reporters to take pics on my behalf.

First up is Danny’s garden, taken by Paul Lindt. Danny is a man of many talents and his garden is a wonder, cleverly designed and laid out with his own fair hands, and packed with plants. Not that an estate agent liked it much, though – when he came round to value the house a while ago he informed Danny that the garden ‘could be very nice’.

Anyway, Danny’s front garden has been shortlisted for a ‘Best Kept Front Garden’ award in Walthamstow, and deservedly so.

Over to Danny…

‘In a blatant attempt to curry favour with the judges, and tick the criteria boxes (attractiveness, creativity, wildlife friendly, choice of plants), my supporting text for my entry read:

“Chock full of year-round interest, subtle colour, texture and some unusual plants. Danny’s front garden rises to the challenge of dry, summertime shade.He’s combined woodland plants like thalictrum, astrantia, tricyrtis, anemones, phlox and hardy geraniums. It’s peppered with self-seeded michaelmas daisies and softened by puffs of deschampsia.  The house is clothed in spring-flowering clematis and white wisteria and a headily scented trachelospermum (a surprising success in shade).

Architectural plants include acanthus, phormium and fern while the front door is flanked by a pair of cypress trees.  A wall-trained pyracantha has been home to nesting blackbirds again this year, and the soft dry soil provides nesting sites for solitary bees and the ubiquitous ant.  And he’s a martyr to the snail.
Come late summer spiders strike up instant webs between tall stems, and autumnal yellow and golden hues suffuse the foliage. Fading to a garden of evergreens and dried seedheads. When spring comes around the garden is soon awash with mauve clematis and wallflowers and tulips, bluebells and alliums until the street trees draw the curtains on the sun for another summer. 

It’s not the most manicured of gardens, ‘natural’ you might say, but Danny’s crammed it to the gunnells with lovely plants that vie for the attention of passers-by.”

Let’s hope he wins, eh? I’ll keep you posted. In the meantime if you spot a nice garden on your travels, please take a pic and send it to me via the Contact Me tab!
PS You can see more pics of Danny’s garden here. Well worth a look.