Here’s one of the best gardens I’ve seen in a long time. It belongs to Deborah Nagan and Michael Johnson, and it was open during the Chelsea Fringe. Deborah and Michael are architects and landscape architects and not surprisingly, their own space is pretty special. It has a cunning layout, classy hard landscaping (including some metal-edged raised beds) and a rill that eventually falls into a pond in the basement garden below. Like all cleverly designed gardens, it looks effortless, and works brilliantly.
The planting is deft, too – a mix of the traditional (foxgloves, peonies) and the contemporary (dark foliage, acid green flowers, and grasses). Edibles are used to ornamental effect – the bolted rainbow chard has an architectural quality all of its own and a screen of raspberry canes conceals the rabbit hutch, potting bench and compost heap. It’s a garden to linger over – there is so much brilliant detail.
And if that wasn’t enough, the front garden is pretty amazing too. It has raised beds, with some suitably architectural supports. Not what you expect on the busy Brixton Road.
While we’re on the subject of the Inner Temple Garden, here’s one of my favourite parts of it – the Peony Garden. It is home to peonies, obviously, but what I really like about it is its green-ness. There is colour, but it’s quite muted. The magnolia kicks off the show, then the wisteria takes over, followed by peonies, foxgloves, hardy geraniums and clematis.
During the Chelsea Fringe/Open Squares weekend, other Temple gardens were open too. If you get the chance to go, do – it’s fascinating to walk around a part of London that is rarely open to the public. There’s even a tiny shop that sells shirts and pommade. But it’s not all traditional, either – I liked this slightly unruly planting in a raised bed next to a very grand house.
Last Sunday was the inaugural Inner Temple Garden Dog Show, part of the Chelsea Fringe. I’m not really a dog person – in a previous life I worked on the TV programme Pet Rescue and in the space of one summer saw enough dysfunctional and scary canines (and their even more dysfunctional and scary owners) to last me a lifetime.
Happily most of the pooches in this competition were a delight – mostly terriers and spaniels. They were very keen on sniffing each other’s bottoms and took a fair amount of coaxing to stand in line and parade up and down. Boris, the spaniel that belongs to Andrea, the head gardener, had to be taken indoors shortly after the first contender arrived due to over-excitement and territorial barking.
Above are the contenders for the ‘Dog Most Like Its Owner’ category. First prize was won by the dog on the left, whose owner rather blatantly dressed in white and wore a furry gilet and headscarf. I thought it should have gone to the dog on the far right, whose fur perfectly matched its owner’s hair.
And this is Meg, winner of the ‘Dog The Judges Would Most Like To Take Home’ category. When I knelt down to give her a stroke, she climbed onto my lap and licked my face. Awwwww.
As part of Out of my Shed‘s street party for the Chelsea Fringe, I was asked to judge eight tree pits that had been planted up in the local area. It’s the second time that I’ve been given this job, and it isn’t easy. Any tree pit that is planted up is infinitely prettier than one that isn’t, and who am I to judge one community-minded gardener’s plot against another? This year, I roped in gardener and fellow blogger Colin to help me.
Boy, was Colin a hard taskmaster. I was inclined to take each pit at face value – ie. what it was looking like on that particular day. But Colin’s assessments went much futher than that. He was looking for great structure, appropriate plant associations, good use of colour and more than one season of interest. All from a couple of square feet at the base of a tree!
Luckily Mr Mian’s tree pit looked great on the day AND met most of Colin’s exacting criteria, so we were unanimous in voting it the winner. The scheme was simple – mostly hardy geraniums – but there were also other perennials and lemon balm. The billowy plants were spilling over the pavement and could be seen from several metres away. We saw some other lovely ideas, too – one pit was planted with wildflowers, and another with yellow wallflowers that matched the front door of a house.
All of the ideas for the tree pits were infinitely better than those suggested on a recent Chelsea Fringe edition of Gardeners’ Question Time – Eric Robson suggested planting ground elder. The residents of N4 could show the panel a thing or two.
Naomi from Out of my Shed hosted her second Chelsea Fringe street party this weekend. The sun was shining and there was a great turnout (and supply of cake) from Naomi’s local community. This year, gardening bloggers were also enjoying the event virtually, via a parallel Fringe event called the Bloggers’ Cut (geddit?), organised by Michelle over at Veg Plotting. How very 21st century!
Naomi scored a bit of a coup as she managed to get three Chelsea Pensioners to declare the party officially open. They always visit the Chelsea Flower Show, so it was fitting that they visited a Fringe event too. They caused quite a stir, posing expertly for the (many) cameras and chatting away to the fascinated crowd. And what lovely, twinkly chaps they were. I asked Bob (in the middle) how he’d got there, and he told me he’d walked (he’d got a taxi). Bill (on the right) told me all about life at the Chelsea Hospital. Apparently the food is excellent, especially the crumble. He took some pics on his smartphone. I’d love to have talked to them all for longer.
A bit of Chelsea Flower Show-style planting had also come to Finsbury Park, in the form of some cow parsley in the communal veg patch. I’ve walked past that veg patch many times, and have never noticed any cow parsley. A neighbour told me that Naomi dug it up from somewhere she shouldn’t have, but her secret’s safe with me.
‘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.
I’ve done quite a few posts on this blog about Andrea Brunsendorf’s amazing pot display. The last time I visited, the surfaces of most of the pots were covered in conifer trimmings – something they do in Germany as it’s too cold in the winter for most bedding plants. This time, it had erupted into colour. The bright red tulips are ‘Early Harvest’ and the crocuses (below) are Crocus biflorus ‘Blue Pearl’.
