Sep 202012
 

Kas, Turkey

OK, so this isn’t a garden at all. But it’s the outside of a house where some plants should be and it’s an excuse to show you these cat silhouettes. Street cats are everywhere in Turkey, and on the whole they seem well loved, well fed and supremely confident. They’re always up for a bit of attention and they got plenty of it from me.

The front of this white house was a homage to Turkey’s feline population, and it made me smile.

Aug 152012
 

South Kensington

As London returns to normal after the Olympics, I miss not only the sport but the emptiness of the rest of the city. In the next couple of posts, I’ll feature some ‘secret’ gardens I came across when I managed to tear myself from the TV.  They’re perfect for a quiet alfresco drink or a lounge with a book, and enjoying them won’t cost you more than a sandwich at Pret A Manger.

First up is the garden at the Victoria & Albert Museum, designed by landscape architect Kim Wilkie. Lined with hydrangeas and formal planters, it’s reminiscent of an Italian palazzo. It’s grand – and loads of fun.

Kids (and adults) can paddle in the shallow pool, spin and wobble on a Thomas Heatherwick chair or simply lie on the grass. On a warm Friday evening (when the V&A opens late) it was busy but civilised, and light years from the bustle of the city just outside.

Jun 032012
 

Shoreditch

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.

Dan Shea, Camilla Parker-Bowles and me

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

May 302012
 

Westbourne Grove

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.

May 102012
 

Spitalfields

On my way back from St Leonard’s Church (see below) I popped into Spitalfields, where this bench outside Verde & Company caught my eye. I like the way little tables are built into the bench – something that would work well in a smaller garden. I also like the little box for the geranium.

The queue was snaking out of the door, and now I’ve looked at the cafe’s menu online, I can see why. I wish I’d gone in.

Sep 132011
 

Walthamstow

Also on the E17 Art Trail we passed this little gem, which belongs to Becky Wynn Griffiths and her partner. From the Art Trail map we weren’t sure whether the art in the house was going to feature cats crying blood (yes, really) or championship farm animals. We were relieved to find it was the latter. Becky’s art centres around photographs and paintings of prizewinning cows, sheep and pigs.

Needless to say I tarried awhile in the front garden. It’s home to some bright annuals and perennials in pots, a big phormium, nasturtiums spilling out of windowboxes and an acer. The burnished shades complement each other perfectly.  There’s even a bench, topped with interesting objects. The whole garden is a great lesson in what you can achieve in just a few square metres.

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.

Aug 012011
 

Tufnell Park

More often than not the bit that juts out in front of a basement flat is unplanted and grim, or covered in weed-infested gravel or slate. But this mini gravel garden/rockery is the perfect solution with its thrift, hebes, campanulas etc.

I particularly like the cute little container of alpines. And the classy window box.

Jul 252011
 

Islington

When I was at King Henry’s Walk Garden the other day I saw this bike lock. I’ve spotted quite a few of them over town recently and had been wondering who made them. Turns out they’re called PlantLocks and are made by the Front Yard Company, which aims to make front yards and gardens useful places for storing objects securely and attractively. Hurrah for them.

A PlantLock costs £135 inc VAT and weighs about 75kg when planted up, rendering it immoveable. Nifty, huh?