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Tuesday, 25 October 2011

What would Van Gogh have thought?

A few weeks ago I was in Auvers-sur-Oise, the village just north of Paris where Van Gogh spent his last 70 days.

The stone cottages and their gardens are still much as he painted them, but the little lanes are now brightened by masses of flowers along the verges. This planting intrigued me - too co-ordinated to be self-sown, but not regimented like a municipal scheme. How had they got there? Who was looking after them?

The answer was on a nearby poster. They’re part of a project, “Je Jardine Ma Ville” where, in return for free plants and compost, residents create and maintain flower beds in public spaces outside their homes. Some 160 volunteers of all ages have put in around 10,000 plants, many of which are pictured on the poster for easy identification. Apart from the occasional sunflower so loved by Van Gogh, most are perennials so should bring colour to Auvers for many years to come.

Back in London, I checked the progress of a similar, if smaller, scheme beautifying the bare soil round street trees in Willesden Green’s Blenheim Gardens. Last spring a handful of volunteers put in hundreds of flowering plants, and many residents ‘adopted’ the tree pits outside their homes and even donated seedlings from their own gardens. Now they're planting 2,500 bulbs (see left), from snowdrops and jonquils to bluebells and tulips. Spring should see an explosion of colour.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Which apple?

How many varieties of apples can you name?

Probably just a handful.

But despite the limited selection available commercially, there are in fact around 2000 different kinds in the UK, and fifty of those grown in West London were on display at a recent harvest celebration at Turnham Green (left). They had wonderful names like Lane’s Prince Albert, Ellison’s Orange, D’Arcy Spice, Laxton’s Fortune, Newton Wonder, Lord Lambourne and Howgate Wonder. The oldest was the small, red, flattish Court Pendu Plat, cultivated since 1613, though probably enjoyed by the Romans.
Some visitors to the event brought with them apples to be identified by expert Steve Oram. He immediately recognised the one I had as a Blenheim Orange, an 18th c variety good for eating or cooking (left).

The day was organised by Abundance London.
Over the past few weeks, with the help of local school children, its volunteers have picked around two tons of fruit which would otherwise have gone to waste. Some was on sale at the event, either fresh from the tree or transformed into jam, chutney, cakes, crumble and juice. Delicious!

A reminder that Apple Day - a celebration of this fruit - is on October 21. More details of events at