Thursday, 30 December 2010

Kennington Road Garden

This garden by an architect/landscape architect couple was open under the National Garden Scheme mid-August. It demonstrates an understated and ingenious use of materials, while cramming a lot of function and interest  into a small London back garden.Cor-Ten steel (see posting on Andy Sturgeon at Chelsea) forms a rill from the end of the garden with water falling into the pond outside the basement bedroom. The red oxide layer contrasts pleasingly with the green.  The steel's welded straightness and simplicity of form is juxtaposed satisfyingly with both the slate shapes embedded in the path, and the large, exotic foliage texture around the pool.  Rusted construction steel rods bent in arcs continue the theme.                                                                      
There is really lovely late summer planting, with cactus Dahlia, Rudbeckia, the fine grass Stipa tenuissima and possibly S. gigantea, and also Sedum spectabile beginning to come into its own.
On the terrace, beautifully simple forms

Union Street Orchard Pop Up

In August I visited unionstreetorchard, a pop up project in Southwark, and was inspired by the design-driven creation of different elements such as re-use of pallets.  Height is created in a light way, with the direction of the slats giving a dynamism to the space (which otherwise has a bare, rectangular footprint).  The square modules have a modernist resonance, yet are created from a raw, recovered material, judiciously accented in rural shades of leaf and pea green (whereas modernism is sleek chrome, black and urban/urbane). 
From a horticultural point of view, it would be important to ensure the bark was not damaged in construction or by the pallets moving around, as this could mean infection, cause less than healthy growth and permanently disfigure the tree.  However, the pallets could provide protection against herbivory as young trees (deer are not such an issue in Southwark!).  Nice for seating or putting down a glass or posing a container of geraniums.  Not a feature that would last effectively more than a season, and this untreated wood would then harbour fungal disease...

This wall mounted wave of waste timber, left, hung with lights, was an inspired creation in this railway arch that doubled as story-telling space.  Hats off to the individual(s) who had the vision and physical strength to create it.  The what-I-call Moomin shelter, right - there's an exaggerated Nordic pitch to that roof - nearly got my inner seven-year old making a den there (except for the real 7 year olds in the vicinity).
The Architecture Foundation seems to have driven the creation of the space, and that provenance is clear in this CAD-like completely charming 'shed', that no doubt references (wittingly or no) Rachel Whiteread and others...and yet also bodgers and shed refugees in hand knits.
 Lastly, ping pong with a 'real' twist (qv Hampton Court real tennis) that is also a safeguard against balls in the shrubbery. I want one of these. Thanks, Union Street Orchard for a great afternoon! The trees were donated to local residents and community projects once the site closed.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Growing on a window sill

The yields are not high but there is nothing like a few really fresh leaves to add to a salad or a sandwich.  I have already pinched off some tops from these pea shoots (right). The little plants keep growing. The fresh green leaves and tendrils are a delight to look at. 

Use fresh compost. Here, the module tray sits inside another tray.  Water into the green tray and the compost will absorb what it needs.  Keep an eye on how sunny it's been as parts can dry out very quickly. Monitoring every day feeds your need to grow stuff when outdoors growing is slowing up.

Here (left) are some mizuna seedlings.  I've got rocket, too, and you could grow any lettuce or oriental leaves thickly like this to cut and come again.  I took these seedlings away from the window to a less sunny spot for a few days and you can see how the stems have elongated unnaturally.  They are back in the sunny spot now but it's not certain they'll make strong enough plants to get decent sized leaves.
Later editing note - these seedlings would have definitely benefitted from a reflector box see here for instructions on how to make
However, you don't have to have a lot of sun. Sprouting seeds are harvested in less than a week and take nearly all their energy from the seed itself.  You eat them before the leaves have a chance to photosynthesise.  Here is alfalfa.  I've had these sprouters for a few years. I think they're a German make. 
Rinse the seeds twice a day (say, while waiting for the kettle to boil am and pm). When the sprouts have grown, keep them in an airtight containeer or plastic bag in the salad compartment of the fridge for a few days.  Mind you, this lot got wolfed in a sandwich direct.  Lovely with wholemeal bread and butter.I encourage you to grow seeds for the wonder of germination - for your children and your inner child!
Most seed catalogues and garden centres carry sprouting seeds and sprouters but you can try organiccatalog.  You get a discount if you are a member of gardenorganic.
Please leave comments on the nutritional value of sprouts (very high in minerals and vitamins, I believe).

