Mar 012013
 
P1040277

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.

Dec 222012
 

Selbourne, Hants

I love the big, fat topiary in front of this classy-looking house, with its classy-looking wreath.

Merry Christmas everyone! Thank you for stopping by in 2012 – I’ll continue to nosey over fences and through garden gates for you in 2013.

PS: I wish I’d moved a tiny smidgen to the left when I took this pic so that the door is exactly in the centre. It’s going to bug me every time I see it now.

May 242012
 

 


Unless you’ve been living in a cupboard under the stairs, you’ll know that the Chelsea Flower Show is taking place at the moment. I went on Monday, on press day. It’s a privilege to walk into the  showground early in the morning, the air heady with anticipation, and to glimpse the show gardens for the first time. I’ll admit that I’m more interested in the show gardens than I am in the displays in the Great Pavilion. Maybe that will change when I get my own garden, as I might actually be in the market for buying some plants.

This year, the must-have plant seemed to be cow parsley. A colleague quipped that he spends most of his life trying to keep it out of his garden. There was a very high box ball and topiary quota, too. Some of the big gardens on the Main Avenue looked a tad similar, with lots of naturalistic, romantic planting – a reaction to the double-dip recession maybe? Or a homage to the big Chelsea cheese and gold medal winner Tom Stuart-Smith? And oddly, there was very little grow-your-own in comparison to the last few years, so maybe that bubble is beginning to burst.

This year, I decided I’d ‘judge’ the gardens on whether I’d like to wake up looking at them every day. My favourites are below. I wouldn’t actually want Diarmuid Gavin’s creation (above) outside my back door, but it was most definitely fun. Due to vertigo issues I only got halfway up, but it was great being able to set foot in a show garden, especially one that involved ladders, waterfalls and slides.

And then, of course, there were the celebrities. I’ve come to the conclusion that spotting celebs on press day at Chelsea is a bit like going on safari. On safari you’re told what you might see – zebras, lions, elephants etc – and you really, really want to tick them off your list. At Chelsea, you’re given a list of the celebrities who may be present (Christopher Biggins, Floella Benjamin and Ringo Starr are usually guaranteed), and you really, really want to tick them off the list. You get jealous if someone has seen someone you haven’t, even if they’re a bit Z-list, and get over excited if you spot anyone at all (my colleague Jane, visiting Chelsea for the first time, cried: ‘Oh my god, it’s JENNIE BOND!!!!’. We haven’t let her live that one down).

If you get wind of a crowd gathering, see some flashbulbs going off, or hear a rumour that someone off the telly is nearby, you hotfoot it there indecently quickly, camera or smartphone held aloft and sharp elbows at the ready. This is what happened when I heard Gwyneth Paltrow was in the vicinity last year, and the same thing happened this year with Sir Cliff Richard. I’m not proud of it and I don’t know why I did it, but there’s a pic of him at the bottom of this post anyway.

The Homebase Teenage Cancer Trust garden by Joe Swift

There was a lot going on in Joe Swift’s garden compared to others on the Main Avenue, but it was ordered, welcoming, contemporary and considered. I’d seen some drawings beforehand and the garden didn’t look particularly inspiring, so the finished result was a surprise. All the years commenting on other people’s show gardens for the BBC have obviously paid off.

The Brewin Dolphin garden by Cleve West

I sat on Cleve’s bench for a few moments with a bunch of other hacks. I loved the planting  – naturalistic but with lots of pops of colour. Apparently there was some red, white and blue to commemorate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, but it was very subtle.

Celebration of Caravanning by Jo Thompson

Jo Thompson’s garden was an inspiration for anyone with a small space. She used mature birch trees, Betula albosinensis  ‘Fascination’, which were perfectly shaped and not remotely overpowering – perfect for a town garden. And who wouldn’t want Doris (the 1950s caravan) at the bottom of their garden?

The Bradstone Panache garden

More inspiration for small gardens. The clever layout included a path that was a continuous curve, leading to a seat. The sweep of alpine strawberries (on the right) was a nice touch.

Satoyama Life

This Japanese masterpiece invited you to just stand and gaze at it. Which I did, for a long time.

The World Vision Garden

Lots of hard landscaping and tree ferns isn’t really my thing, but the underplanting was really pretty in this garden, in shades of purple and orange. I couldn’t really do it justice in this pic.

A national treasure

 

Jun 212011
 

Highbury

If you’ve got a privet hedge, you may as well do something fun with it and entertain passersby. In this quiet street in Highbury there are back-to-back cats and a Thomas the Tank engine.


Apparently the neighbours a few doors down claim to have a topiary Intercity 125 – a.k.a an ordinary hedge that’s tapered at one end.

Mar 102011
 

Hampstead Garden Suburb

Some people think Hampstead Garden Suburb is a bit twee, but I like it. What’s not to like about an estate that was created with green spaces and social cohesion in mind? When the estate was created in 1907, two fruit trees were planted in every garden and community allotments were built into the design. Mature trees were kept to give a sense of maturity and hedges were used as boundaries to give a rural feel. You don’t see many estates created with an ethos like that nowadays.

HGS has strict rules about everything from fences to satellite dishes, but presumably there’s nothing in the regulations that say that you can’t do something a bit different with a privet hedge. My friend Naomi tipped me off to this one. As she points out, it’s got real depth to its curves.

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.