Guns and roses

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

 

Merriments

East Sussex

Merriments is the kind of garden that must throw American visitors into raptures – it’s so classically English. The immaculate lawns are bordered by flower beds that are stuffed to the gills with roses, foxgloves, poppies and pretty much everything else.

Top tip: visit on a Sunday lunchtime. That’s what we did, and had the gardens to ourselves while everyone was in the restaurant. And then visit the garden centre, and spend far too much on plants that you’ve just admired in the garden…

Amsterdam roses

Amsterdam

If the number one plant in Amsterdam is box, the second is most definitely the rose. Roses are everywhere, scrambling over doorways, steps and walls.


Here in the UK you don’t see many roses in pots, especially climbing ones. Somehow the message we seem to have absorbed is that they don’t grow well that way. However in Amsterdam roses are often growing in the tiniest pots imaginable (as you can see from the pic above) and are positively blooming.

Amsterdam’s open gardens

Amsterdam

Last weekend Naomi and I hopped on the Eurostar for a garden nerds’ getaway. We went to Amsterdam for its open garden weekend (Open Tuinen Dagen), when around 30 gardens open to the public. There aren’t many people I could drag around 30 gardens, but Naomi is definitely one of them.

We managed to see around 25 of the gardens in two days, and it was fun. We got to snoop at some pretty impressive canal houses, galleries and museums (the Dutch seem shamelessly nosy, so we were too). We discovered streets we wouldn’t normally have walked down, stopped off in some nice cafes, and in true garden visiting tradition, ate a lot of cake.

Box is most definitely the dominant plant in Amsterdam, and many gardens, such as the one at the Museum Van Loon (above), are formal parterres. They’re found in even the smallest of gardens, filled with roses and bedding. They’re lovely, and a novelty at first, but we were soon hankering to see anything that wasn’t a box ball, hedge or block.

Fortunately around half of the gardens were virtually box-free. All of them had a design idea or planting combination to take inspiration from. Here are my favourites.


The garden at the swanky Canal House Hotel on Keizersgracht was designed by a couple of Brits, Rose Dale and Laura Heybrook of Dale and Heybrook. The contemporary black and white theme matched the interior of the hotel perfectly, and the abundant, lush planting and gentle water features made it a peaceful retreat. The hotel is pretty posh, but the staff were more than happy to let everyone lounge on the outdoor sofas, drinking free iced tea.


The garden at Amnesty Internation HQ (above) was a tranquil, contemplative space: a canopy of robinia trees underplanted with Luzula nivea and campanulas.


My prize for the most original garden went to the Canal House on Herengracht (above). In a bold take on the traditional parterre, oodles of box were confined within a grid of corten steel. The effect was loosened by blowsy, cow parsley-esque valerian (Valeriana officinalis).


The garden at Kerkstraat 67 was extraordinary. Huge hedges of perfectly sculpted privet swept down the garden and pooled at the bottom in big fat blobs.


The private garden above was delightfully romantic and pretty, and a great lesson in how to break up a square space.


And my favourite? The garden at La Cuisine Française. It didn’t have the wow factor of some of the other gardens, but it felt the most loved and lived in.

Its layout could be adapted to any long, thin garden and the planting was a happy mix of edible and ornamental – towering herbs including lovage and sweet cicely, standard gooseberries and wisteria, foxgloves, tons of salad and alliums – plus a huge dining table. Its English owner, Patricia, was on hand with plant advice and Dutch poffertjes. Many Amsterdam gardens have a garden house, and Patricia lives in hers.

Back in time

The City

In case you were thinking I took this pic a couple of months ago and am sneaking it in now, I can assure you that it was taken on the grey and chilly day that was 11 November. I nearly did a double take when I saw it, because a) it’s such an incongruous sight amid office blocks and roaring traffic and b) it seems like autumn never happened. Hardy geraniums, gauras, day lilies and clematis were still flowering their socks off.

It’s called the Christchurch Greyfriars Garden and covers a burial ground on the the site of a church designed by Christopher Wren. Its design matches the layout of the nave: the box-edged beds reflect the original positions of the pews and the clematis- and rose-covered obelisks represent the pillars. It looks romantic, wild and a bit abandoned, and not at all the kind of public space that you generally see in London.

I walked past quite early in the morning, and a girl in last night’s party clothes, looking rather worse for wear, was tidying herself up on a bench – combing her hair, putting on makeup etc.

A few minutes later, I saw her sitting in the reception of the building I was  also waiting in. She looked perfectly demure and was discreetly sipping a can of Red Bull.

East Dulwich

East Dulwich

I think this is what’s known as a ‘riot of colour’.

I once glimpsed an elderly gentleman in the doorway of this unusual house on a busy main road (Lordship Lane), so I presume this garden is his handiwork.  It has some spectacular displays in the summer and autumn – mostly dahlias, with some roses, sunflowers and morning glories thrown in. This year there are lots of nerines, too. When the show’s over everything is cut down/dug up  – so much so that in the winter months you could walk past it and forget it’s there. Then in spring, the garden consists almost entirely of wallflowers. Look closely and you’ll see that they’re already in place among all the late bloomers.

It’s a bit of an unconventional way of gardening by today’s standards – most of us are going for year-round interest, structure etc etc (not to mention a parking space) – but there’s no denying that it’s pretty special in its own way.

Wake up and smell the roses

Euston

When I walked along a street with Steven, Tracy and Linda the other night, I was impressed that they all stopped to smell the roses. Tracy said that the best-smelling roses in London can be found on the Euston Road, in the garden in front of the Friends Meeting House.

That surprised me, as the Euston Road is one of the most polluted in London and not exactly renowned for its floral displays. But Tracy was right. There is a rose garden and the roses do indeed smell lovely. And it’s remarkably quiet considering it’s just a few metres back from the road.

French fancy

London W1

I nearly took a pic of the first sweet pea of the year today (a lone flower in a pot on Harley St) but then I stumbled across this huge garden. It’s packed with roses, geraniums and clematis in Versailles planters. It took me back as it’s not what you’d expect to find just behind Oxford St – it’s huge, fancy and French in style.

It took me a while to figure out what building it belongs to, but then I realised it’s the back of the Langham Hotel. Strangely there was no one in it on a lovely spring day – maybe because hoi polloi like me can peer in from the street.

Plant sale

Euston

Church plant sales aren’t uncommon but I’ve never seen one in London before, especially in a location as grand as the St Pancras Parish Church. There were all kinds of plants on sale – roses, African violets, dahlias etc – and the man selling them told me that the money goes towards planting the church garden.

I was charged a rather steep £7 for a houseplant for my desk, but we’ll gloss over that as it’s for a good cause.