Friday, 30 June 2017

the buildings are becoming a shrubbery

In the centre of town, the buildings are sprouting. In the rich moist pollution-fertillised muck that gathers in every crack and crease, in the turds of pigeon and jackdaw, the seeds and scraps that have blown in on the wind from the untended banks and sidings, from the municipal planting and formal gardens, from the private spaces and public places, have put out happy roots and exploded into unruly life.

Lloyds green frontage

This ridiculously blousy building, veiled in anti-pigeon nets, and covered in fancy carvings, is doing particularly well, with a smart, glossy-leaved shrub sprouting from a high balcony, and the usual buddleia sprouting from a drainpipe. All along every ridge and wiggle, weeds are sprouting; happy sow thistles and dandelions. The anti-pigeon spikes create a punkish echo of the plants; nature is unwelcome here, but nevertheless invading; uprising; over-taking.

Lloyds green frontage

This time of the year, you turn your back on a plant, it grows. Everything disappears under wild green tumbles, precious plantlets smothered under wild swathes of geraniums and raspberries and passion flowers and hollyhocks and ivy and vines.

Or, at any rate, that's whatt's going on out back here, right now.

Thursday, 29 June 2017

the windowsills have gone a bit Pinterest

Among the various purchase opportunities at GW Live were some people selling air plants. They had some beauties, on a three for one deal, and although admittedly I have no more space on my windowsills (see below) I somehow came home with three.

pinterest windowsill

This is the windowsill before the new arrivals. As you can see, one of these pots is not like the others. But the ramekin will hold it until I find it a little concrete cylinder.

pinterest windowsill fail

I already had airplants. I had three, because they seem to attract 3-for-a-deals. Now I have six, including some Spanish moss. I should really look up how to care for that. Everything else gets a fortnightly dunk, usually for twenty minutes but once I forgot, and they soaked for more like five hours.

Nothing died. That's airplants for you.

Saturday, 24 June 2017

let your privet hedge flower

I found some privet, self-planted in a semi-hedge by the tow-path. Some of its leaves had a spatter variegation, virus, mutation or reaction to stress? It's hard to tell. A softwood cutting from the variegated branch might yield good results. Or it might blight my existing hedge.

let your privet flower

When I moved into my current house and found a privet hedge out front, I couldn't believe my luck. I saw topiary, year round green, and a corner of my mind whispered stick insect food though to be honest, with cats and cacti I hardly need the responsibility of live insects too, no matter how exciting.

What I didn't see was curds of fluffy white flowers dripping pollen and oozing nectar, fat bees crawling over them and pollen beetle speckles like a sprinkling of black sesame seeds. I didn't even know that Privet bloomed; I had it as some kind of municipal hedge, competently sterile; a living barrier of the tidiest kind, a bare one-up from camouflage nets and astroturf.

let your privet flower

But left to its own devices, Privet will do this, So now, every year, I leave the top of Spriggy Stardust, my topiary chameleon, fluffy and floriferous. The scent of the flowers is a little bit generic, like a hay-meadow crossed with a fancy air-freshener, but it pulls in the bees and the hoverflies and the butterflies and the beetles.

Spriggy in flower
Flowers in my topiary. Happy June.

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

spare a thought for the disappeared of gardener's world

I went to Gardener's World Live last weekend (on which more later) for the Saturday show, when mostly the party is over and the celebs have been tidied away (so much for my hopes of seeing Flo Headlam!). I'm assured that I saw both Joe Swift and Carol Klein although I was so excited by the presence of an affordable Clivia I barely noticed (sadly it was the old dude on the stall, not the dewy darcy-esque nurseryman in the clip, but DAMN what a flower).

I did manage to remember it was the 50th anniversary of Gardener's World on the day (there were a few colossal hints about the place so no great boast there) but it didn't really hit home until I watched the show on Sunday (I'd saved it both to avoid show spoilers and because there's nothing more satisfying than being given jobs for the weekend way too late to do anything about it) and they got together all the people who'd presented Gardener's World in the through-the-decades show garden to wave champagne around and smile nervously at the camera.

Except that no whoah hey, they really hadn't. A whole bunch of really quite significant players were conspicuously absent from the party, while a set of vaguely familiar pale males in variable states of beard had been added in, irrelevantly. So, let's briefly celebrate the missing, the absent, and list the crimes for which they were forever absented from the sphere of the "Nation's Head Gardener" as apparently we must now call Monty.

Chris Beardshaw

Monty came from a non-horticultural background, and originally experienced gardener and promising young presenter Chris Beardshaw was brought in to add some expert chops and blue-jean charm to the show. They made for a memorable two-header (you can see some clips here -- How to build a raised bed really captures the spirit of those shows) carving up DIY jobs between them with very realistic tension and occasional biting sarcasm. An episode where they built a rustic pergola together was something of a turning point and later Chris was sacked - officially for breaking the terms of his contract with the BBC by appearing on a C4 reality show whose subject matter was a bit too garden.

