Strawberries in a hanging basket

Strawberries in a hanging basket
Nunney, Somerset

It’s a brave and generous person who grows luscious-looking strawberries in two hanging baskets right next to a busy pavement. Nunney is a pretty village with a very grand ruined castle, and it attracts its fair share of tourists. People must be walking past these tantalising berries all day – I wonder how many have succumbed to temptation?

I think the variety is strawberry ‘Toscana’, a new-ish everbearing variety that has pink flowers (you can just see one to the top right of the pic). Something this pretty and edible is the holy grail of gardening as far as I’m concerned, and I will definitely be growing some next year. They will be residing in my back garden, though. I’m not at all generous as far as soft fruits are concerned.

Amsterdam’s open gardens

Amsterdam

Last weekend Naomi and I hopped on the Eurostar for a garden nerds’ getaway. We went to Amsterdam for its open garden weekend (Open Tuinen Dagen), when around 30 gardens open to the public. There aren’t many people I could drag around 30 gardens, but Naomi is definitely one of them.

We managed to see around 25 of the gardens in two days, and it was fun. We got to snoop at some pretty impressive canal houses, galleries and museums (the Dutch seem shamelessly nosy, so we were too). We discovered streets we wouldn’t normally have walked down, stopped off in some nice cafes, and in true garden visiting tradition, ate a lot of cake.

Box is most definitely the dominant plant in Amsterdam, and many gardens, such as the one at the Museum Van Loon (above), are formal parterres. They’re found in even the smallest of gardens, filled with roses and bedding. They’re lovely, and a novelty at first, but we were soon hankering to see anything that wasn’t a box ball, hedge or block.

Fortunately around half of the gardens were virtually box-free. All of them had a design idea or planting combination to take inspiration from. Here are my favourites.


The garden at the swanky Canal House Hotel on Keizersgracht was designed by a couple of Brits, Rose Dale and Laura Heybrook of Dale and Heybrook. The contemporary black and white theme matched the interior of the hotel perfectly, and the abundant, lush planting and gentle water features made it a peaceful retreat. The hotel is pretty posh, but the staff were more than happy to let everyone lounge on the outdoor sofas, drinking free iced tea.


The garden at Amnesty Internation HQ (above) was a tranquil, contemplative space: a canopy of robinia trees underplanted with Luzula nivea and campanulas.


My prize for the most original garden went to the Canal House on Herengracht (above). In a bold take on the traditional parterre, oodles of box were confined within a grid of corten steel. The effect was loosened by blowsy, cow parsley-esque valerian (Valeriana officinalis).


The garden at Kerkstraat 67 was extraordinary. Huge hedges of perfectly sculpted privet swept down the garden and pooled at the bottom in big fat blobs.


The private garden above was delightfully romantic and pretty, and a great lesson in how to break up a square space.


And my favourite? The garden at La Cuisine Française. It didn’t have the wow factor of some of the other gardens, but it felt the most loved and lived in.

Its layout could be adapted to any long, thin garden and the planting was a happy mix of edible and ornamental – towering herbs including lovage and sweet cicely, standard gooseberries and wisteria, foxgloves, tons of salad and alliums – plus a huge dining table. Its English owner, Patricia, was on hand with plant advice and Dutch poffertjes. Many Amsterdam gardens have a garden house, and Patricia lives in hers.

Soho

Soho

Only in Soho, I would wager, is it possible to see two prostitutes and an apple tree within a few feet of each other.

No sooner had my friend Vicky told me that her boyfriend was once propositioned in Soho by a lady who said ‘Any business?’ then we saw two women and two men down an alleyway, all looking slightly shifty. Of course there could be a perfectly innocent explanation for the goings-on, but let’s just say that the women weren’t dressed for a day at the office or a night out and there was definitely some kind of deal going on. Then we heard one woman saying to the other, ‘Do you want one or two?’ Oooer.

Moments later we walked past 68 Dean Street, where this apple tree had lots of juicy-looking fruits on it. There’s also a big old ivy and a jasmine, which makes the house look like its been there for years. Which of course it has – since 1681, in fact. I’d never noticed it before, but it’s used for photo and film shoots.

Bees and fruit


People may be tapping on their smartphones throughout it but the Jardin du Luxembourg is very traditional with boules, a carousel and old fashioned swings.

I’d never noticed these traditional beehives before, or the orchard (below), originally tended by monks from the Chartreux monastery. It’s home to over 600 varieties of apples and pears, many very old, all trained as cordons, espaliers, U shapes and pyramids. It aims to show the public just how many varieties can be grown in France. Some of fruits were shrouded in paper bags – to keep them unblemished, maybe?

One pear tree even had its own obituary. A ‘Louise Bonne D’Avranches’ died at the age of 111 in 1978.

Naomi’s garden

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.

Victoria sunset

Victoria

I wasn’t expecting to take any pics yesterday as the weather was pretty grim, but towards the end of the day there was a beautiful sunset. I found these pleached pear trees – several rows of them – in the gardens opposite some swanky flats in Victoria.

And guess what? Beneath them was a lush lawn – and a sign saying ‘Keep off the grass’. Oh dear. Looks like the theory in my previous posting was not 100% correct. The sign did say it was private property, though.

I walked on the grass to take this pic.

If life gives you lemons…

Lemons growing on Wigmore St, 15 February
Wigmore Street, W1

… take a picture of them. This balcony is on Wimpole St, above a steak restaurant. Before Christmas, white roses were in bloom, and now its lemon tree is fruiting. One white rose remains. I nearly got run over taking this picture – in the end a friendly cab driver stopped for me.