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Thursday, 13 June 2019

Gardeners' World Live Show Garden Awards 2019

The deluges the country has seen in recent days did not deter the exhibitors at the BBC Gardeners’ World Live show in Birmingham. Clad in anoraks and wellies, they defied the elements to create a series of imaginative and colourful floral displays and gardens bound to inspire the green-fingered. Their rewards came at the NEC on Thursday night, with the announcement of the show garden awards. Platinum, the highest available, went to two designers: Alexandra Froggatt for her “Watchmakers Garden” (also named Best in Show, above) and Lucy Bravington, with Worcestershire-based landscapers DesignIt, for the “High Line Garden”. In her creation, Froggatt pays homage to the show’s host city, with the recreation of a garden typical of the back yard of a craftsman in the city’s historic Jewellery Quarter in the 19th c.
A lovely touch is the kitchen garden, crammed with heritage vegetables. It’s surrounded by cottage garden flowers, naturalistic grasses and rustic paths and fences.
Bravington’s Platinum design (above) was inspired by New York’s High Line – a beautiful garden on a bridge over a disused railway line. She’s mixed trees, perennials and ornamental grasses with industrial steel elements to create a sense of privacy. Gold awards went to Gadd Brothers in the APL Avenue for their “Getaway Garden” (designed for a young professional couple with a small linear garden), and Hana Leonard for “Here we go Round the Mulberry Bush” a garden with a circular theme that is sheltered by an airy tree.
Several of the gardens have an international flavour, among them “A Glimpse of South East Asia” by Timotay Landscapes (above). Filled with colourful tropical planting, it’s a fusion of ideas inspired by the natural landscapes of Indochina.  It features a shallow pebble pool which has beside it a large day bed and a hammock for chilling out (rather damp when I took this photo, but perfect for when the sun finally appears).
I loved the drama of the four horses charging out of the MS Society Revelation Garden, which won a silver merit, but if, in my dreams, I could chose a garden to take home, I’d go for another Gold show garden award winner, the John Lewis Home Solutions Garden created by Waitrose Partner Shaun Beale (below).
As well as mixing soft and sculptural planting, it has plenty of space for relaxing whatever the weather, with a garden office, water feature, and an eyecatching espaliered hedge for privacy.

BBC Gardeners’ World Live runs until Sunday, June 16 at the NEC, Birmingham.

Monday, 27 May 2019

Is this the future of food?

The most thought-provoking exhibition of 2019 may well be the V&A's FOOD: Bigger than the Plate. This examines the future of what we eat - and our planet - with a witty and sometimes provocative look at design, production and alternative sustenance. There's no preaching, just lots of ideas, and visitors can see several exhibits actually growing in the gallery space.
What can you do with used coffee grounds, other than throw them away? Well, GroCycle has created an Urban Mushroom Farm using coffee waste from the museum's Benugo cafe and turned them into compost in which edible Oyster mushrooms can grow (above). When these are harvested, they'll be returned to the cafe for use in selected dishes.
There are also some chilled display cabinets with cheeses created from microbes harvested from the bodies of celebrities. There was no mention of these going back to the cafe – and quite honestly, I wouldn’t rush to try a Comté cheese created with the help of samples from Heston Blumenthal’s nostrils and pubic hair – but maybe in the future, we’ll be grateful for such delicacies.
Local produce and initiatives that reconnect consumers and producers are hot topics at the moment. An east London community enterprise, Company Drinks, draws on the area's tradition of going hop picking to bring people from Barking and Dagenham together to pick and process ingredients for drinks. It was founded by Kathrin Bohm of Myvillages in 2014 and since then, more than 36,000 people have got involved. Some of their produce is available to sample. The cordial I tried was a refreshing infusion of kale, rosemary, lavender, lemon balm, sugar and water, served in a paper cup.
The exhibtion has four sections: Compost, Farming, Trading and Eating. The final one looks at the role of the table, the challenges we face in feeding the world, and scientific projects, ingredients and recipes that push the boundaries of ingenuity in cooking. A pop-up food bar provided by the Centre for Genomic Gastronomy's LOCI Food Lab (above) makes tiny canapés to order once visitors choose three of their food priorities from a 15-strong list. My choice of a “delicious, affordable and protein-rich” canapé contained Essex chia seeds, British yellow peas and quinoa, mould microprotein and dried and powdered anchovy. The end result, below, certainly tickled the tastebuds.
The show’s co-curators, Catherine Flood and May Rosenthal Sloan, point out that food is one of the most powerful tools through which we shape the world we live in. They say that now is a crucial moment to ask not just what will we be eating tomorrow, but what kind of food future do we want? This exhibition is bursting with intriguing ideas and suggestions.
FOOD: Bigger than the Plate is at the V&A Museum in South Kensington until October 20, 2019. Tickets £17, concessions available.

