May 262014
 
Bath

Bath

This little seating area is at the back of a garden, on the edge of some allotments. I’m not sure whether it’s part of the allotments, or part of the garden. Either way, it’s charming. I like the wildness of it.

It made me think of my own garden. A couple of weeks ago, it was home to some spectacular apple blossom, and a lawn that had become almost meadow-like, filled with daisies, dandelions and herb robert. Rubbish weather, too much work and a shoulder injury meant that I hadn’t been able to mow it. I kind of liked it like that, although I did feel that it was teetering on the edge of chaos.

My boyfriend mowed the lawn, trying to avoid the black and white bees* that were buzzing over it, and order was restored once more. But I’m not sure which version of the garden I preferred. As the garden develops, I’m going to keep some areas of long grass and create a proper mini meadow.

*I’ve subsequently discovered that the bees are Ashy mining bees, Andrena cineraria, which nest in lawns at this time of year. They pollinate fruit trees and nest in lawns. Another reason not to mow.

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

Nov 072011
 

St Albans

We had a disaster with our Florence fennel at the allotment this year. Bar a couple of plants, it all bolted, and once that happens the bulbs are too tough to eat. I think lack of watering at a crucial stage may have been to blame.

But every cloud has a silver lining and this weekend the bolted plants looked fantastic – about 6ft high and the kind of fresh, bright green that you only see in spring. They looked positively other-worldly amid a sea of decaying, brown plants.

Next year I’d like to actually eat some fennel so will make a bit more of an effort to look after the plants. But I’ll definitely neglect a row so I can enjoy the flowers too.

Nov 032011
 

St Albans

I’ve never noticed this shed before, even though it’s on the way to my allotment. I’m not sure what the roof terrace bit is for – is it a sunbathing area, or a lookout point? It might have come in handy after the terrible chicken massacre earlier this year.

I’m loving the yellow and brown colour combo, anyway. And the huge windows. And the fact that it’s a bit higgledy-piggledy. I’d love to have a go at building something like this one day, but seeing as I struggle to put up an ironing board, let alone something more complicated, it’s probably unlikely…

Sep 222011
 


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.

Jul 172011
 

Islington

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.

Mar 312011
 

St Albans

There are not many things that I covet in life but a greenhouse or potting shed is definitely one of them. So when I heard that Jackie and Pete were building a shed-stroke-greenhouse on their allotment I was a tad envious. They’ve been working on it all winter and when I went recently it was finished.

Jackie gave my co-allotmenteer Huw and I a guided tour. The greenhouse half is home to lots of seedlings and a giant datura overwintering in a pot, and the shed half has a seed cupboard made by Jackie and Pete’s daughter. There’s also a water butt, barbecue, deckchairs, weather vane and dreamcatcher. Pretty much all the materials were salvaged and lots of components were donated by other plotholders.

In the greenhouse Jackie has a sign that says: ‘Born to garden, obliged to work’. Jackie is now actually retired and spends most days at the allotment. Maybe the sign is there to remind her how lucky she is.