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Sunday, 26 January 2020

London's Sky Garden, five years on

London's highest public space, the Sky Garden, at the top of the Walkie Talkie (aka 20 Fenchurch St). is five years old - and it's flourishing! When it first opened, there were complaints that the space didn't have the lush growth and mature trees of computer visualisations used to sell the project. But the planting, with specimens from as far away as Brazil, South Africa, New Zealand and the Mediterranean, has matured. Some of the tree ferns are now so tall they almost graze the glass roof (above).
Thanks to a lot of TLC, dense greenery carpets the terraces that run down either side of the 3-storey venue - a major contrast with how it was in 2015 (below).
Plants such as the Red Hot Poker  (Kniphofia) and Bird of Paradise (Strelitzia reginae) are also doing well. There have been some readjustments - water percolating down the terraces made the lower areas too boggy for the plants initially chosen, but the Peace Lilies now growing there seem happy with damp roots.
The Sky Garden is on the 35th to 37th floors, so has spectacular 360° views across the capital. From the open viewing platform you can see Tower Bridge, St Paul's Cathedral and the Shard.......
.....while new to the skyline are the angular Scalpel (52 Lime St), which overshadows the Gherkin...
....and One Blackfriars, a 52-storey residential tower whose curved shape, right by the Thames, has led to it being dubbed the Vase (or sometimes the Boomerang).
The Sky Garden has two restaurants along with two bars for coffee, snacks and other refreshments. Access to the venue remains free, though you must book in advance and need to go through airport-style security in the foyer.
https://skygarden.london/plan-your-visit


Tuesday, 1 October 2019

Made in Greenwich: a treasure-trove of eco-friendly gifts and local art


London’s fascinating and historic district of Greenwich has a brand new attraction that showcases the talents of local artists and craftspeople. Made in Greenwich is a shop/community hub just yards away from the Docklands Light Railway Cutty Sark station, and is packed with locally-made and exclusive goods that reflect the area.
You can find anything from a piece of beautiful jewellery to a colourful scarf, unusual lampshade, eye-catching cushion, flattering headpiece or even a macramé plant hanger.
There are beauty products, candles, pictures and bunting, while foodies can browse the local produce, safe in the knowledge that no air miles have been involved in their creation. And for those seeking a little souvenir of their visit, there are Made in Greenwich mugs and a range of beautiful cards.
The shop is the brainchild of GCDA – the Greenwich Co-Operative Development Agency – which aims to support people and enterprises in the area. The stock changes all the time. The shop’s curator, designer and writer Mary Jane Baxter, has a creative background that includes two craft books and being a judge on the popular BBCs daytime series Paul Martin’s Handmade Revolution, so is always on the lookout for new talent.
She has created a delightful interior that makes the most of upcycled material including surplus paint from The Forest Recycling Project and wallpaper remnants used in collages (donated by Pickwick Papers in Greenwich) to cover the doors. At the rear is a creative space that can be hired for workshops, pop-up events or training (above).
Some of the goods are created by Mary Jane herself, including these imaginative artificial flowers that feature re-used knitting needles and old maps. There will be a pre-Christmas celebration in December, but if you are already on the lookout for festive gifts, my advice is to get along there now, before the crowds descend.
Made in Greenwich, 324 Creek Rd, SE10 9SW. Open Thursday to Saturday 1000 – 1700, Sunday 1100 – 1700
Ph: 020 8269 4880