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Three architects: temporary and small spaces give ideas for garden structures

Garden buildings - tree houses, pavillions, sheds - are an escape.  The idea of having a den is thrilling.  Secrets, solitude, dreaming. These structures tend to be simply built, made of rustic materials and small. They require space, however, because inevitably they are away from the main dwelling and normal daily life. 

This 'Beetle's House' is beautifully sited in the top lit Medieval and Renaissance room at the Victoria and Albert museum.  It is part of  their architects build small spaces exhibition.  The house could be straight out of the Moomins or Studio Ghibli, and instantly suggests magical make believe. Inside, it's a small and perfectly engineered cell with trap door/table and seats built in.  By Terunobu Fujimori.

By contrast, the Woodshed (in the same exhibition) is more of a manly lumberjack space.  The designer describes it as 'extruded':  it consists of  49 15x15 sections bolted together.  It's made of greenish wood and the long bolts that hold it together can be tightened as the timber seasons.  It's made by Rural Studio from Alabama where they provide inexpensive housing.  The pitch of the roof  is exaggerated for dramatic effect.

Jean Nouvel's pavillion at the Serpentine Gallery in Hyde Park is a rather different temporary structure.  The red evokes iconic London (buses, phone boxes, post boxes) and contrasts with the green of the park.  It's an art world space that had a grand opening and intellectually fun events over the summer.  Witty planting - my compliments to the planting designer. Serpentine Gallery summer pavillion.

Friday, 20 August 2010

Sowing leaves in August and September to enjoy through the autumn and into winter

By the end of July you've harvested a lot of spring-sown crops, and can see that (maybe) your tomatoes will ripen. There's a sort of 'what now' feeling as it all starts to go over and feel a bit tired in your growing space.  Fear not!  There is lots to sow now to ensure satisfying growing and healthy eating through the autumn and winter.  See this link and pdf table on the Master Gardener website for a range of salads and other veg, crops to sow August onwards.
Here, I'll focus on chard and kale - specifically cavolo nero - which are super easy and will give you cut and come again crops through autumn and into the winter.  They withstand frost and, though they obviously won't grow very fast in the cold and short days, they may well come through into spring and give you an early burst of fresh leaves.  At a certain point you'll put the plants on the compost heap, but by then you'll have spring seedlings to put out. Here (right, top left) are some April pictures of seedlings earlier this year.
The cavolo nero grew up, partnered by pot marigold 'Porcupine', left, and a yellow-stemmed chard is pictured in a basket above with broad beans, spinach, fennel and nigella flowers from early June.
These are nice-looking plants year round. Cavolo nero and curly kale look very pretty in the frost.  Chard stems can be white, yellow, lime green, orange or red.  You can be minimalist and go for white stems only, but varieties like 'Bright Lights' give you a whole range of colours which are very vibrant, particularly when the winter sun is low in the sky. I like the bluey wrinkled leaves of cavolo nero and chose to contrast that with the orange marigolds, and later orange zinnias (which turned out to be pink). Chard is always pleasingly glossy.You can shred either and stir in with pasta to wilt, or stir-fry, or add to soups. People always talk about the earthy taste of chard which is maybe a bit off-putting, but it's just lovely.  Kale is a little bit bitter - I like that - but you cook it with tomatoes, carrots, other sweet root veg, so that taste is complemented. 
Lastly, both are full of folate, essential for good health.  Maybe someone out there can comment with info on the nutrients. Would love to hear from you!

