Sunday, 15 October 2017

the promised rose garden

Just outside Oxford's Botanic Garden is an curiously designed permanently public garden, bounded by hedges and right by the main road into Oxford City Centre.  At one end, a sinister tunnel of copper beeches throw a gravel walk into deep shade. At the other end is the entry to the gardens. Inbetween there is a stretch of box-hedge maze containing flower beds, growing roses. Lots of roses.

Roses of Oxford Roses of Oxford Roses of Oxford
Roses of Oxford Roses of Oxford Roses of Oxford
Roses of Oxford Roses of Oxford Roses of Oxford

It's curiously retro space; gravel crunches underfoot, and the soil between the roses is weeded bare, in the old style. The smell of the box and the smell of the roses combines into a grandmotherly pleasantness, undercut by the tang of traffic fumes from the main road. Almost every month of the year, some roses are in flower. I've walked this maze in the snow, and knocked snow off fresh blossoms. The English Rose is resilient as well as ravishing.

At this time of year, the breath of autumn is on the flowers. Blooms are fading, wreathed in spider's webs, outer petals spotted by rain and the end of summer. The petals are streaked and stained like antique silks, and here and there sunk into rot, a cludgy mass of brown petals clinging damply to the growing rosehip.

Roses of Oxford Roses of Oxford Roses of Oxford

I am rather too fond of roses. I own too many for my tiny garden, and they're all the wrong varieties. I'm growing a shrub rose up a fence; tiny florists' roses have been set free from their decorative troughettes and left to ramble madly through the flower beds. Some grand prestige tea roses in fancy colours are roughing it among the alkanets and hellebores in the deep shade. One of them turned out to have variegated leaves, in shattered green shades; that one's buried in the dark under an overhang.

But still, year on year, they remain, defiantly my roses.

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

kokedama in commercial space

I found this in a fancy shop window the other day and could not remember what these cutesy, hipsterish moss-bundles were called. Kokigami, my brain kept insisting, as I stumbled blunt-fingered over my Instagram post, Kokigami. No, Kokigame, is not the right word, thank-you brain. Sheesh.

I think you mean Kokedama.

There's obviously been a bit of dribble from the balls. As it were. They are a pretty thing, there's no denying it. Elaborate instructions suggest that the items are quite obtainable in a domestic context, too. But I think that a drip tray will be needed.

My kitchen's being done at the moment, and when it's completed I'll have a long sequence of carefully washing plaster dust off all my plants, and then I'll have a new place to put plants, as I'll need some to trail across an internal window.

I'm fancying a Chinese Money Plant. But maybe I could break it up with a kokedama, here and there.

Sunday, 8 October 2017

waldspirale and the afforestation of the terraces

I was reminded today of Hundertwasser's concept of window-rights, whereby every resident should be able to alter the appearance of windows, and line the eyes of their house with colour and tiles and whatever else seems to work, up to the length their arm can reach. I'm charmed as ever by the irresistibly glam idea of giving your windows a Barry M blast, but even moire delighted to find it ballasted by the idea of tree-tenants and greened terraced roofing which returns 100% - or, ideally, a little more - of the land taken by the housing to nature, architecture in balance with vegitecture.

Tree Tenants grow from inside the building. Dedicated small rooms contain a large stainless steel tub, which hold a small tree that lunges out of the building and up into the light. Although the picture below is more a conceptual image than the practical details of waterproof membranes and steel supports which create a successful tree tenant, the principles are clear; the tree tenant is watered via rainwater collection, with supplementary water and fertilising provided by the human tenants, as part of their tree duty (toileting pun intended).

The green terrace roofing concept is also shown above, but the details about the terraces is revealing:
Part of the terraces is publicly accessible, another part is private, and a third portion is reserved for spontaneous vegetation, i. e.; off limits, taboo for man. If one includes those portions of green surface lying beneath perpendiculars, more than 100 % of the ground plan is planted with greenery and trees. On the roof, nature was given back what the house had taken away from her. - Hundertwasser, 1985
Green roofs constructed again and again in all of Hundertwasser's architecture. The Waldspirale (Forest Spiral) building has as many tree tenants as human tenants, and can be scaled as if it were a hill. Hundertwasser's opinion that vegetation should grow on all horizontal spaces in the city, on the roads and on the roofs, wherever rain falls or snow rests, is poetic and compelling in its determination and impracticality.  Impracticality? It is a value-driven word. If trees and greenery are a priority, then they can be integrated. The innovations of Sepp Kratochwil can interweave trees and humans, put lakes on parks on the roof, and yes some maintenance is required, but is that not always the case?

But it is the idea of thirds that I like the most. A third for yourself, a third for the public and a third for nature to claim. Let it green and let it grow, and look after your tree tenants, for they are also looking after you.

