Jun 292013
 
Hertfordshire

Hertfordshire

There’s a new entry to my notional and ever-changing list of Top Ten Gardens That I’ve Ever Visited: Tom Stuart Smith’s garden in Hertfordshire. It was open for the Yellow Book a couple of weeks ago and a £7 donation to charity bought the opportunity to see the private garden of one of Britain’s best garden designers.

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And boy, it’s good. The setting is incredible – just off the M25, in one of the most densely populated areas of the country, yet surrounded by green fields. And of course there’s oodles of space – perfect for experimenting with different planting styles and indulging every design fantasy. But just like Tom’s gold medal-winning Chelsea Flower show creations, his own garden is not remotely showy, just perfectly executed.

The hard landscaping is classy, but not flash – it doesn’t detract from the plants. Part of the garden is more traditional, with deep, tall herbaceous borders against a backdrop of shaped but shaggy hedges. The more contemporary part of the garden is home to the water tanks that formed part of his Chelsea 2006 garden – one of my favourites ever at Chelsea. At the moment the dominant colours are acid greens, dark pinks and purples from astrantias, euphorbias, French lavender, grasses and sage.

TSS1

I’ve seen Tom do talks on his Chelsea gardens, and he’s very modest about his achievements. He makes the whole thing sound so effortless – like it’s really no big deal to create a Best in Show garden. On the open day, I heard him telling one visitor that he doesn’t do any particular lawn care and saying to another that many of the plants he uses are ‘bog standard’ – Geranium psilostemon, alliums and sweet rocket. I don’t know if that makes me feel better or worse – most people have bog standard plants in their gardens and don’t bother much with lawn care, but their gardens don’t look like Tom’s. Not least because of their size, but also because it’s darn hard to put plants together well. Mum and I went back to her problem border (home to several of Tom’s ‘bog standard’ plants), and made a note to get hold of some sweet rocket pronto asap. Well, it’s a start.

TSS3

Jun 232013
 
Brixton

Brixton

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.

Deb Nagan's garden in Brixton

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.

Deb Nagan's garden in Brixton

Jun 202013
 
Temple3

Temple

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.

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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.

Jun 152013
 
Embankment

Embankment

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.

Inner Temple Chelsea Fringe dog show

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.

Inner Temple Chelsea Fringe dog show

Jun 102013
 
Connaught Square

Connaught Square

I had a few minutes to kill before I went for dinner the other night and went for a wander around Connaught Square. One of the houses had a policeman standing outside it, holding a large gun. Two thoughts occurred to me: 1) It’s a pretty poor state of affairs when you have a policeman permanently stationed outside your home and 2) Even if you have pots of money, why live there? It’s off quite a grim part of the Edgware Road, and near Marble Arch, which is equally unappealing in my book. That said, it is within striking distance of the Ranoush Juice Bar, so at least there are some decent falafel in the area.

I found out later that the house belongs to Tony Blair.

But this is not a blog post about Tony B. Liar or his house. It’s about this house, on the corner of the square. It’s covered in roses, the likes of which I haven’t seen since I was in Amsterdam last year. You can’t really tell from this pic but every inch of the house, railings and basement area is covered in some kind of vegetation. It’s a joy to behold.

I especially liked the window boxes. They’re still in winter garb but are powering on. I love the use of the pussy willow branches. Pussy willow is pretty much the best thing you can buy if you have a fiver to spare in autumn – it just goes on and on, even if you put it in a vase without any water. Apparently this house is the inspiration for John’s winter window boxes.

Pansies, pussy willow, heather

 

Jun 082013
 
Finsbury Park

Finsbury Park

If I could live anywhere in London, it would be Ambler Road. Who wouldn’t want to live on a street that is home to its very own topiary elephants (and a baby owl)? There’s also a shop around the corner that only sells naan breads. I just love that idea.

The street also has the perfect mix of ages and socio-ethnic groups, and thanks to Naomi Schillinger and her band of Blackstock Triangle Gardeners, some great front gardens and tree pits. The sense of community as a result of all this greenfingered activity is astounding and if I hadn’t witnessed it for myself many times, I don’t think I’d really believe it.

Ambler Road isn’t manicured in a Britain in Bloom way – you won’t find neat bedding displays or immaculate lawns. What you will find is a community veg patch, crops in dumpster bags and some small front gardens that are cleverly planted.

Robert’s garden (below) was tarted up thanks to an Islington Council grant – a few years back they were trying to encourage people to plant up, not pave over, their front gardens. Needless to say there’s no funding available nowadays, but quite a few gardens were tarted up as a result.

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Robert’s neighbours’ garden (below) is filled almost exclusively with veg in dumpster bags. I’ve always thought dumpster bags were a bit unsightly, but these are packed closely together. The rhubarb makes a great centrepiece.

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But back to the topiary. The elephants came about because the formerly overgrown hedge was a magnet for antisocial behaviour – you can read the full story at Out of My Shed. The aptly named Tim Bushe created them – here’s more of his handiwork.

 

Jun 052013
 
Finsbury Park

Finsbury Park

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.

Jun 022013
 
Finsbury Park

Finsbury Park

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.

Chelsea-style planting in Finsbury Park