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Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Paralympic torch lights up London

Thousands of people lined the streets of London today as the Paralympic torch relay made its 92-mile journey from Stoke Mandeville Hospital, the birthplace of the games, to the opening ceremony in Stratford. The relay travelled through the night and was scheduled to reach our neighbourhood in Brent about 0730. In the end, so many people turned out to watch it ended up running two hours late. But the waiting crowds were undeterred and there were big cheers as the "community heroes" chosen to carry the torch passed by. Then the race was on to get it to the Olympic park in time.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Fun at Southbank's Festival of the World

The Bank Holiday may be over, but there's still plenty of fun and inspiration to be had at the Festival of the World at London’s Southbank Centre. The grey concrete areas around the Royal Festival Hall and the Queen Elizabeth Hall have been transformed into an outdoor gallery by a series of exuberant art works. Look out for the beautiful baobab tree, 15 metres high and covered in fabric rings (left), the giant map made with Lego bricks, the row of little adobe houses and sculptures (great for children to play in), and trees lovingly decorated with balloons.

A real crowd-stopper is this sculpture of two giant robots which seem to be climbing the side of a building. Appropriately, it's called Everything is Beautiful When You Don’t Look Down.

The terraces overlooking the Thames have become home to a series of colourful pop-up restaurants with food from all corners of the globe, complementing the treats on sale in the Real Food Market on the courtyard behind the buildings.
And when you’ve exhausted the complex’s lower levels, climb the yellow spiral staircase to the roof of the Queen Elizabeth Hall to discover a wonderful place to relax – a garden, complete with scarecrow, created with the help of the Eden Project.

Here, much of the planting is done in raised beds, which hold flowers and vegetables from around the globe. But there are also unlikely containers which have gained a new lease of life.  I especially loved the Victorian toilet bowl and these old watering cans.

Blackboards list the plants and vegetables currently flourishing, bees and butterflies flit around, and best of all, visiting youngsters are actively encouraged to get involved. Go there while you can.

The festival runs until September 9.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

More Gold at London's Olympic Park

Well done Oympians! So much hard work and effort, so many medals.
But could I award one more gold - for the gardeners at the Olympic Park, who’ve battled against the elements to turn Sarah Price’s garden design into a stunning reality, enjoyed by tens of thousands? I first saw the park in mid-June, when Stratford was still a building site. (See )  The plants were mostly foliage, any tall shoots buffeted by a stiff breeze.

But eight weeks on, as the crowd streamed in to cheer Usain Bolt,  the difference was unbelieveable. The gardening team had achieved their goal of getting everything to flower in time and the banks of the River Lea were ablaze with colour. The design reflects the arrival in Britain of plants from all over the world. Above, the Orbit towers over the area with plants from North America.

Kniphopfia bring a golden glow to the Southern Hemisphere garden.

The planting is designed to encourage wildlife. Here, bees enjoy some of the purple angelica in the Asia garden.

The pond in the Royal Horticultural Society Great British Garden. There's even a plum tree, the fruit almost ready for picking.

And just around a bend in the river, a reminder of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee river pageant - the Gloriana. This now has a new role - to promote better use of the Thames and the UK's inland waterways, with the emphasis on charity events involving young people.
The Olympic Park is the largest new urban park since Victorian times. Once the sporting excitement has died down and the temporary venues are removed, the current 50 hectares of planting will be doubled. Renamed the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, it will open again in stages from the first anniversary of the start of the Games - 27 July 2013.