Sep 092011

South Bank

As I’ve mentioned before, fake plants really get my goat. My heart sinks every time I see a plastic box ball, and it’s sinking quite a lot at the moment as they seem to be getting more and more widespread.

I don’t think there’s any need or excuse for fake turf, either – even if it was allowed at the Chelsea Flower Show for the first time last year. God only knows the environmental implications of the stuff.

But conversely, this artificial grass I can live with. Of course I wish it was the real thing, but that wouldn’t be easy on a concrete base in the middle of the South Bank (although they have managed it a bit further along in the fabulous rooftop garden on top of the Queen Elizabeth Hall). But I like the fact that it introduces an element of green, and invites people to lounge about and play – key elements in a real garden.

Let’s just hope people don’t feel so inspired that they go home and promptly install a fake lawn in their back garden.

Jul 212011

Abbey Road

I used to live in a building called Utopia House. Never was a block of flats more inaccurately named, but that’s another story. One thing that used to fascinate me was that out of 18 flats, only two had plants on the balconies. The rest were home to junk that people didn’t have room for indoors. Space was at a premium, of course (why can’t designers create flats with enough storage – basements, bike stores etc?), but I got a lot of pleasure from gazing out at my green jungle. I couldn’t understand why 16 households in a fairly grim part of town were looking out on such a depressing view.

At the weekend I walked past the Alexandra & Ainsworth Estate and decided to have a look around. Whenever I’ve gone past it on the bus I’ve thought it looked like it must be home to some greenfingered residents, and so it is.

This was the best bit of planting I saw (I especially like the celebratory flags) but I also spotted lots of red geraniums (the perfect balcony plant as they’re so visible), lavender, courgettes, salads, garden gnomes and even trees in pots. Apparently the architect, Neave Brown, designed the site so that everyone had access to a private outdoor space of some kind. And 30-odd years later it’s obviously still appreciated, as most people seemed to be growing something.

I also spotted a community veg garden (growing in bags). And apparently the site will soon be getting some beehives, too.

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.

Jul 012011

Finsbury Park

Usually a patch of ground on the edge of a road is either planted with some cursory, sad-looking shrubs or nothing at all, but in Finsbury Park there are two nicely planted beds on either side of a junction.

Apparently they’re traffic calming measures, planted by Islington Council in the pre-cuts era.

Islington sounds like my kind of council. Last year, it actually managed to create some new allotments. That’s a feat most councils in other, less crowded parts of the country don’t seem capable of.

The man from the green space team at the council told me he’d identified several more potential sites for growing – odd pockets of land here and there. No doubt they’ll remain unloved and uncultivated for a while yet in this age of austerity.

Jun 142011

Aghia Sofia, Istanbul

Istanbul is chaotic, exotic, hot, full of contradictions and… filled with red roses. Beds of them brighten up every park, adorn every historical site, line the congested roads and stand in pots outside restaurants.

It’s hard to feel stressed surrounded by red roses, which maybe explains why the 16 million people who call Istanbul home seem pretty laid back (unless they’re trying to sell you a carpet).

Jun 092011


When I walked along a street with Steven, Tracy and Linda the other night, I was impressed that they all stopped to smell the roses. Tracy said that the best-smelling roses in London can be found on the Euston Road, in the garden in front of the Friends Meeting House.

That surprised me, as the Euston Road is one of the most polluted in London and not exactly renowned for its floral displays. But Tracy was right. There is a rose garden and the roses do indeed smell lovely. And it’s remarkably quiet considering it’s just a few metres back from the road.

Jun 032011

London W1

I nearly took a pic of the first sweet pea of the year today (a lone flower in a pot on Harley St) but then I stumbled across this huge garden. It’s packed with roses, geraniums and clematis in Versailles planters. It took me back as it’s not what you’d expect to find just behind Oxford St – it’s huge, fancy and French in style.

It took me a while to figure out what building it belongs to, but then I realised it’s the back of the Langham Hotel. Strangely there was no one in it on a lovely spring day – maybe because hoi polloi like me can peer in from the street.

May 142011

St John's Wood

I somehow managed to miss my turning on my walk home yesterday and ended up by the Beatles zebra crossing. Sometimes I quite like crossing it as it’s so iconic, but yesterday there were lots of tourists holding up the traffic and doing silly poses so I crossed the road further up. It meant that I got to walk past this garden, which I first saw in January.

It was pretty impressive then but it looks totally different now. It’s exploded into a haze of purple: perennial wallflowers and hardy geraniums. Bees were buzzing all over it. And I reckon it will look good for a while yet – there are lots of other plants lurking under the wallflowers, ready to do their thing. The residents of the apartment block are very fortunate to have such an amazing entrance.

Apr 222011

Old Arsenal stadium

When I was looking to buy a flat recently, the new development on the site of the old Arsenal stadium kept coming up on Rightmove. I wasn’t interested a) as I liked the old stadium just as it was b) I wanted a garden and c) I couldn’t afford a flat there anyway.

I went past the new(ish) development the other day and the gate was open, so I went in. And I was amazed at how green it was. A hell of a lot of the area – well, the size of a football pitch, really – has been given over to planting, which is by the renowned landscape architect Christopher Bradley-Hole. It’s a grid of hedges, grasses, block planting, glass screens and trees. And some of the flats do actually have gardens (albeit very small ones).

I was impressed. The garden seems like a fitting incarnation for a former football club – it’s the main feature of the development, and every balcony overlooks it. It seemed incredibly peaceful, too, and it struck me as a very nice place to live.

Mar 282011

St Albans

I went to pick up my nephew Joe from school the other day. He goes to the same school that I went to in the 1970s and almost everything about it is exactly the same, right down to the smell in the classrooms. But where once there was a concrete paddling pool (used a handful of times a year when the weather was hot enough) there is now a small garden. The pupils also have an allotment and there are plots for parents to rent, too.

When Joe came to my allotment last year, he expertly harvested a courgette, twisting it off at its base. He said he’d learnt how to do it at nursery. I wouldn’t have known what a courgette was at the age of four.

Any article about growing food with kids always says that children are more likely to eat food they’ve grown themselves, but that’s not the case with Joe. He’s not likely to eat a courgette anytime soon – or any other green vegetable for that matter. Although when it comes to the strawberries that his Dad grows in pots, no one else gets a look-in.