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Gardening in the rain

Gardening in the rain is a curious pleasure. There's the aggravating dampness of the soil of course, which never seems quite to be at the right consistency, always too sloppy, too muddy, or perversely dry under the run-off, on a hot summer day when the skies open. Planting in the rain is sometimes unavoidable; the only day you can put in a hedge, for example, or a plant that just won't wait. The rain beats down on your back as you bend over, seeping through the seams of the never-quite-waterproof coat. You stop yourself as you're heeling in the soil around the plant as it's too wet, and you'll compress the soil too far. Or you forget, and then have to relift it a little, trying not to tear any roots.

fennel portrait

Cutting back in the rain is a soggy business. I'm not one of those that frets and panics about exposing my plants' cut stems or branches to wet, but the sense of resistance from the plant in wet weather is higher. All around the garden exhales, enlarges, audibly swells, and you with your secateurs aren't going to be able to make much of a dent. The plants playfully slap you in the face, dropping rain down your front and across your legs. Water soaks through on the chest and thighs, the tops of the arms, the shoulders; rain soaking the shelves of your body made as you lean back, crouch down, reach. The garden laughs in your face and sprays up fresh hoses of green, fired by the rain.

raindrops captured

Weeding in the rain, though. The easiest weed of all. The soft soil gives up seedlings easily, and nothing can hide when it's questing for raindrops. You get muddy of course; muddy hands, muddy knees, wet ankles from crouching down among the plants. But out they come and into the compost, while all around, every plant in the garden is catching raindrops.


Sunday, 1 October 2017

bus-stop moss gardens

Taking a double decker bus into town lets you look down on the city. Not from a dizzy height; more from a giraffe-neck height. You get the megafauna view of the urban environment. And new vistas unfold, like these bus-stop roofgardens:

bus top roof gardens bus top roof gardens

These are under mature trees and the amount of biomass falling from them is magnificent. Where the leaves brush the bus-stop, algae has grown in the green dimness, scraped by the bus-gusted leaves of the Plane trees.

bus top roof gardens bus top roof gardens

Where the trees are cut higher, lichen has speckled the surface, and wherever there is enough debris or damage to form a small puddle, moss has grown. They say that moss will kill a surface; it's doubtless true. These two stops at the end and beginning of their cleaning and maintenance cycle remind that this is a temporary garden; here until cleared.

bus top roof gardens bus top roof gardens

But below the bleakest of the busstops, there is still a halo of green murk and moss where the water drips down around the stop, and the moss and algae swept down onto the welcoming tarmac.

bus top roof gardens bus top roof gardens

Urban surfaces moss over fast round here. A moment's pause in the damp, and the moss will rise and cover all in the soft, spongy, drenching cushions of the temperate waterworld.

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

cutting success

One of the cuttings in my new IKEA cutting starter (a repurposed fancy spice rack) has taken! Rooting the first. Of course, they call this stuff invasive Lonerica in America, and TBH it doesn't need any coddling at all, I can just ram a random branch in anywhere I want a bush, if the birds haven't shat out a seed there already (it berries profusely, juicy purple berries). But don't feel sad, one out of four ain't bad...

cutting success cutting success
cutting success cutting success

Emboldened by my success, I nipped off a cutting of this beauty, that was raving it up in University Parks. It rooted in a week. Cutting tubes are go!!!!

elsewhere 1

Saturday, 23 September 2017

the gutter gardens of abingdon road

My normal morning commute has been diverted by a period of particularly intense works being carried out on a bridge, which has to be done now, because we're between the swallows (that I knew about) and the bats (that I didn't). I'm delighted that the work has been so sensitively windowed; and for all that it's added ?maybe 6 minutes to my commute, also with the change of scenery. Even the main road isn't as much of a downer as I anticipated, because of this:

drainage kerb gardens

What you're looking at is plants growing in the drainage kerbs that were installed after the Abingdon Road floods of 2014. While not our most spectacular floods of recent years (that's 2007) they were notable for the speed of the inundation, the disruption to the sewerage (the councils had to bring in temporary toilets for the residents) and the importation of some innovative inflatable flood barriers from Holland. There's a long term solution coming, in the shape of vast seasonal storage lakes which will take the run-off away from the cities and the villages (the current solution -- storage channels and lock-gates -- often leads to accusations of villages being sacrificed for the city, or (more rarely) vice versa, though how much can be done to shape the flow often comes down to the speed of the inundation) but that's not due to complete for a few years yet. In the meantime, multiple other works are afoot to mitigate the thrills and spills of Oxford's Isis-Cherwell confluence, from uphill tree-planting around tributary rivers, to altering building regulations to make contractors legally liable for new water-flow mishaps. But let it never be said that Oxfordshire neglects the details. These drainage kerbs are one such detail; hollow kerbs (aka kerbdrains) which whip the surface water off the roads, keeping our causeways open.

drainage kerb gardens drainage kerb gardens

They come in both dropped and raised kerb versions. As you can see from the lush growth of escaped garden oregano in the raised kerb, there's quite a big hole there; but the shallower holes are more attractive to flat growth, like grass.

drainage kerb gardens

It's been a summer for the plants, with lots of sun and lots of rain, but I'm still impressed at how fast the weeds have colonised this new habitat niche.

drainage kerb gardens drainage kerb gardens

Initially I worried that the holes might be blocked by this miniature overgrowth, but that's 20th Century thinking. Flood water scours, and the loose aggregation of city-dirt and rain dust these weeds are growing in will be swept away, and the weeds with them too, should the need arise. In the meantime they add to the water-pull, a million tiny green elbows flexing to help lift the water up out of the sewer system. They're not a problem in the system, but rather a benign side-effect. Like green leaves on the branches of a deciduous tree that are lit and warmed year-round by a street light, they are part of the humaniformed environment.

drainage kerb gardens drainage kerb gardens

Nothing has flowers yet, but I see plenty of buds. Before autumn closes the season, there will be flowers in the gutter, and insects tumbling among the vehicle-gusts, and another thin green thread through the grey.