Tuesday, 14 May 2019

Willow Wand Magic

From this...
to this...
in just 10 weeks. 
Who would have guessed a bundle of twisted twigs could turn so quickly into a living sculpture? I received the bare bundle back at the end of February, popped it in a pot, and gave it plenty of water. Within days, green shoots appeared which have now developed into a topiary crown. The next step is  to prune it into a ball, and it will be ready to take its place as a delightful garden feature. As per the instructions, I’ve kept the tie around the stems, but over the years, these should graft together to become one single willow trunk, while retaining the beautiful twisted decorative effect of the stem. Definitely some magic at work there.

Sunday, 12 May 2019

Celebrate a great idea - Garden Day, Sunday May 12

Today is Garden Day, launched to encourage gardeners to down tools and spend some quality time enjoying the results of all their hard work. So go out there, relax, and salute the start of the growing season. I am!

Sunday, 28 April 2019

Bluebells in Perivale Wood

A short walk from Perivale underground station in west London is a wood that's open to the public just once a year, when the forest floor is carpeted with more than five million bluebells. Dozens of people make a note of the day, and journey to see them.
Perivale Wood takes in 27 acres of ancient oak forest and meadow, a remnant of the forest that once covered all of southern England. It was one of the UK's first nature reserves and is owned and managed by the Selborne Society, founded in 1885 to commemorate the 18th c. naturalist Gilbert White. In 1957 it was registered as a site of Special Scientific Interest and the Society began an intensive management programme to restore its fragile habitat, which had suffered from neglect during and after World War II.
The bluebells are all English, with stems that curve over - if any upright Spanish ones appear, they are quickly removed. The wood is carefully managed. We saw signs of coppicing on the larger trees, such as this hazel (below) and a programme of planned felling is creating clearings where seedlings have a chance to develop and rejuvenate the forest.
The first Open Day was held in 1970, initially in May, but now it's on the last Sunday in April as global warming means the bluebells are flowering earlier. The carpet of blue was actually just past its best this year, but the colour and scent from the flowers was still wonderful.
The reserve is also home to 24 species of trees, among them two oaks, at least 400 years old, and planted to mark the boundary between Perivale and Greenford (above). As well as the bluebells, there are banks of wild flowers, three ponds, two streams and glimpses of the Grand Union Canal that runs along part of the wood’s border. The Open Day is on the last Sunday of April. Entrance is £1, and no booking is necessary.

Friday, 26 April 2019

My easiest container planting ever

 It's that time of year when everything in the garden is racing ahead and there never seems to be enough time to get everything done. But when it came to planting up a container (above) I had major help this afternoon from Pop Plant.
A pre-planted basket arrived by post with all that was needed, so there was no visiting the garden centre with a wish list, then finding not everything was in stock.
All I had to do was put some compost in a container, put the basket on top, and water. The plants are colour co-ordinated - there are 11 options - in both basket and container versions. It was all done in less than five minutes. The large, healthy plants are already starting to bloom.
The Pop Plants system would also be ideal for someone just starting out in gardening - according to a recent survey by Common Sense Gardening, 84% of millennials questioned said they wouldn't garden unless it was simple to do and their gardens were easy to maintain. They also said they'd appreciate gardening being made easier. So someone has been listening!

