Jul 192011


In my job I am mostly deskbound but last week I was lucky enough to go to Devon to help out on a photoshoot at Riverford Farm near Buckfastleigh. That’s Riverford as in the organic veg box people, of course.

At the amazing Riverford Farm Field Kitchen, chef Jane Baxter and her team come up with amazing, seasonal veg dishes and some spectacular puddings twice a day; there is meat to go with them if you want it but it’s not the main attraction. You eat at communal tables, and the first time I went I was worried there wouldn’t be enough food to go around. But of course there was. The Times restaurant critic Giles Coren reckons he had the lunch of his life there and I’d second that (although I wasn’t with Giles when I had mine, obviously).

At first glance the site looks like a farm, as you’d expect, but as you near the Field Kitchen and Riverford HQ there’s lots of nice, exhuberant planting on terraces – shown here.

If you’re holidaying in Devon this summer, you MUST go. Just don’t plan too much for afterwards, as you may need a lie-down.

Jul 172011


I went on a foraging course lead by foraging king Miles Irving the other weekend. I was wondering what on earth there would be to forage in London but in the space of two hours we didn’t move more than a few metres and learned about the joys of hairy bittercress, water mint, king cup, yarrow, hoary mustard, wild rocket, wild lettuce, chickweed, sow thistle, procumbent yellow sorrel, clover, mugwort, lady’s bedstraw, dock, fat hen, nettles and much more.

I’ll never look at weeds in the same way again, but the real revelation of the day was King Henry’s Walk community garden. It was created a few years back on previously derelict land, with the support of my favourite London council, Islington, and run by volunteers. It has around 75 plots, much smaller and therefore more manageable than the average allotment, all looking artfully abundant and tended by bicycling locals. There are also some raised beds for less able users (pictured), a greenhouse, storage areas and a learning centre. The place is teeming with wildlife.

The garden has won a bucketful of awards, including two RHS London in Bloom awards, and rightly so. I know I keep banging on about this, but there is more land than we think that can be cultivated out there – it just takes some imagination and dedication.

Now, if you’ll excuse me I’m off for some meadowsweet custard and a hawthorn tea.

Jul 052011

South Bank

I’d heard that there was a new roof garden on the top of the Queen Elizabeth Hall, but not having read anything about it I was expecting a few cursory bamboos in pots. How wrong I was. It’s been created in partnership with the Eden Project, and they don’t do things by halves.

There are lush lawns, wildlife meadows, fruit trees in brightly coloured pots, a long scented pergola, abundant raised beds of veg and a scarecrow. On a fine summer’s evening, people were making full use of it – lounging on the lawns, chatting on benches and having a drink – but it wasn’t overrun, and I can’t help thinking that a lot of people don’t know about it. Which is a shame, because I can’t think of a nicer place to meet up this summer.

Sadly, the garden is only temporary. I might have to throw myself down on the lawn and refuse to budge when they dismantle it in September.

PS Have just found a lovely account of how the gardens were created – read it here.

Jun 232011

Finsbury Park

Colin is a man after my own heart – he’s greenfingered but he rents his flat, and is limited to gardening in containers. This he does very well, as the Great Dixter-esque pot combo outside his front door shows.

Just as Colin (who’s from Vancouver) was beginning to feel settled enough to start planting in the ground in the back garden, his landlord announced that he’s going to sell up! Colin, I feel your pain…

Jun 182011

I went for lunch at my friend Naomi’s house today. She’d made a salad entirely out of leaves from her garden, plus nasturtium and borage flowers (which taste like cucumber). The orange and blue flowers looked so pretty I had to take a pic.

And then we both decided we were tired, and took a nap!

May 162011

Ryton Gardens, nr Coventry

I went to a conference at Garden Organic the other day, at which the topic was gardening and sustainability. Gardening is not necessarily a ‘green activity’ – dodgy wood, peat, pesticides, herbicides etc all play their part.

The day was thought provoking and mind boggling and inevitably threw up more questions than answers. I’d like to add Alan Knight, Tim Lang and Chris Baines to my fantasy dinner party guest list so I can grill them about their inconvenient truths and ingenious ideas.

The gardens at Ryton are really abundant and immaculately kept. This is deliberate – Garden Organic want to show that gardening organically doesn’t have to be messy and unattractive. It’s just… gardening, but without the nasty add-ons.

Apr 212011

Finsbury Park

My friend Naomi is one of the keenest gardeners I know. She gardens for a living, has two allotments and has also set up a street growing scheme in her area which has given away free seeds and bulbs, beautified tree pits and so on. One of her neighbours says that if she had been around during WW2 she’d have been in the ATS.

Anyway, her front garden is looking pretty splendid at the moment. She’s got two raised beds in which she grows mostly veg and flowers for cutting. When she started a few years ago, she fully expected some of the produce to be pinched – but it wasn’t. Although you can’t see it from this pic, among the tulips (‘Ballerina’ and ‘Curly Sue’) are mustard leaf and strawberries.

Full details of how Naomi built her raised beds can be found on her lovely blog.