Master Gardener Project with Garden Organic

It really looks like the grow your own fruit and veg movement is unstoppable.  Garden Organic is promoting it with the Master Gardener project. Volunteers support local households to grow their own. Master Gardener is in a few UK areas at the moment and is due to roll out nationally next year.
We South London volunteers had initial training in June and have been recruiting our target ten households over the summer. Here are two of my colleagues, Jake at the Streatham Festival and Stephanie at the Lambeth Country Fair (right).

My experience is that many people want or, when you get talking, really yearn to grow fruit and vegetables.

I was lucky enough to be invited to do a workshop at a nearby community garden.  The residents are already successfully raising crops such as broccoli, beans and carrots, but have a great thirst to know more.  Here we were sowing oriental greens to crop before winter. 

It's been a brilliant opportunity for me to meet other people growing veg locally, to share knowledge and to have fun.  I'm looking forward to working with 'my' households over the next 12 months.
To get your own master gardener, or to volunteer as a master gardener go to

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Musee du Quai Branly

The anthropology museum at Quai Branly, not far from the Eiffel Tower in Paris, marries architecture by Jean Nouvel and landscape by Gilles Clement. There is a striking juxtaposition of verdant foliage with earth-toned polygonal architecture. The contrast is in terms of form, colour, and also nature vs technology/engineering. The planting evidences ideas from two of Clement's 'manifestos'. His 'jardin planetaire', or 'world garden', brings plants from different biomes - here maple from north America, oak from Europe, Miscanthus from Asia, for instance - while still aiming for a naturalistic succession as the trees develop.  This is the 'jardin en mouvement' or 'moving garden'.
'A sanctuary without walls' was Nouvel's aim for the garden. Once inside the the north glass boundary, traffic noise nearly disappears.  The south boundary 'rushes' - resin coated steel - give a transparent but entirely secure enclosure.  Inside you could be in an untamed estuary with reeds, a swale and species rambler roses.
Clement idealises a child's response to nature.  There are moments here he takes you on a country adventure.  The whole - building and garden - makes no attempt to unify with 19th century Paris around.  The genius loci (sense of place) that has been created is strong and enchanting.

Saturday, 5 June 2010

Best in Show - Andy Sturgeon at Chelsea 2010

This garden splits the Chelsea-going public along the fault lines already present in the show, and in the RHS as a whole:  designers vs plants people. And the whole pretty conservative, anyway.  'Ooh, looks like grave stones','Is it wood?' (it's Cor-ten steel, the oxidised layer protecting it from rust), 'Meet me in the cafe when you've done'.  I love it, though.
The planting evokes a mediterranean climate and would be sustainable. I can imagine strolling through to one end and back on a summer evening, chatting or dreaming on my own.  The structures are strong but not heavy.  The glimpses through are poignant.  It's a restless garden, movement-wise, but spaces for chairs are there. The limestone walls and platforms will hold the heat long into the evening, making it a place to linger.  I followed the whole cork oak saga, video diary.They would have been nice, but the pines are great and stir early memories for me.
For more close ups and to hear the designer talk, andy sturgeon video.

beans, beans, beans, beans

This is a retrospective post, started at the beginning of June and edited on 19th August.  How nice to look back at what has happened in three short months.
Growing runner beans is so rewarding. Here's a seedling (left) with it's seed leaves bright and shiny in the sun, ready to go; and only a few days later, ramping up its pole.  I love the intelligence and tenacity of beans, and the way their twining stems unerringly climb anti-clockwise.

For the first time ever I resisted putting out the French and runner beans 'til the end of May.  In previous years they only got checked (ie stopped growing for a while and made less vigorous plants in the long run). This year there was the unusually late, hard frost on 26th May which would have been the end of them.  Remember, their origin is Mexican!
I'm using birch and cherry bean poles taken from clearing Surrey heathland.  They are a bit sturdy and wonky, with rough bark, so my row may not look the most elegant.  However, I believe studies show beans grow more strongly when they can get a good grip. Compare smooth bamboo poles - which are imported from Asia and sold at a great price in garden centres - you might as well support a UK local coppicer,,

Left, flowers exactly one month ago, and right, big tall grown up plants this morning, beginning to get tired and go over, even. Lastly, a handful of beans for a minestrone today.