Andrea reckons that the garden is about a month behind this year. It still looks pretty wintery, although the hellebores and daffs are looking lovely and euphorbias are adding touches of acid yellow. Tulips are peeping optimistically through the soil. It’s all happening, but slowly.
So in the meantime, let’s fast forward to June, when the garden will be taking part in the Chelsea Fringe.
Andrea wanted to do something people wouldn’t expect from a garden that’s in a very traditional and formal setting, so she’s come up with the idea of a dog show. She says that many head gardeners have dogs (Andrea has the lovely Boris, a cockerpoo) but that most gardens don’t allow dogs. So on 9 June the garden will be the most dog-friendly in London, with a dog show with categories such as ‘waggiest tail’ and ‘dog most like its owner’. There will also be a horticultural quiz, cake show and gardening agony aunts and uncles. Roll on summer…
I visited my final Chelsea Fringe happening on Saturday – The Garden of Disorientation in Clerkenwell. Designed by landscape designer Deborah Nagan, it was a deceptively simple space, containing some higgeldy pallets packed with mint (supplied by Steve’s Leaves), sofas and bean bags, some great galvanised steel furniture from The Modern Garden Company, a wall of jasmine in Woolly Pockets and a pop-up bar serving mojitos. I loved the walls, created by Vienna-based artists Duller & Stippl with the help of volunteers. By all accounts, when the garden closed for the last time that night, some people were indeed disorientated…
Here’s the second of my ‘before and after’ posts – this time the Oranges & Lemons Garden in Shoreditch. I helped oversee the garden for the Chelsea Fringe.
This was an ambitious project: it’s a big site in a churchyard in gritty, trendy Shoreditch that’s surrounded by busy roads, shaded by large trees and covered in concrete. Plus, there was no sponsor and therefore, no money. But that didn’t stop the designer, Dan Shea, pulling off a garden that’s been a roaring success and a highlight of the Fringe.
Dan was going to clad the pillars in real oranges and lemons, but in the end he sliced them and dried them in his oven, put them between clear tape and hung them: a neat solution. Real lemons were attached to obelisks that he placed in four raised beds (put in place by the Shoreditch Sisters). Dan bought fake turf from RightStep Grass and got hold of some deckchairs from Tropicana. Gorgeous mature olives, citrus trees and shrubs were loaned by Clifton Nurseries.
Dan says that people have been coming to the garden in droves. On a hot day, in an area that’s short on green space, it has proved a big draw – it has a mix of sun and shade and provides somewhere to sit. Dan had a flash of inspiration and turned his leftover lemons (he’d bought 1000) into fresh lemonade, which went down a treat during the hot weekend we’ve just had. A bookseller from Occupy has been selling books for £1 and leaving them dotted around the place for people to read, and Dan has been playing reggae music from his girlfriend’s stereo – this has helped to entice people in and has drowned out the traffic noise.
And in a somewhat bizarre turn of events, the garden was visited on Wednesday by the Duchess of Cornwall. She’d heard about the Fringe and expressed an interest in visiting some of the gardens in the East End. She visited Spitalfields City Farm, the Dalston Eastern Curve, the Geffrye Museum, the Oranges & Lemons garden, and a pothole. I’m no royalist, but it was a lovely, celebratory occasion – she met some gardeners from the Hanbury Project and some local schoolkids (who sang Oranges & Lemons) and everyone who had taken part. She seemed genuinely interested and chatted to everyone.
The Oranges & Lemons garden encapsulates what the Fringe is about – it’s original, fun, has brought greenery to an urban space, and has given pleasure to a lot of people. I look forward to see what Dan comes up with next year. In the meantime, he’s now concentrating on a garden he’s creating for the Hampton Court Flower Show in July...
All pics courtesy of Paul Debois – www.pauldebois.com
A while ago, I published a picture of a dark, dank space at the back of the Idler Academy, and promised to show you its transformation for the Chelsea Fringe. So here it is: the Grove of Idleness. These pictures were taken at the opening party last week, when lots of people packed into the small space to admire the garden, have a drink and listen to mediaeval music.
Designed by Angela Newman, the garden is inspired by mediaeval herbers. These were small, enclosed gardens designed for retreat, contemplation, talking about love and listening to the lute. Now it’s a space for drinking tea or coffee, eating cake and soaking up the sun – the garden is a real suntrap.
The unflappable and super-efficient Angela has done an amazing job on a small budget. She’s employed several cunning tricks, such as covering the uneven, dark old patio with light-coloured gravel (cheap, and it lightens the space, too) and squeezing in seating for 16 people by including benches around the walls. All of the furniture comes from IKEA.
Serendipity has played a part in the garden as well – while we were in the cafe earlier in the year, a willow designer called Judith Needham was having a Latin lesson. She overheard our conversation about the Fringe and offered Angela her services. The result is the beautiful willow arch at the entrance to the cafe and the willow cladding around the raised beds.
All of the plants used in the raised beds – irises, lavender, herbs, aquilegias and so on – are cultivars of plants that would have been around in mediaeval times. And there are some gorgeous packets of seeds on sale too, all illustrated by Alice Smith, who did the cover of proprietor Tom Hodgkinson’s latest book, Brave Old World.
Unlike many gardens in the Fringe, the garden is permanent. Do go and eat, drink and make merry there if you can.