August 18, 2011

A shady lane (everybody wants one?)

by growingpeople

The question I get asked the most when working on clients’ gardens is what to do with the shady bit at the back where not much seems to grow. My answer is always the same – there are lots of shade-tolerant herbs that work very well as ground cover, helping to supress weeds, while having the added bonus of contributing something edible to the garden.

When we grow herbs we tend to think first of species such as oregano, mint and rosemary which really thrive in full sun, but many others will do well in partial shade, or even in areas that are in full shade for some of the day.

Angelica archangelica grows as far north as Greenland and Iceland, so clearly the lack of sunlight is not an issue for it. Its vast umbels are attractive and useful for filling space where nothing much grows, the leaves are good in salads and the flowers, which appear in June are tasty brewed into tea. Myrrhis odorata, commonly known as Sweet Cicely, is a very useful herb which can be used in the place of sugar to remove acidity (think stewed apples). Like Angelica, it quickly takes up vertical and horizontal space in shady spots.

Claytonia sibirica is a winter-flowering herb whose succulent leaves are deliciously bitter and make good ground cover. It’s a woodland plant native to North America and Siberia, so again, not a fan of the sun. This species has pink flowers while those of Claytonia perfoliata are white.

Allium ursinum, or wild garlic, is by far one of my favourite plants and I’ve already talked about it here. It carpets British woodland, so ideal for our purposes. Thanks to zebbakes for the picture and the bread-making tips! In the same family, Allium schoenoprasum, or chives, are easy to grow in shady gardens or among leafy vegetables like cabbages and lettuces. The leaves need to be picked regularly during the summer to promote new growth.

A yellow bay tree (Laurus nobilis ‘Aurea’) will do well in partial shade and the leaves add flavour to soups and stews when used fresh or dried, as will the “midwife’s herb”, Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca), whose pink flowers can be used in cooking or be made into a tea thought to aid treatment for uterine infection.

August 2, 2011

Being here.

by growingpeople

Three autumns ago, I admitted to myself that what I was doing wasn’t what I wanted to be doing and that  if I wanted to start waking up happy and spending my days doing something I loved, a massive U-turn needed to be made.

When I worked in publishing, I dreamt of spending my days with my hands in the earth, surrounded by children, vegetables and compost heaps, instead of in an office, with a stiff back, an uncomfortable chair and grumpy colleagues, agonizing for days over how big the “and” should be on a bit of paper that would only end up in the bin. And then moaning about the whole experience to my less than interested (but very patient) partner.

Three years, one baby, many qualifications and one my-own-company later, it dawned on me quite suddenly over lunch with Naomi this week that I am exactly where I want to be.

With Safi happily in nursery, I am teaching the school groups I’d hoped I’d one day teach, re-designing gardens, getting to know some of London’s most interesting and varied community groups that I barely knew existed three years ago, working with consistently inspiring food-growing projects and getting paid for it. With my post-partum fuzz finally receding I’m not only begininng to see what here is, but also remembering where here used to be –  and how very, very grateful I am for the journey.

July 22, 2011

Secret London Garden #5: The King’s Cross Skip Garden, Pancras Road

by growingpeople

“After the Olympic Park, this is the biggest building site in London”, says Paul Richens, the King’s Cross Skip Garden‘s enthusiastic and wonderfully knowledgeable gardener who shows me around – which is what makes the choice of location for this growing space so remarkable. The garden is located right inside the Kings Cross Central development, home to Eurostar, the new underground station, the nearly-finished University of the Arts campus and future-home to dozens of new office buildings and flats, the whole lot scheduled for completion by 2020. It is, as the name suggests, entirely constructed in a series of recycled skips, and designed to be a travelling garden, hoisted up and moved to new sites around the development as building work progresses.

Building work is in fact due to start at the garden’s current location on Pancras Road in the coming weeks, and it will shortly be re-housed at the other end of the building site on York Way. It will be interesting to see how its new location changes the feel of the space, which is heavily influenced by the juxtaposition of the station’s Gothic architecture, the Eurostar terminal’s metal and glass cladding, and the rubble of the building site, all visible from the garden and defining its very nature. With another 8 years to go before the site’s completion, there’s a real question mark over how, and more specifically, where, this garden may go next and what that will mean for its development and preservation.

Paul explains the garden’s design to me: each skip represents an element of a full-blown garden, so there is a poly-tunnel skip, an orchard skip, a root skip and so on, all powered by what he’s called the Green Engine – the skip housing an impressive wormery and huge tufts of Bocking 14 Comfrey, the organic gardener’s secret weapon when it comes to mulching and nourishing the earth. The skips aren’t just filled with earth, but instead contain wooden beds and a set of stairs down the centre of each one, so that the student gardeners who come along to help Paul maintain the site have easy access to all areas of the growing space.  Educational workshops and talks take place in the garden’s “bio-dome”, the cosy tent space at the rear of the garden.

each skip contains one ton of soil, arranged in beds and accessed through a set of stairs

(left) Paul at work (right) the Green Engine

(left) the Orchard skip (right) the Eurostar terminal overshadows the garden

(left) tumbling alpine strawberries mark their territory (right) the view from the educational tent

The project is an initiative of Global Generation, an award-winning organisation that provides young people with opportunities to get involved in environmental and sustainable projects, under the themes of “I, We and the Planet”, and has been heavily supported by the Guardian, Camden Council, Capital Growth and Big Lottery.