Sarah Raven

The Raven came in during Monty's outreaching years as a foil to Carol Klein.  Where Klein was the great plant-pincher, propagating obsessively, pricking and taking cuttings and dividing, the Raven grew flowers straight and tall and chopped them down again; the wire mother to Carol's earth mother. Her straight lines, stern approach and floral obsessions recalled the old guys, the Percys of this world. But the mistress of the cutting garden's days were  numbered. In the aftermath of Monty's stroke, the women took over the show for a memorable, marvellous and sadly brief run. When it was rebooted with the Hobbit in charge (Toby Buckland, who was disappeared in person but mentioned and shown in a black-and-white photograph, as if he were sadly deceased) the Raven was booted orf. Her burgeoning commercial empire of floral delights was cited as the official reason, but looking too professional next to Buckland may also have been a contributory factor.

Alys Fowler

Possibly the most comprehensively disappeared of all the co-presenters, you would struggle to find out that Alys Fowler had ever appeared on Gardener's World at all, were it not for the sad peeps from the forum ghosts that miss her chaotic hair and enthusiastic approach; at once intellectual and possessed of a hands-on vigour that defied her slender frame. She was also young (a fabulous rarity among presenters in general) which gave her a nervous edge familiar to anyone who has taken on a new allotment and has been surrounded by the leonine eyes of leathery veg-veterans staring, waiting for the perfect moment to skewer your first-season efforts with a devastating barrage of monosyllabic so-called "advice". Her crime was at once the most simple and the most profound; she was the man behind the curtain, the head gardener's actual head gardener - pardon me, botanical researcher - and the living embodiment of the old adage, a woman's work is invariably claimed by a man. Hoiked out in front of the camera by Monty, she was hoiked off again as Monty returned post-recovery, presumably to the dulcet tones of The Human League: don't forget, it's me who put you where you are now, and I can put you back down too-oo-oo-oo.

The irritating Telegraph term for the anchor of Gardener's World, the Nation's Head Gardener, was repeated with SEO-optimised monotony throughout this slot in the programme. There is a patrician obnoxiousness about the title, placing your viewers as your undergardeners, and displacing the person who actually does that job, who won't call themselves the head gardener, because this particular moneybags wants to be able to boast to the other moneybags, we decided not to get in a head gardener, and did it all ourselves.

Friday, 16 June 2017

Morton's Courtyard Garden Oxford

Oxford is of course an intensely green city. Parks, rivers and canals edge a green tideline up to the city centre edge, but inside this space colleges, quads and fellows gardens predominate, and these are private or limited access. But here are there are little patches of green, plants and sky open to the public; pub back gardens, churchyards, and little scraps of land behind (or sometimes above!) cafés.

This is Mortons Courtyard off Broad Street, just visible down a tiny passageway from the Street.

morton's courtyard

The planting is quite simple; a vigorous vine to green and shade, clumps of easy-growers mixing it up with weeds in stony corner beds, ferns on the walls. From time to time they put in a few more things, or hack back the vines a bit, but otherwise it's pretty much left to its own devices.

morton's courtyard morton's courtyard

The gravel is somewhat invaded, and the remnants of bedding popped in to brighten things in early spring stick around, softening the space and making it feel lived in and relaxed.

morton's courtyard morton's courtyard

We're only visiting of course; the pigeons are resident, and they will come and tamely beg crumbs, bumbling around by your feet. Just visible above you can see another garden, a roof garden this time. This is private, college or otherwise inaccessible, sadly; it looks interesting.

Thursday, 15 June 2017

a garden of your own, in the sky, in the future

I spoke last year about gardens in flats, in the context of Switch House Controversy, including a few cheeky overlook photos of my own:

doomed megalopolis

As you can see, these flats are in the modern fishtank style; environmentally sealed to minimise energy costs (a popular approach at the moment), all life shut behind unopening windows of thickened safety glass. You can see plants in the "gardens" at the prow end of the building, but these will always be indoor plants, as the pets (we saw a fancy, bushy-tailed cat) will always be indoor pets. There is no sky here, no looking up into endless air. You can buy a telescope, but the stars will always be behind glass.

Does it matter that flats fail to deliver on that small patch of ground you can call your own, that thin narrow slice where you stand on the soil and look up to the sky? My flat-dwelling friends seem more stressed. There are conversations about management committees and residents' associations, endless wranglings among polarised factions. There are rules which seem unfair and petty, fights over what happens in the common space, which is often also the green space, where there is green space.

