Wednesday, 4 April 2018

keep out/keep clear/nothing to see here

One of the interesting things about the aesthetic of the old, now demolished Westgate, was its reliance on strange, dark-brown bricks as a design element. It gave everything the bisto, jus, dark teak tang of the prestige 80s. The new Westgate is all fresh-faced greige dollhouse bricks, but across the road, a building built to the same vernacular lingers on, the HQ of a prominent lawyers, defiant in its once-smart brown brick and blind bronze-tinted windows. And off to one side it has a garden:

the condemned building's yard

the condemned building's yard the condemned building's yard

the condemned building's yard the condemned building's yard

It's not great, is it? If it were for sale, the Estate Agent would be reaching for euphemisms - period design in place; in need of a refresh and modernisation. It's not for sale though. It's sold.

the condemned building's yard the condemned building's yard

The new occupant, a Travelodge, is presumably aiming for a full rebuild, as I'm already hearing people griping about the height of the building. No word yet on whether this tree will survive. I hope so, it looks pretty busy:

the condemned building's yard

the condemned building's yard the condemned building's yard

as does the garden, stirring with the first flush of spring.

Sunday, 1 April 2018

consideration of green roofs and aviaries

I've been thinking today about two of my obsessions; aviaries and green roofs. The starting spark for the green roofs was a rather confusing section in Gardener's World from James Hitchmough, who had clearly had a very substantial interview cut right down to exclude ... well, anyway.  Here's some pictures from Prof Hitchmough -- a specialist in urban planting who researches into hardy, frost-resistant dry climate plants that can help reduce the urban heat island effect (an increasingly serious problem as a result of human-caused climate change) while being robust and attractive enough to be acceptable to municipal gardeners. This is him studying plants in the wild - they're not planted.



The flat roofs of my office would be vastly prettier with these on them, but there are lots of UK plants that would also do the job. Chickweed, Sow Thistle, Knotweed, Stonewort and many others that would be totally horticulturally unacceptable as when we look at them, we see litter. and reach for the hoe. NO, green roofs should be pretty, and look like this:


That pretty picture is from a long-abandoned Tumblr, where I was clicking around for April-fool related reasons. The aviaries happened because of Instagram and BotanyGeek's image of a Ballardian Glasshouse deep in the jungle - or rather, as he elucidated in his comments, in a the world's biggest bird park.

But is Jurong's Waterfall Aviary really the biggest aviary? Or is it Birds of Eden in South Africa? Or it is India's unique and parrot-mad SGS Shukavara? All of them show only the most tantalising, tiny glimpses of their extraordinary landscaping and planting, instead showing off the flower-like beauty of their many birds; you have to intuit that from image searches and scavenges of the backgrounds of tourist shots, looking behind the birds, the smiling couples and the happy families, to try and understand what makes the enclosures sing.

This is all fantasy-land for me, of course; see below for the closest I get to exotic birds and green roofs. Moss and blackbirds are both pretty good things though.

Fossicking blackbird

Wednesday, 28 March 2018

another spontaneous roof garden

If only it were possible to grow ferns as well as this on purpose:

Roof fern garden

At the moment I'm looking into how many flat roofs there are locally and what they might look like with plants on them (digital collages are pending) but sights like this one in Central Oxford are a good reminder that any pitch of roof can be green; you simply have to adjust the support structures and planting.

How steep is this pitch? Here's the context shot:

Roof fern garden

That little trough around the inset window has just worked wonders.

Sunday, 25 March 2018

covered with algae

I was stuck at the Park and Ride for ten minutes, waiting for the bus, fiddling with my camera, like you do. I suddenly became aware of a lady waiting for me, so as not to get in my way. I smiled and waved her by. I'm wasn't photographing anything. Just the mess on the awning, in the bleak light of morning.

redbridge algae abstracts

It was the dramatic shading that caught my eye; the charcoalish smear of the staining algae. Up close you can see the colour. Green, the colour of life, of spring, of an ecosystem sparking up, starting a life. And here it is, beginning, in the bleakest place; coated aluminium coated again in algae, the dirt that lives.

redbridge algae abstracts

Oh, do not pressure wash it. There are trees, and birds, and moss aplenty; rats gambolling in the litter bins and urban foxes sleeking through the hedges. Overhead, Red kites flirt and fight in the thermals over the asphalt. This gentle burnish on the edges of the shelter blur it into the surrounding habitat. The Park and Ride and its environment.

redbridge algae abstracts   redbridge algae abstracts

The blackish substrate you can see, that the algae is growing on, is road dust, exhaust fumes, dust kicked up by wheels and sticky micropollutant clusters. All the filth of the world of the car; and yet there is algae, growing on it, green as life.

redbridge algae abstracts

I wonder, is it out of the reach of hungry snails there? Or have they not yet woken up for the spring, in this bleak outpost?

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

bleak boxes of beauty

Our local affordable Conference Centre/Industrial Size Church, the King's Centre, is firmly in the industrial area/sports hall aesthetic. Its very hugeness militates against decoration. Fortunately, the building's owners don't let this discourage them, and inside there are fabric pieces and murals in the accessible church aesthetic of the 60s-80s, all smooth lines and welcoming curves; and outside there is planting.

the bleakest space

The planting is small, domestic, dwarfed by the scale of the building. Rustic planters dot the entrance. Snall troughs contain hardy plants And, here, my personal favourite, the wall garden.

the bleakest space the bleakest space
the bleakest space the bleakest space

It stands lonely and proud in the centre of a vast, pale metal wall, lovely in its basic ambition and steely determination. There's nothing here that couldn't be bought from one of the garden centres on the ring road - a few hardy herbs and houseleeks, foliage reddened by the stress of their esposed position - and yet the effect is clear an immediate; persistence in hardship, hope in bleakness, determination in the face of the cold north wind. For even in the coldest, brightest, most exposed of spaces, we may yet flower.

the bleakest space

Sunday, 18 March 2018

the mini-beast is a brawler

So, I stumbled out into the garden on Friday and swept a quick fleece over the most blossoming of the tiny fruit trees. I rammed a quick handful of straw into the centre of my tree fern (having the previous week, lovingly unwrapped it from its winter hessian). And the following morning I ran out and quickly put more fleece on more things. And then this morning I went out and put more fleece on more things.

I'm not sure I've put enough fleece on enough things.

goofy dinosaur under the fleece, the blossom snow-mantled
quince blossom pot smile kaiju in the snow
snow-flattened fine horsetail reeds wallflowers

Worst of all, Dwarf Peach Crimson Bonfire has picked this weekend to bust its blossom. I've fleeced it, but flipping heck. The temperature out there is plummeting