Monday, 8 April 2019

Exploring Willesden Lane

There’s so much to be seen and enjoyed in London that sometimes we forget to explore the history of our own neighbourhood. A recent walk with neighbours took us from Willesden Green station down to Kilburn, via Willesden Lane – not the most obviously interesting trail, but one that uncovered a story of change and development typical of many suburbs. The station itself is a Grade II Listed Building, opened on Nov 24, 1879 and upgraded in 1925 by the Metropolitan Railway’s architect, Charles Walter Clark, when crowds were flocking to the British Empire Exhibition further up the line at Wembley. The diamond-shaped clock on the facade is a trademark of his style, and the ticket hall retains much of the original green tesserae mosaic tiling.

One surprising feature - just below the ceiling is a frieze of dark red tiles representing trees: once Willesden Green was a hamlet surrounded by forest.

Incidentally, the wide space outside the station (above) is not the remains of  Willesden's green, but a turning circle for the trams that ran there from Cricklewood from 1906 until the 1930s.

Our trail led from there along to Willesden Lane, stopping to look at Electric House, a residential block that replaces a 1920s art deco building that was once an electric goods showroom. Willesden Lane is itself a remnant of the area’s past before the Reformation it was the route taken by pilgrims heading for the Shrine of the Black Virgin of Willesden.

An 1823 map shows it surrounded by farmland and called Mapes Lane. But this name goes back even further, to Walter Map (1140 – 1210) who served King Henry II, and was a canon of St Paul’s cathedral; he was assigned rents from lands St Paul’s owned in the area. It was not until Victorian times that the fields began to be covered with homes for the rapidly expanding population of central London. This began in Kilburn, and gradually crept up the lane, the houses becoming larger and more up-market the further out they got. Many churches were built to cater for these new occupants.

The True Buddha Temple, on the corner of Sidmouth Rd, was once a Welsh Methodist chapel, with a Welsh-language school. Today the Victorian facade has been adapted and a large statue of Buddha sits beneath a tree in the front garden.

Further down the lane is another example of how the area is changing the Sree Swaminaryan Hindu Temple.

Once St George’s church, built in 1888 in Early English style, stood on this site, but falling congregations led to it being demolished in 1986. Another historic building that has been lost, Mapesbury Manor House, was on the same stretch of road. First built in Tudor times with a moat, it later became a school, but was pulled down in  1925 the front of the site is now covered with a row of houses.

Christ Church, on the corner of Christchurch Ave, has managed to survive, despite fluctuations in its fortunes. The second-oldest parish church in the area (the oldest is St Mary’s of Willesden, mentioned in the Domesday Book), it was consecrated in 1866 to cater for the fast-growing area, and attracted a large congregation – people arriving late for the 11am Sunday service had trouble finding a seat. It suffered some damage in WWII and financial and structural problems led to part of it being converted into flats in the 1980s, but one part has been reserved for services. Opposite is a large 1937 art deco apartment block, Tarranbrae.

Walking along towards Kilburn, we spotted a row of what may once have been exclusive Italianate villas and a curious art deco building decorated with Egyptian motifs.

All these new residents needed sustenance, and in 1899 a large pub was opened.

Having started life as The Prince of Wales, it’s now known as the Kilburn Arms, but still retains some original features, including etched glass in the old Saloon Bar doors and the curved windows.

The afterlife of residents was also catered for. Next to the pub is an elegant gate house, one of two  that guard the entrance to Paddington Cemetery, a 24-acre site dating from 1855 and today a green refuge with many interesting monuments. By now we were nearing Kilburn High Rd, and the threatened rain had set in. We turned north into the maze of smaller streets, the terraced houses built to provide accommodation for local workers, but with decorative details that would not have been out of place on grander developments.

In Dyne Rd a large 1970’s block of flats, James Stewart House, occupies what was once the site of Willesden Town Hall. No trace of this earlier, grand building remains (it was demolished in 1972, having become redundant when the London Borough of Brent was established) but on the pavement there is another survivor of the past: a Victorian letter box, still providing the service for which it was designed. Long may it last in these days of email and Instagram.