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.