A balcony provides a space which can be filled with pots; a friend of mine, a notable gardener, used her time living in Docklands as a chance to try out all the ultra-tenders and UK impossibles on her wishlist in her suntrap balcony. You can cover windows and walls with Monstera and Aspisitra, Maidenhair fern and orchids. You can live in the green in a flat, without having a garden of your own. You can even grow vegetables.

But you'll always be in a hothouse; your heels will never sink into soil cool with yesterday's rain. The only rain will be the rain you bring, human, rainmaker. The inevitable insect invasions (I am willing to bet that even the sealed fishtanks of Bankside will suffer this, as I've yet to see a system sealed enough to defy the aphid) will never stabilise into a manageable ecosystem. The anxious calculations of weighting, watering and disposing must consider the regulations and considerations of your allotted space, which is a bedroom, and not an allotment. The space that must be protected against plants, the openers of cracks, and against water, the finder and expander of problems.

Or could there be a way to make it work? With more open designs, better rainwater recovery, adoption of stone and cliff gardening techniques, trickle down and float up ecosystems that connect ground level greenery with green roofs, minibeast corridoors that float the pests and pollinators and predators upwards through bubbles and trails of greenery, could we have flats that deliver green space for all, cooling, comforting, diffusing, defusing flat living?

The Greening Grey Britain campaign is concentrating on the easier target of front gardens, replacing concrete, tarmac and sealed-surface coverings with porous areas of gravel, unsealed block paving and tough planting. It's admirable, it's helpful, but the urbs that are sub enough to have front gardens are perhaps not the most at need here.

At an impressionable age, I read The Usborne Book of the Future, and in in particular, Part 2 : Future Cities, pp 38-9 (here sadly split by a page-turn) and my view of utopianism was fixed. Garden City on Cared-For Planet; a word of high-tech and concrete, bicycles and monorails, unweeded and riotous and perfectually in flower, buried under softly-dripping flowering vines.

That's the grey Britain I want to see greened.

ETA here is the full spread of the Two Trips to the 21st Century, lovingly scanned by Mewsings

Sunday, 11 June 2017

astroturf zentai and the drunken days of june

Florals are having a moment at the moment. I may even manage to fill out my punk gardener wardrobe this year. In the last few years I've stepped away from having "gardening clothes" -- you know, stained old t-shirts, tough jeans, semi-broken shoes and into gardening in good clothes. Everything washes, and the garden deserves it as much as the gig or the street. Dandy up to weed out the dandelions, why not? Do your nails before tying in the vines. And also afterwards, because you'll have to.

These images (fall into Richard Quinn's floral Dystopia, i-D magazine) capture a bit of the immersive feel I like to have in my garden, that tumble into a drunken floral tangle with fruit, and yes, thorns, and if your shirt gets a little ripped in among the greenery well, it's all gardening.

astroturf zentai

My border's a bit overcrowded at the moment, It got flattened in the high winds, and now everything's growing sideways. The foxgloves got smacked down, then started growing up, in a lewd pink wiggle. My apples, in response to the dry-dry-dry then then suddenly WET!!!! have cracked. Never seen that before.

drunken garden<

Also of note from the creativity issue of i-D; Dilara Findikoglu does wildflower meadows, and Tim Walker, Jack Appleyard and Gareth Wrighton, and Gary Card explore the country estate look,

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

meadow in the quad

Up for my tutorial, I saw this through a window. Often University quads are monocultural overclipped tabletop greens, fertisized and deweeded and forbidden to stand on (bar the occasional game of croquet) - a bare step up from astroturf in biodiversity. But the Marston Campus at Brookes is a bit of a wild place in some ways, and they have a wildflower meadow quad:

marston campus quad

meadow closeup     meadow extreme closeup
flowers and grass     in the meadow

wildflower meadow

Joy of joys, some of the doors were open, as the verges were being clipped, and I was able to sneak out and bury my camera for a bug's eye view. The place was buzzing with bees and hoverflies. I was trying to focus on a bee when I got the inevitable "can I help you?" challenge. I put on my best haughty I-am-a-student and explained I was being careful, snapped a few more photos and scarpered. As I left I heard the groundsman say, 'Nah, she's alright, just a student' to the receptionist who was probably a bit nonplussed before she remembered that some students come in every day and others once a term, or even almost never, as nowadays we can all be constantly plugged into the great university in the cloud.

I'm glad I'm not always in the cloud though, or I'd never have seen their magnificent wildflower quad in June, bright and buzzing under the blue sky.

Saturday, 3 June 2017

white roses and red posters

There's a look, in our streets at the moment. White flowers, red posters. Red brick, white foxgloves. White Hydrangeas, red abandoned sofa. White roses, red posters.

white roses white ironwork Poster out of shot
white roses white rose hero shot the look of the moment
wild roses abandoned sofa rose hero shot
And here and there, Green poster, bananas.

banana wall