Saturday, 20 May 2017

Vert, near King's Cross

So, on my way to a meeting, I found this. It's here. You can actually have quite a good look at in on Google Maps (that's what the link is) but I've put some of the planting detail below.

Vert, King's Cross

Vert, King's Cross Vert, King's Cross

Definitely an apple tree in one of those battleship-grey dazzle angular wall planters. It's a green wall alright - and just as dependent on its irigation system, which was visible in the lower planters - but not a regular, commercial-district type green wall. This had more of an ostentatious municipal feel, the glory of dramatic urban planning sinking deep into the finer details.

Vert, King's Cross Vert, King's Cross

The artist, Neil Ayling,  does not seem to put plants in his sculptures very much. Mostly they are angular, gravity-defying collapses of cityscapes into eyebending flying structures; concrete and graffiti folded up like origami.

There must be other sculptures out there which would also make excellent planters.

Saturday, 13 May 2017

tiny hipster gardens

Gardens on a grand scale seem to be featuring quite a bit on my regular gardening programme at the moment. The glorious widescale plans of the rich and retired are of course the mainstay of any gardening programme's subject matter (and audience, for that matter) but right now I'm craving small gardening stories, fitted into the cracks of busy lives.

This lady's apartment is quite fun. I love the humidifier. Can you imagine that in a gloomy UK house? Black. Mould. Everywhere.

This gentleman's tiny rooftop patch is full of random crap he's dragged back from charity shops, which is obviously brilliant. His inspiration for creating a dreamy urban green space? The relentless stares of his neighbours.

This one screams new tech money. The automatic garden door, the clever decrypting of the internal space, the ladder to the secret succulent clubhouse. Also, I suspect the presence of a smugly giggling irrigation geek, though I'm not sure we get to meet them in the clip.

Finally, a balcony wrapped firmly in the relentless grey pollutant dust of reality. Solar powered fairy lights, tiny windowboxes, and the distinct impression of having been "given a lift" by a quick trip to the supermarket for a budget pack of mixed herbs and petunias. The comments section is full of discussion of the gentleman's sexuality, which I initially thought was missing the point, but a peek into somebody else's back garden is always a little intrusive, a little bit about seeing a bit of somebody's unguarded life.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

a bunch of super-posh fancypants frilly lilacs

In my local museum, there is a sort of posh top floor, full of fancy paintings by fancy painters. They're all very nice, and here and there are very nice bits of pottery and suchlike, fancy sculptures and dishes and spoons and tea-pots. It rotates a bit in content, and last time I was up there, I found this odd picture of a very nice doily-clad lady casting a contemptuous glance back at her host's collection of tropicana while delicately holding aloft that most British of flowers, a bunch of lilacs. Or maybe she's averting the streaming eyes of hayfever. It's hard to tell. The pose is awkward, the expression unreadable. Among the usually plodding and foregrounded symbolism of the pre-raphaelites, this one stands out like an awkward snapshot. You can almost hear the photographer directing her -- drop your head a bit more, and the lilacs, a touch higher!

a bunch of lilacs

a bunch of lilacs     grumpy birds
arts and crafts lady     against the window

The painting is by Tissot, and so is the winter garden, although he may have exaggerated the size of the conservatory slightly. He was a fabulously fashionable painter at the time, and served iced champagne to his guests in his wildly renovated fashionable London house while scenesters flirted in the fancy garden. Some of his grander knick-knacks are visible behind our lady, sadly rendered nameless by the passage of the years, and I've included some of the more interesting ones on view in the gallery, along with the caption from the painting.

Her awkward pose and pastel colours make her look like a Dresden figurine caught in the jaws of the tropical house, static, chaste and ultimately unmeltable by the urgency of the tropical heat behind her. Or is she? Like many of Tissot's paintings, there is a suggestion of lewdness, here in the Lot's wife pose, the reflective floor and the expressions of the hands and face, almost as if at any moment frills and lilacs both might drop to the floor, and Eden reclaim the fine lady.

Friday, 28 April 2017

when thugs collide

In my garden at the moment, the Alkanets are burgeoning. They're the biggest thug in my garden, although there are also problems from squirrel-planted hazel trees, Aquilegia and Raspberries, although it's all a question of perspective. The bees love the flowers, and raspberries are tasty.

periwinkle, nettle

I found this glorious sight of two happy garden thugs locked in mortal combat out on a walk. The periwinkle can smother a garden bed (though mine has remained persistently tiny, weedy and almost dead, probably because I bought a pretty dark purple variety) and nettles form dense rootbeds that crowd out everything else.