July 15, 2011

Cooking with flowers

by growingpeople

This needs little introduction. Flowers are the extra ingredient that turn food into a work of art – these species are all suitable for small spaces and containers, and perhaps with the exception of lavender, you’ll need to grow your own as you won’t find them in the shops. Cooking with flowers by its very definition will always mean eating fresh food in season, and their short growing period makes them all the more special.

Lavender shortbread, thanks to theurbanfoodie

Chive blossom on toast, thanks to thekitchn

Elderflower cordial with white dianthus flowers and a lovage stalk straw, thanks to eggsontheroof, the most elegant food blog around – I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Calendula petal and Borage salad, thanks to frenchrecipe

Carrot and nasturtium soup, thanks to stumptownsavoury

Pansy cookies, thanks to stonegable

Courgette blossom fritata, thanks to harmoniouskitchen

 

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July 10, 2011

Beyond lettuce

by growingpeople

Lettuce and lettuce-type things are among the easiest edibles to grow in containers and small spaces, but too often we stick to unadventurous species of Butterhead and Looseleaf, ignoring the multitude of more unusual (and better looking) leaves and flowers that can be used to make a salad.

Herbs, too, are frequently seen as simply a garnish and added in minute quantities that can barely be detected – but if chosen correctly, and combined with milder flavours, I believe that they can be a main ingredient. My favourite salad ingredients, container-grown in my Hackney garden include chard, parsley, chives, golden marjoram, nasturtiums, borage, baby spinach and lovage.

The selections below are all suitable for containers, can be sown now and taste much better than an iceberg.

I recommend Real SeedsWild Garden Seeds and Suffolk Herbs for sourcing seeds.

Lactuca sativa var. romana “Little Leprechaun”

 

Levisticum officinale (lovage)

Celery-like shoots, but a milder taste. The young leaves are one of my favourite salad ingredients.

 

Malva sylvestris (mallow)

The young leaves and flowers can be eaten raw. This is hardly worth growing as you can find it everywhere this time of year (Hackney-dwellers, try the marshes -there’s enough to feed the borough there).

 

Rumex acetosa (garden sorrel)

This perennial herb is mild enough to be eaten raw as a salad leaf.

 

Alliaria petiolata (garlic mustard)

As the name suggests, the leaves taste of garlic and mustard, are delicious in salad if you like that sort of thing, and grow in abundance in Hackney Marshes.

 

Allium ursinum (wild garlic)

One of my absolute favourites, growing abundantly in British woodland in February and March. Use the leaves and flowers in salad – they taste strongly of garlic, so use in addition to a milder leaf.

Trapaeolum majus (nasturtium)

Adds colour to the smallest of garden, grows in the poorest of soils and the leaves and flowers are delicious.

July 9, 2011

Secret London garden #4: Dalston Roof Park, Ashwin Street

by growingpeople

Initiated by the wonderful Bootstrap company, the development trust responsible for the funding of a multitude of local creative and social enterprises since 1977,  the Dalston Roof Park sits on top of the company’s Print House HQ .

The Roof Park is part food-growing project (in which local residents can participate), part astro turfed summer hangout and part cultural space, its summer program packed with film screenings, live music and poetry readings, complete with a pop-up bar serving cocktails, cider and other refreshing beverages.

Become a “Friend of the Dalston Roof Park”  (free and open to all) to get access to the Park at any time – you just need to fill out a form on Bootstrap‘s website.

The Roof Garden’s fourth-floor view of Dalston Lane’s mix and match approach to architecture


the re-purposed beach hut serves as pop-up bar on summer nights from 4pm

rocking the astro turf

July 7, 2011

July

by growingpeople

Thanks to Naomi, not only is my garden not dead after three weeks away, it also has new additions: golden marjoram (Origanum majorana) and golden feverfew. I’ve never grown either of them before, but I remember learning about feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) on my permaculture design course and loving the name (it’s good at reducing fevers, the story goes).

We’ve finally been able to eat things besides lettuce and radishes – broad beans, carrots and potatoes have all been pulled up and despite not making a full meal, have made additions to a big salad to split three ways. And fresia, verbena, anemone and sunflowers have bloomed, tomatoes are appearing  in abundance and everything’s  making me optimistic.

Things to do now 

Sow fennel, courgettes, marrow, cucumber, french beans, marigolds and wildflowers.

Peel the bottom yellowing leaves from your tomato plants, shred them up, and place them as a mulch around the base of the plats – the potassium rich leaves are needed for fruiting. Stake tomato plants.