Tuesday, 17 September 2019

A Thames walk - Richmond to Teddington


A late summer morning was the perfect time for a ramble along one of the most beautiful sections of the Thames, from Richmond to Teddington. We started from the station, with its decorative platforms, but quickly left the busy high street for the historic Richmond Green, once the site of medieval jousting tournaments and described by Nicholas Pevsner as "one of the most beautiful urban greens surviving anywhere in England".
It covers roughly 12 acres, and behind its fringe of majestic trees are period townhouses and historic buildings, including the Richmond Theatre, which dates from Queen Victoria's reign. The land between the Green and the river was once the site of a royal palace built by Henry VII. This superseded an earlier palace, known as Sheen, but the king named it after his North Yorkshire earldom, Richmond. Later it became a favourite retreat for Henry VIII and then Elizabeth I, who died there.
Little remains of its glory days, apart from this archway and some brickwork, but with a little imagination you could conjure up the image of royal barges, resplendent in red and gold, bringing the rulers from the noise and stink of central London to the rural tranquillity of the riverside. (In fact, back in 2012, such a barge, the Gloriana, was actually built in Richmond to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. I was lucky enough to spot her there (below) before she took part in the river pageant.)
Richmond's popularity with the gentry is reflected in the many elegant villas that still line this stretch of the river. As we emerged from the palace grounds and made our way down to the water’s edge via Old Palace Lane, we had a glimpse of Asgill House, built in Palladian style as a summer and weekend retreat for Sir Charles Asgill, Lord Mayor of London in 1761 – 62.
The meandering path took us south along the river, passing under the elegant Richmond Bridge, built in the 1770s to replace the ferry crossing that had been there for centuries.
Recently I discovered that a distant ancestor, William Hill Sargeant, was one of the last apprentices to work on that ferry. He was bound in 1766 to William Price of the Thames Watermen and Lightermen and later captained ships in the breakaway American colonies, so it must have been good training.
Today there are several restaurants along this stretch of the river. One, Gaucho, is sheltered by a huge London Plane tree said to be the largest in the capital and thought to be more than 200 years old.
The Thames remains a hugely popular area for boating. It's amazing to see how many different kinds of  vessels are moored here or just passing through.
At one point we came across the entrance to a tunnel beside the path. Intrigued, we followed it inland and immediately found ourselves among the colourful flower beds of Terrace Gardens (above). The area is a former quarry, but in the 18th century it became part of bordering estates, and was opened as a public park in 1887. A statue of a river god presides over it.
Overlooking us from a commanding position on Richmond Hill was the Star and Garter, once a home for injured servicemen, and now converted into luxury apartments. Further on, we were surprised at how rural the scenery had become, with cattle grazing peacefully on the Petersham meadows.
At this point, the opposite bank of the river has several notable villas, the first of which is Marble Hill House built in Palladian style between 1724 and 1729 for Henrietta Howard, mistress of King George II (below).
Next, hidden by trees, is Orleans House Gallery, the remaining part of another Palladian villa, which was built in 1710 but fell into disrepair and was mostly demolished in 1926. Later restoration work saved the baroque Octagon Room, which now displays many art works that reflect the area’s history. A third stately home, York House  (below), was built in the 1630s and took its name not from a duke, but from the Yorke family, who owned farming land in the area. It currently serves as the town hall for Richmond on Thames.
By now we had reached Twickenham, and beside the Thames Path was Eel Pie Island, once accessible only by boat, but now with a single slender footbridge. It’s supposedly named after the pastries sold there when eels were plentiful in the surrounding water. Famous names to have performed in the island’s hotel include The Rolling Stones, The Who, David Bowie, the Kinks and Pink Floyd.
Continuing along the path, we stopped briefly to admire Teddington Lock (above), which is in fact a complex of a weir and three locks – big, middle-sized and small, so as to cater for everything from barges to skiffs. It was first constructed in 1810, but later rebuilt and enlarged.
Nearby is the Teddington Obelisk, which marks the Thames’s usual tidal limit. By now we’d covered around four miles, and were ready for lunch. We stopped at the riverside pub, The Anglers, and after a leisurely meal headed home via Teddington High St and the railway station. Our last glimpse of the Thames included, fittingly, an angler enjoying the sunshine.

