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Thursday, 27 June 2019

An Open Gardens Day to Remember

Last weekend saw the Open Gardens Day for our NW2 London neighbourhood. Ten gardens opened to the public – all very different, but equally entrancing, and a tribute to their owners who nurture them with such care and attention. Twenty-five years ago, Chris and Miranda's garden (below) was a building site. It's now a Yellow Book garden, a lush oasis of green with island beds, fish pond and curved borders of perennials and flowering shrubs.
It was interesting to see the different approaches that gardeners have taken when developing their plots. John tends a 'rescue garden', (below) liberated from former freeholder neglect and the result of eight years' work on behalf of the new joint ownership. Whilst it's filled with trees and colourful plants such as clematis and roses,  there's been a concerted effort to attract birds, hence the numerous feeders (below). Among the many avian visitors are four different tits (blue, long-tailed, great and coal), goldcrests, robins, wrens, blackbirds, dunnocks, wood pigeons, greater spotted woodpeckers, and (seen once) a song thrush and a tawny owl.
Another garden that is very wildlife friendly has been created by Margaret and John. There are newts and frogs in their two small ponds and various small birds visit the feeders.
Over the years they have collected some interesting plants and shrubs, including variegated agave, aloe vera, chusam palm,  two sarawa pine grown from seeds, and this lovely feathery aruncus, sometimes known as Goat's Beard.
You enter Vanessa's garden through a trio of rose and clematis arches. The centrepiece is a Japanese koi pond, surrounded by seating. Courgettes and cucumbers are being trained to climb up a frame, and a clever collection of stacked containers, tucked behind a bench, provides a plentiful supply of herbs – an idea I took away to try myself.
Most of the houses in the area are quite substantial, and many are divided into flats. Kate's garden is shared, with a mature willow tree delineating the border between the two halves. As well as a decked area with pieces of art work and found objects, there are old-fashioned roses, a very old apple tree and lots of perennial plants, many artistically arranged in pots.
Jan's garden, which is also divided into two, features a walled water feature with native British pond plants and plenty of places to  sit and watch the wildlife.
Another garden that invites you to sit and relax is tended by Judy and Val. It's brimming with colourful pots, fruit trees, acers, ericaceous plants, shrubs and trees, all of which can be admired from the summer house or the two paved patios (below).
A more formal approach is evident in the tranquil space of  Bob's long back garden, which features mature acers, cypresses and clipped bay, yew and box. Caterpillar control was a hot topic for visitors, who were keen to learn how he was managing to keep his hedging so immaculate.
Rosy and David have a garden in two parts - the first area you see is a large patio with borders of mixed planting, overlooked by a Japanese-inspired pavilion that provides a covered eating area for parties. From here you look out on to the dramatic contrast of a bark-covered area of woodland which they call 'The London Secret Garden'.
As well as these lovely gardens, visitors also explored the Dell – a  magical garden hidden behind a row of residental houses. At this time of year it's awash with beautiful roses like these.
The event is always very much a community affair, with plenty of opportunities for catching up with neighbours and making new friends. Several hundred people stopped off for refreshments in the tea garden, and enjoyed the wide array of home-made cakes that were donated.
A treat for the more adventurous was a chance to ascend to the top of the tower of St Gabriel’s church for a birds-eye view of the gardens. Another major attraction was the plant stall, crammed with hundreds of plants grown for the occasion by neighbours. Brent's new deputy mayor, Lia Colacicco, was among the visitors.

The money raised through ticket and plant sales is going to local charities.The event is organised every two years by the garden club, part of the Mapesbury Residents’ Association, and around 80 people were involved in the planning and preparation. Grateful thanks to everyone for such a memorable afternoon.

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.
https://www.vam.ac.uk/exhibitions/food-bigger-than-the-plate

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!
https://www.gardenday.co.uk/

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!
http://www.kindergarden.co.uk/Products/_PopPlants.aspx