Dig up potatoes and carrots. Use the vacated pots for a succession of lettuce and radish.

Re-plant anything that has outgrown its pot into a bigger space.

Keep picking herbs like basil, parsley, lovage and chives, pinching at the base to encourage new growth. Don’t allow them to flower (bolt), or in any case pinch out the flower as soon as it appears.

Plant out broccoli or cabbage seedlings still kept indoors.

Weed and water generously.

My second round of "Paris Market" carrots, perfect for containers, growing to roughly the size of a cherry tomato

 

"Costoluto Genovese" tomato

 

 

June 21, 2011

This week I like

by growingpeople

Digby Road, Homerton

This new-build 14-storey residential project opposite Homerton Overground station takes its undulating triangular shape from that of the previously derelict site it sits on.  The building will aim to operate on 20% renewal energy, is entirely clad in heat-retaining terracotta, boasts a continuous garden roof, two external green walls, (visible from all over Hackney), community garden, playground, rain water recycling system and there are plans in place  for a biomass boiler community heating scheme.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bottle-cap gardening

I don’t actually  like  this, because the idea that you would pay £1.22 plus postage for soil or that there’s even a market for this is completely depressing, but corporate bandwagon aside, this is a cute way of illustrating that you can grow stuff anywhere, and it would be a fun project to try with my students  (using soil from umm, the ground , and not mail-order from Japan).


Whirligro | vertical plant grower

These are great, although the £80 (plus £20 postage) price tag is a little OTT and I’m sure there must be a way of making one yourself. But for those who can afford it, they combine good design and space saving for both indoor and outdoor gardening.

June 15, 2011

Feasting

by growingpeople

We’ve spent the last three weeks in Morocco, where Safi met her huge extended family for the first time and we gorged on tajine, watermelon, almonds, bekkoula, oranges and pots of mint tea.

I was familiar with the Atlas region and the arid south – Marrakech, Essaouira and Agadir, where the landscape is dotted with the endemic Argan (Argania spinosa) tree – cultivated for oil and home to armies of climbing goats – but this time we stayed mainly along the Atlantic coast in the north of the country –  an incredibly productive area, rich in crops as varied as peanuts, bananas, potatoes and purslane, not to mention a range of non-cultivated edibles which grow freely in the wild.

One of my favourite things to do (anywhere) is to explore markets, and here both my eyes and belly were truly spoiled – the frenzy of colour and the abundance of produce (all local, very little needs to be imported) were a veritable feast before even getting anywhere near my plate.

Supermarkets and convenience stores are very slowly creeping into the suburbs of bigger cities like Rabat, Casablanca and Kenitra, but on the whole the Moroccan respect for good food, properly produced and with nothing going to waste means that the daily trip to the market (souk) remains an intrinsic part of family life, particularly in the smaller towns of the north which are fed by such fertile land.

(above) Purslane (Portulaca oleracea) grows freely as an urban weed but it is also cultivated and sold as the principle ingredient for rejla, purslane stewed in olive oil and flavoured with cumin and ginger.

(above) marshmallow (Althaea officinalis) leaves are used for making bekkoula – similar to rejla in preparation but with a more acidic taste. We bought shredded and boiled marshmallow leaves from the huge tubs that ladies brought to the market and added oil and spices to them at home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(left) purple bindweed (Ipomoea), a close relative of the sweet potato (Ipomoea batata) and (right) oranges growing happily in Tangier

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(left) limes growing in Larache and (right) the barbary fig, or prickly pear (Opuntia ficus-indica) grows widely throughout the country, producing a sweet, bright red fruit after its yellow flowers.

(below left) mint grows everywhere and is combined with green tea and sugar to make the Moroccan staple, thé a la menthe. (below right) bananas ripening in a Casablanca car park.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

June 1, 2011

Secret London garden #3: St. Mary’s Secret Garden, Pearson Street

by growingpeople

It’s very difficult to photograph St. Mary’s Secret Garden in a way that gives an accurate representation of what this place is all about. Sensory garden, herbaceous border, fruit trees, vegetables and woodland all meet here to create this unique horticultural project which serves as both community space (local residents have keys) and therapeutic garden, welcoming adults with mental health issues, terminal illness, and physical and learning disabilities to help maintain the site. Tucked away behind the Hoxton end of Kingsland Road, this is another of those beautifully still spaces in which it’s easy to forget that you are minutes from the creeping traffic of Old Street and Hackney Road.

The sheer quantity of the planting here is overwhelming – and the garden’s layout so full of curves and hidden pockets – which is why my photographs cannot begin to do the space justice. However much time I spend here, I will continue to be surprised by previously unnoticed little chunks of space (or a sink, suitcase or walking boot) with something fantastic growing in it. The garden offers a full program of courses and events, and is reliant on the work of its volunteers.

(above) A re-imagined chest of drawers, a boot, a toilet (or three), a washing machine drum and a baby’s car seat all serve as planters at St. Mary’s Secret Garden.


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