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

May 282013
 
Rotherhithe

Rotherhithe

‘Gardening and drinking go really well together,’ says Lottie Muir, aka the Cocktail Gardener. And she should know – by day she’s a volunteer gardener at the Brunel Museum and by night she mixes delicious cocktails using botanical ingredients.

I’d never heard of the Brunel Museum, let alone its roof garden, before the Chelsea Fringe. The garden sits above Brunel’s Thames Tunnel and was created last year by Lottie, with the help of a small grant from Capital Growth and Southwark Council. Triangular raised beds are laid out like a Trivial Pursuit counter around a fire pit and sun dial. Volunteers in the garden can take the produce home, but Lottie admits that she’s increasingly favouring plants that she can infuse, distill or use as a garnish for her cocktails.

Ah yes, the cocktails. I don’t generally drink in the afternoon but that policy went out of the window the moment I clapped eyes on Lottie’s Midnight Apothecary menu. First up was a Chelsea Fringe Collins (jasmine-infused gin, St Germain elderflower liqueur, rose petal syrup, lemon juice and soda). It was long and refreshing, sweet and sour, pale pink and sparkling, and garnished with sweet william petals and a sprig of lavender. I could have drunk that all afternoon but for decency’s sake I moved on to the non-alcholic but equally amazing Lavender Honeysuckle (lavender-infused wildflower honey, lemon juice, lemon balm, mint and sparkling water – see the pic above).

If I wasn’t such a lightweight I’d have tried the deep crimson Silver Rose Hibiscus (silver rose tea-infused vodka, Cointreau, hibiscus syrup, lemon juice and bitters). As it was I had to be driven home in a daze – the sun, the alcohol, the hum of the bees, the gentle chatter, the fragrance of the lavender I’d been sitting next to and the fact that I was wearing a jumper in the 20-degree heat had all conspired to make me feel a little… sleepy.

The roof garden is a lovely and unexpected space, free to enter, and it’s a real sun trap too. I urge you to go, especially while Lottie is dispensing her cocktails – every Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon. Just make sure you don’t have anything important to do afterwards.

Brunel

Jul 172011
 

Islington

I went on a foraging course lead by foraging king Miles Irving the other weekend. I was wondering what on earth there would be to forage in London but in the space of two hours we didn’t move more than a few metres and learned about the joys of hairy bittercress, water mint, king cup, yarrow, hoary mustard, wild rocket, wild lettuce, chickweed, sow thistle, procumbent yellow sorrel, clover, mugwort, lady’s bedstraw, dock, fat hen, nettles and much more.

I’ll never look at weeds in the same way again, but the real revelation of the day was King Henry’s Walk community garden. It was created a few years back on previously derelict land, with the support of my favourite London council, Islington, and run by volunteers. It has around 75 plots, much smaller and therefore more manageable than the average allotment, all looking artfully abundant and tended by bicycling locals. There are also some raised beds for less able users (pictured), a greenhouse, storage areas and a learning centre. The place is teeming with wildlife.

The garden has won a bucketful of awards, including two RHS London in Bloom awards, and rightly so. I know I keep banging on about this, but there is more land than we think that can be cultivated out there – it just takes some imagination and dedication.

Now, if you’ll excuse me I’m off for some meadowsweet custard and a hawthorn tea.

Jul 052011
 


South Bank

I’d heard that there was a new roof garden on the top of the Queen Elizabeth Hall, but not having read anything about it I was expecting a few cursory bamboos in pots. How wrong I was. It’s been created in partnership with the Eden Project, and they don’t do things by halves.

There are lush lawns, wildlife meadows, fruit trees in brightly coloured pots, a long scented pergola, abundant raised beds of veg and a scarecrow. On a fine summer’s evening, people were making full use of it – lounging on the lawns, chatting on benches and having a drink – but it wasn’t overrun, and I can’t help thinking that a lot of people don’t know about it. Which is a shame, because I can’t think of a nicer place to meet up this summer.

Sadly, the garden is only temporary. I might have to throw myself down on the lawn and refuse to budge when they dismantle it in September.

PS Have just found a lovely account of how the gardens were created – read it here.

Apr 212011
 

Finsbury Park

My friend Naomi is one of the keenest gardeners I know. She gardens for a living, has two allotments and has also set up a street growing scheme in her area which has given away free seeds and bulbs, beautified tree pits and so on. One of her neighbours says that if she had been around during WW2 she’d have been in the ATS.

Anyway, her front garden is looking pretty splendid at the moment. She’s got two raised beds in which she grows mostly veg and flowers for cutting. When she started a few years ago, she fully expected some of the produce to be pinched – but it wasn’t. Although you can’t see it from this pic, among the tulips (‘Ballerina’ and ‘Curly Sue’) are mustard leaf and strawberries.

Full details of how Naomi built her raised beds can be found on her lovely blog.

Mar 242011
 

Regents Park

The skies have been blue all week in London, not that you’d know it from this blog – so this pic should redress the balance. On the way to Regent’s Park this lunchtime, I walked past the Royal College of Physicians. Its themed raised beds always look good but this one looked especially lovely today, bursting with spring flowers. All the plants have discreet labels bearing their Latin names and you don’t even have to bend to read them, as the beds are at waist height.