Apr 192013
Buddhist garden in St John's Wood

St John’s Wood

I walk past this garden every day, and it gives me an inordinate amount of pleasure. Unlike pretty much every other garden in St John’s Wood, it is entirely unreconstructed. It has no box balls, just some traditional shrubs and perennials. It doesn’t have electric gates, just a Rosa rugosa trained along a few wires, and no hard landscaping apart from a little pond. There’s always something new to look at, and over the past few weeks it has been filled with primroses, forget-me-nots, pulmonaria, daffodils and an azalea. It’s semi-wild, but lovingly tended.

My SJW mole tells me that the house is a Buddhist monastery. It’s the former home of Christmas Humphreys, a barrister (he worked on the Ruth Ellis case) and a Buddhist. After his death he bequeathed the house to a Zen foundation.

I love the fact that the house isn’t owned by an oligarch or a banker, but some gentle people who meditate. I hope they never have cause to sell it, because if they do, it will be paved over and some box balls added just as soon as the new basement and electric gates have been put in.

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Apr 102013


Just off Marylebone High Street is this little mews. You can’t really tell from the pic, but the bamboos are really bushy and abundant and form a perfect screen for whatever is behind them (an office, by the looks of it). They contrast well with the clipped box balls and the Helichrysum petiolare ‘Silver’, which have gone a little bonkers (and have impressively come through the winter unscathed).

Around the bottom of the box balls is lots of chickweed. It is, of course, a weed. But it’s green and fresh and positively springlike, and it actually looks quite nice.

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Mar 012013

St John’s Wood

Regular readers of this blog (hello, both of you!) will know that St John’s Wood is considered the box ball capital of Europe. Topiary has been trending in NW8 for years now, along with fancy fencing, electric gates, doric columns, lion and eagle statues and overly large or small dogs.

Quite often, the box balls or lollipop bay trees are quite out of proportion with the giant pillars and lion statues, which amuses me because it shows that money cannot buy taste. But this tiny area (a side passage) is perfect. It contains just three plants: the obligatory box balls (lovely plump ones), a wall of Trachelospermum jasminoides and a Magnolia grandiflora. The big leaves of the magnolia contrast with the tiny leaves of the box, and the hard landscaping complements the pots and the walls. It’s simple, but really effective.

I’m reliably informed by my local mole that the garden was designed by Anouska Hempel’s ‘people’.

The same mole also informs me that the pots are made of plastic. In St John’s Wood! I’m surprised this isn’t contravening a local bylaw.

Feb 082011

Portland Place W1

Broadcasting House on Portland Place has been under wraps for months, and now it’s £1bn extension is complete. It’s all very snazzy but I must admit I noticed the new Portland Stone planters outside first.

Now I’ve always thought that planters in a street are a lovely idea, but surely they must double up as 1) litter bins or 2) urinals? These lovely examples are quite tall, thus hopefully averting the latter problem. But there was already an abandoned coffee cup among the fatsia and box and a big dark brown stain (coffee from the aforementioned cup, I hope!) on the white stone.

These planters aren’t here just to jolly up the place, though. Apparently they’re part of a security ‘ring of steel’ to ward off a terrorist attack and contain reinforced concrete. So plants are now part of the war on terror…

Jan 182011

Euston Road, London NW1

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.

Jan 032011

St Albans

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.