Who will win?

Saturday, 15 April 2017

neon campfires

I saw a Neon Campfire at Kinetica this year. Consisting as it did of a series of glued together shards of glass over a laser projector it looked a relatively simple (if somewhat unsafe)  homebuild (I even have an old projector light that's almost never being used) but pretty as it is, you would never draw close to it, and warm your hands on its icy edges.

kinetica london 2017

It's surprisingly warm, for April. Yuri night seemed like a good night to trial the Fire Bowl that I had been craving since I'd huddled round a friend's a new year. I bought some Aurora Cones, to light up the flames in bright colours:

You can't cook marshmallows over it. It's only copper sulphate, so not too toxic, but the ash is contaminated. We let it cool and threw it away.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017


I chose this cherry tree and planted it with my then housemate. I even invited some friends round to see the tree planted. Because every garden should have a tree, and every garden has a tree that suits it. This one is a Prunus Hilleri Spire, which combines a classic open pink blossom with a tidy, upright habit, which is sometimes described as vase-like, but which makes me think of a firework fountain, especially when it sparkles pink in spring, or flames red in the autumn.

the crab spider strikes

the crab spider strikes     Red Drink

Crab spiders love the cherry tree, too. If you look closely at the top picture, you can see one making a victory wave; and in the bottom left, joyfully consuming a honey bee.

It's come a long way, this little cherry tree. Here it is in earlier days, freshly planted (2005) and a few years in. I'm so used to it being huge that the second picture makes me look like a giant!

Cherry Tree Cherry Tree Growth Report 2008-05-18

Here it is just a couple of years ago, a rather more dominant presence. The huge slick of primroses under it were gifted to me as a few plants from a Betty, who was a volunteer with me at the Oxfam bookshop. They're all over the place nowadays, and not just in this garden.

Garden with Cherry Tree

It's not my tree any more, but it's always a pleasure to visit it.

Friday, 31 March 2017

a walk around Edgeware Road

When I'm on training I like to have a quick walk at lunchtime. Just off the Edgeware Road I found:

Deco flats with interesting ironwork and fancy gardens:

garden palm zigzag grille

Plastic hanging baskets hanging over dead olive trees, and a weird anamorphic wooden sculpture:

dead olive standards round wood sculpture

Some very questionable statuary and some ancient olive trees:

weird scamp sculp

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

marvellous magnolias

Magnolias are having a bit of a moment this year. Here's one I planted, over ten years ago now, it's huge nowadays, outcompeting the grass and making it to berries every other year.

magnolia sky

The year it first flowered (after the first year, which never counts, this was its first real year of having its own flowers rather than ones forced by the nursery)  I took this photograph. It's an Alba Superba - a popular variety with big white flowers flushed with a little pink.

var. Alba

Here it is the year it arrived; 2006, in a big box marked LIVE PLANTS KEEP UPRIGHT, and how it looked when I walked past this year. It's come on!

Magnolia stalking cat

I've always liked magnolias and intended to plant one the moment I had a suitable front garden. They're showy-offy, not for hiding out back. Bring them out where they can make people smile at the spring.

Magnolia with Jeremy

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

gardens glimpsed from public transit

One of my very favourite ways to view gardens is from public transport as it is slowing down. The backs of gardens on the way into stations, the top-deck glimpses from double decker buses pulling into stops, the view of the suburbs from a sharply banking plane. Here I am looking down from London's cable car, a famous white elephant infrastructure project that was busy and lively when we took it across the Thames, at regenerating docklands, park-ups giving way to municipal planting and tourist destinations.

the docks

Photographs are often very unsuccessful in such situations. There is an extraordinary looking garden attached to Providence Tower (foreground, in front of Ontario Tower) which is just visible as the DLR pulls into the station; but the foreground station furniture your eyes gloss out obscures it firmly from camera view.

