My flatmate came back from the corner shop the other week with some bad news to impart. The overgrown but romantic planting – lots of climbers and ivy – outside our local French restaurant was being ripped out. Today he came back to report that some bespoke willow fencing was being put up in its place. It’s being installed by a well-known willow craftsman, Jay Davey, and he’s clearly done a great job. But is this rustic chic look right for a smart London street? I think I preferred the plants.
I got lost in Victoria a few years ago and stumbled across this tiny street of slightly dilapidated terraced houses. I remember admiring this sculpture then and was pleased to see it’s still there, some daffs peeping up at its base. It’s called Beauty through Adversity and was made by a chap called Tony Laing. I’ve had a quick Google and can’t find out anything about him. The building is, I think, a hostel.
From a distance these box balls look real, but get a bit closer and there’s something odd about them. They’re a bit too round, and a bit too monotone, a bit too dark. And totally inert.
Because they’re plastic.
I honestly can’t understand why anyone uses them. They take from the environment and give absolutely nothing back. And yet I’m seeing more and more of them.
Real box balls aren’t high maintenance – I’m the worst pot waterer in the world and I’ve never managed to kill one. And they don’t need clipping that much (I like mine a bit fluffy around the edges). They’re not cheap, but then nor are the fake versions – they cost about the same.
A fake box ball won’t grow, absorb CO2, give back O2, or increase biodiversity, or sport lovely fresh green shoots in spring. My heart sinks every time I see one.
Just down from the Abbey Road Studios and the famous zebra crossing is this mansion block front garden. The brick raised beds look like they’ve been there since Paul, John, Ringo and George’s day, when they would have probably have been filled with colourful bedding. Now they’re planted up with grasses, euphorbias, sedums, iris and other perennials and much better they look for it too. I’ll pop back in the summer to see what they look like then.
On this bone-chillingly cold day I went to Kew Gardens with the photographer Paul Debois. He’d kindly agreed to give me some expert tuition on how to use my camera so that I can take better pictures for this blog. Poor Paul probably wasn’t banking on getting hypothermia or on giving rudimentary instructions (‘use both hands!!’) with alarming regularity but he put a brave face on it and gave me lots of great advice. I learnt loads, including:
1) Use both hands when taking a pic (duh)
2) MOVE AROUND a lot to find the right angle
3) Shooting from a low angle is often best
4) Tilt the camera up (sky is more interesting than paving)
5) Don’t be afraid of the manual settings
6) You have to make the camera see what the eye sees
7) A homemade reflector (cardboard covered with tin foil) can work wonders
8) My camera has its limitations – I’m never going to take shots with a lovely blurry background
9) I wish I had a better camera.
This posh terrace of houses really stood out this morning as their front gardens are so green. All of the gardens have a similar set-up – some bamboos, fatsias, choisyas and so on, plus bin stores covered in alpines and evergreens. Quite a few of them have little seating areas. They look very similar, so maybe they were planted by the same person. Whoever it was certainly knew what they were doing.
There are often mysterious goings-on at the deconsecrated church next door to my office. Sometimes lasers light up the building for no apparent reason, and then a red carpet and some bouncers appear. At other times it seems to turn into some sort of gallery, and it’s never clear whether it’s open to the public or not.
But there was no mistaking Malcolm Maclaren’s funeral there a few months back. Black-plumed horses pulled a sparkling carriage bearing the coffin and black-clad mourners (including Vivienne Westwood and Tracy Emin) spilled onto the street. A green double decker bus blared out punk as the cortege set off for Highgate Cemetery. It was a gloriously sunny day and the ultimate send-off.
Today was another gloriously sunny day – the first, seemingly, for weeks. This time the event at the church was more prosaic – a B&Q press do. The steps of the church were adorned with topiary box and bay and the guys setting up the display were enjoying their lunch in the sun. The Euston Road is one of the busiest and greyest roads in London, but this oasis of green made it seem a little less manic.
Half-prices cherries were on sale at the John Lewis Food Hall at lunchtime, and (slightly raggedy) geraniums were in bloom on Harley Street. Is it really January?
Today I decided to combine New Year Resolution No.1 (see previous post) with New Year Resolution No. 2 – to get fit (yawn!). So I donned my trainers and went for a run, camera in hand. It was practically dusk, but I told myself that it’s the thought that counts.
Anyway, I saw plenty of abandoned Xmas trees and slushy cyclamen and things weren’t looking good at all, but just as the light began to fade I came across this classy front garden. With plenty of structure (box balls), evergreens (Nandina domestica), grasses and seedheads (Verbena bonariensis), it was the ultimate low-maintenance garden that looks as good in January as it will all year.
Lights were on in the front room and very cosy and inviting it looked too, with a Siamese cat snoozing on the sofa. I was a bit worried that someone would walk into the room at any second and see a woman in jogging gear pointing a camera at their house. So I quickly took a couple of shots and ran off.
Five minutes later I was back. I’d got lost and had been forced to jog (okay, walk) back the way I’d come. As I passed the house, the young couple who lived there were walking down the garden path. I’d like to have asked them if they designed the garden themselves, or whether someone did it for them. But I thought being accosted by a camera-wielding jogger in the dark might freak them out a bit, so I limped on home.
I nearly broke my first New Year resolution within hours of waking up. I was supposed to be starting this blog – a year of documenting inspiring planting ideas or gorgeous gardens wherever I happen to be. But 1) I had a hangover. 2) The light levels were extremely low. 3) It was raining. 4) I had a heavy bag with me. 5) I wanted to lie on the sofa.
I didn’t feel like wandering around a strange area of London looking for horticultural inspiration. And I thought… maybe I can just start this blog tomorrow! No one will be reading it after all…
Walking home from the station, though, I tried to look out for something worth photographing. There wasn’t much. All of my favourite gardens looked distinctly downbeat and even a usually lovely knot garden was littered with uncollected recycling bins.
But then I saw this little window box, hanging somewhat oddly from a picket fence and flanked by recycling boxes, a wheelie bin and a pebbledash wall. The sempervivums have survived the snow and wet and are positively glowing on this greyest of January days.
Phew. Resolutions intact so far! Now where did I put the alka seltzer…