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.


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.


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.


Sep 102012

Queen Elizabeth Hall Roof Garden

I suffered rather an ordeal the other night. In other words, I had my photo taken. My friend Naomi at Out of My Shed is writing a book, and she plans to include me in it.

It is an undisputed fact that I always look awful in pictures. I was once photographed for Which? Travel magazine (clutching a bottle of tequila… it’s a long story). The photographer said that the harder the person is to take a picture of, the longer the job lasts. Taking one picture of me took FOUR HOURS. In the resulting shot I looked like a burglar with a drink problem (bottle of tequila + the unfortunate choice of a stripey top).

Anyway, Naomi rather sprung this picture-taking session on me and it was just my luck that I was having a bad hair (and bad cold) day. But one does not say no to Naomi, so off we went to the Queen Elizabeth Hall roof garden for the ultimate urban veg growing vibe.

The place has got a lot more popular since I last went (and rightly so – it’s fab), and there were people sitting everywhere. Naomi snapped away, doing her best with such a lousy subject, while everyone no doubt wondered why a woman was having her picture taken next to some vegetables.

The ordeal over, we had a beer and admired the gardens. I loved this informal screen that has sprung up the length of the pergola that leads to the Hayward Gallery. The raised bed underneath it is probably one and a half feet wide and deep, and is stuffed to the gills with Verbena bonariensis, Solanum jasminoides, Joe Pye weed, the odd rose, nasturtiums and herbs. Edible, ornamental, and scented.

May 162012
Finsbury Park

My friend Naomi is fast becoming something of a celebrity.

She’s the current go-to person when any media outlet wants an interview on community gardening – not least because of her street growing project‘s involvement in the Chelsea Fringe. She’s had Bunny Guinness on the phone for the Telegraph and BBC (radio and TV) crews beating a path to her door. And rightly so – she’s media friendly, knows what she’s talking about and is talking from first-hand experience.

So it’s just as well that Naomi’s front garden is looking pretty good. The raised bed beneath the window is filled with tulips (‘Helmar’ and ‘Burgundy’). Another is filled with veg. Expect to see quite a lot more of it, and the rest of Naomi’s street, on a TV screen near you soon.

Jul 272011

Finsbury Park

Last Sunday, my friend Naomi had an impromptu lunch party.  It was still going strong at 6.30pm, when her garden was bathed in some lovely dappled shade.

The garden is the perfect illustration of just how many plants you can cram in, and how great a garden can look, if you don’t have a lawn. The front is reserved for veg and some extremely tall sunflowers courtesy of Great Dixter where Naomi sometimes volunteers.

Naomi spreads her knowledge of gardening far and wide – she’s got entire streets in her neighbourhood planting veg in their front gardens and beautifying their tree pits. As a result she’s just found out that she’s been nominated for two community gardening awards.

Be sure to check out her popular and very informative blog.