At Blackwall station

The DLR barely stops at stations; there was no chance of a second shot. But if you want to see what I mean, Ballymore's New Providence Wharf website gives some pretty good views of the all season and winter gardens in question. Or you could watch the video, for the right High Rise ambience:

Friday, 17 February 2017

miracles and magic in the garden (moncler)

At the moment, in my garden, the moss and mulch is doing most of the work. At this grey time of year, where all work undertaken is bundled up in layers and cringing from the cold, I came across this image in a months-old magazine of a pale woman wearing warm clothes, but not enough clothes to keep her warm, holding a peach tree aloft above a cold Northern lake. She believes in the summer. From the depths of February, do you?

The other image from the same campaign cages the snow and the far northern trees in the heart of the man, in chilly homage to Magritte's therapist. The gardener inside, making his own ice on the sofa while outside and inside the snow falls.

I am not averse to moss in the garden. I grew up in a wet enough area that the soft spring of moss underfoot is comforting. This dozing pixie from last year's campaign has landed in the dream of perfect moss; green, luxuriant, like exotic upholstery.

The company in question (warning: home page contains a short Esheresque auto-playing video loop) does do rather fabulous fashion shows, as well as the Leibovitz-unleashed fashion shoots.

Here's next season's look: invisible in your own forest.

As everyone's garden will have its own palette, it should be possible to do a customised jacket in the style, given a little patience an old jacket and some mixable fabric paints. Post-production pixel smoothing not included.

Friday, 10 February 2017

gardening is colossally dull; also cold

It's a dismal day today. Flecks of snow spattering down from a low, grey and somehow gritty sky, the exact colour of cat-litter. I've been out, for a walk, but not into the garden because at this time of year it's dark, depressing, soggy, muddy and miserable.

It's also a catalogue of problems:

  • The side neighbour's tree
  • The back neighbour's hedge
  • The dead geranium bushes
  • The plant pot that has become a plant pond
  • Rotting grapes on the vine
  • The unpruned vine
  • Leaves from the aforementioned tree, everywhere
  • Overgrown ivy
  • Sulking clematis
  • Tired passion vine
  • Filthy greenhouse
  • Etc.
Which is not to say that there are not (deep breath) winter jasmine, quince, hellebores, snowdrops and even Tim's confetti bush actually in flower right now, and any number of things sprouting, showing fresh leaves and generally having a go, but still, February, ugh.

In all honesty, I'd rather be curled up inside with the cats.

But before that, I need to take out the compost pail. A week or so ago, I was taking the compost pail out and somehow tangled my ring in the door handle, slipped on the outside doormat (now mostly moss, dead leaves and slime, oops, something else for the problems list) and landed on the little planter outside the backdoor, which mercifully broke my fall, but also broke. So the first step is a ginger scoot around the shattered plastic fragments of that. Then up the steps -- moss, and more slime. The soft fruits trees have been left out in the weather for the first winter ever, and I edge past them too, noting a few blackened branches and then the blackcurrant and cotoneaster I should have pruned last year, a plant prop whose plant is long since withered and fallen, and the greenhouse, which is green with algae, unwatered inside and covered with dead leaves outside.

And then the emptying of the pail.

The lid of the compost bin comes off fairly easily - no frost today - and inside it is teeming and steaming, worm city with a sprinkling of woodlice, slugs and centipedes. At least one thing is going right, and as soon as it's warm enough I'll put that on my garden.

Er, maybe. 

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

plants in boxes, on shelves, over balconies, cascading, contraband, constrained

For those who grew up in the long grey shadow of the 80s, the Barbican represented something of a better way - brutalist concrete softened by the tumbling streamers of sympathetic vines, soft vegetative fringes gentling the hard edges of modernism and social housing regreened into genuine sociability.

The reality, of course is that the Barbican is, and has always been exclusive, expensive and precisely ordered; compulsory geraniums and by-lawed plantings and always the gates; gates within gates letting you into increasingly exclusive spaces, three storey flats, four storey town-houses, mews overlooking a (private) park. Even the harsh concrete is actually a carefully hand-finished surface, every square foot carefully textured to perfection by men with jackhammers. Only those not in the know look at the Barbican and see the depressing equity social housing.

I still love it though; its concrete garden remains one of the most enduring caricatures of distopia rendered utopian through the application of sympathetic greenery.

Foliage stealing the skyline moss garden
no functional purpose largest freestanding roof in Europe of its time
winter flower globe lights and palms
hanging gardens lush and exclusive
and what about the dolphins? floating pillars
corner tree
much planting intrusive bollards
mews entrance walkway plantings