Tuesday, 20 August 2019

Exploring the many uses of herbs


As someone whose potted herbs have until now come from a supermarket's limited stock, a visit to Manor Farm Herbs in Oxfordshire was a revelation. The nursery grows an amazing range of around 200 different varieties, some familiar, others that I’d never heard of, such as this white Lavender, Meeilo.
Their plant list includes herbs with culinary, medicinal and cosmetic uses, and runs from Achillea Desert Eve Red to Wormwood prostrate. Among them are no fewer than 22 different Thymes, 8 different Houseleeks, and 19 varieties of Mint!
I came away with a basket full of plants, and buzzing with ideas of what to do with them. Jane, who runs the nursery, gave our group a very interesting talk, pointing out that many of the herbs are highly decorative with a wealth of colours and can live happily anywhere from a rockery to a herbaceous border or hanging basket. They're also useful to cover bare ground around the stems of perennials - for example, Jane suggested putting this Purple Sage below a rose bush.
For a splash of more intense colour, there's a striking Purple Basil, while a touch of pink or mauve could be added by the flowers of Heartsease or Chive or this Creeping Pink Thyme (below).
Yellows and oranges come from Golden Purslane, Pot Marigold, and Nasturtiums. For white accents there are Basil and Salad Rocket flowers as well as Nasturtium ‘Alaska’ leaves. Jane also recommended adding herb leaves and flowers to salads for extra aroma, flavour and texture. One tip was to finely chop a fresh herb and add to a French salad dressing mix, leaving it to marinate in a fridge for up to 24 hours before using.
A highlight of the visit was afternoon tea in the garden, surrounded by herb-packed borders. Not surprisingly, the home-baked cakes all featured herbs from the nursery and Manor Farm Herbs' detailed website has a wide range of recipes to encourage experimentation. Ideas include Lavender cookies, Rosemary and Orange drizzle cake, Sage bread, Beetroot and Apple soup and even a Cucumber and Lemon Variegated Thyme Martini. There's also a plant list for mail orders, growing ideas, and care instructions.
Manor Farm Herbs are at Fringford, Bicester, in North Oxfordshire. OX278DP

Saturday, 10 August 2019

What will we plant in our gardens in 2020?


Every summer, one of the country’s biggest suppliers of bedding plants, Ball Colegrave, opens its trial grounds at West Adderbury in Oxfordshire to horticultural specialists, retailers, landscapers and home gardeners. This year, more than 3,500 visitors came along to enjoy the amazing Summer Showcase displays, which included 200 new varieties and 700 experimental products. They were invited to vote for their favourites, and the results give a good indication as to what is likely to be popular in garden centres and nurseries across the country next year. So what received the most votes?
It was a petunia, but no ordinary one. This eyecatching Glacier Sky has large violet flowers speckled with a constellation of white stars edged with an ‘ice’ effect margin. Bred to achieve high weather resistance and with a strong branching habit, it would add that something special to baskets and containers.
The second overall favourite was a spectacular new lavender, Blue Spear, with tall spikes of an intense bluish-purple.  It does best in full sun, while being a magnet for pollinating insects, and is ideal for containers, garden beds and rock gardens.
Third place went to a lovely new ivy-leaf geranium, Marcarda® Pink with Purple Eye. It’s semi-trailing, but with a compact form ideal for containers, baskets and window boxes. Among the other new varieties that attracted many votes were Coleus Flame Thrower Salsa Roja, Osteospermum Compact FlowerPower Purple Sun, Heuchera Black Pearl, Petchoa Beautiful Caramel Yellow, and Lobelia Infinity Blue.

Outstanding among the many current varieties on display was Ball Colegrave's new downy mildew-resistant Busy Lizzie, Beacon Impatiens (above), which comes in a wide selection of colours. The flowers seem to be happy with whatever the summer weather can throw at them and were making wonderful displays, despite the blazing heat of the previous week.
I was also taken with the beautiful range of zinnias. This is a plant that’s fluctuated in popularity over the years – my grandmother loved them, but my mother wasn’t a fan.  Now new easy-care varieties like Zinnia Zesty (above) have been developed that will perform whatever the weather, ready to delight a new generation of gardeners.
The displays around the grounds (above) were amazing, full of ideas and inspiration.
The painter Monet would have loved the planting in and around the water feature, while two living walls, ablaze with colour, showed what could be achieved with the right framework.
And it wasn’t just the visitors who were enjoying the displays – they had attracted the attention of flocks of colourful butterflies  – including this Peacock on a Dianthus Dash Magician.
Ball Colegrave Ltd, Milton Rd, West Adderbury, Banbury, Oxon OX12 3EY