Summer snooping, and assorted chaos

Well, it’s been a funny couple of months. No photos from attractive country locations to share, because we’ve been minus one driving husband for the past 6 weeks, and minus the car for half of that too.

Way back in May some time (I think?) the Mr tripped over a kerb coming out of the station, and several painful hours later decided he’d better take it to A&E. It was apparently only a minor chip to the bone, so he was wearing a boot for 2 weeks. Fine. 

Two weeks later, they realised the X-ray had missed a more serious fracture and the boot would be on for another 4 weeks. Damn.

He was managing alright with the boot outdoors and hobbling round at home, commuting the shortest possible journey in terms of walking distance – bus to the damn Northern Line, my nemesis for many years, but driving was out of the question.

Then we came downstairs one morning to find we’d been burgled and the car had gone anyway – this was at the end of May. We were dazed, but relieved that more hadn’t been taken from the house (just laptops and iPads, all backed up so nothing personal lost – always back up, folks!) but getting a new car was going to be an almighty great hassle.

It was a week later – 1.30am on the night of Bank Holiday Monday, we had the call – Police, we’ve found your car, can we come and collect the spare key in 10 minutes so we can move it? To be woken in the night with amazingly good news was, well, good, but befuddling. I was very sleepy but remember insisting to the Mr ‘check before you open the door, check it really is a policeman’.

Waiting for forensics, and insurers to sort out changing the locks took another few weeks, but the car is back, the door which was forced has new bolts top and bottom and we are throughly relieved all round. 

It has felt very strange not zooming out and about at weekends as we are used to doing, but then it was also the season of birthday parties so we’ve had that to keep us busy, plus the local paddling pool and trips to Greenwich and the Horniman at half term.

I’ve had to fall back on my local patch for admiring flowers – a few favourite houses I like to pass by, and a few new spots as well.


These were spotted in the garden of flats just by Streatham Common – amazing pink daisies, the bees loved them, and the gorgeous colour combination of orange poppies with white nigella.


A view of my very favourite local garden (featured before, I’m sure) – house painted strawberry ice cream pink, which always reminds me of the ‘strawberry pink villa’ in My Family and Other Animals, although SE London does not resemble Corfu in many other ways, I imagine. 

The planting is always beautifully done in purples, reds, and pinks to complement  the house, and the big girl decided she loved the ‘umbrella flowers’ – striped petunias really do look a bit like beach parasols! So I hunted the local garden centres until I found a striped petunia for her. 

A riot of even more purples and pinks: hydrangea, geranium, hollyhocks, clematis. Particularly love that shade of hydrangea – none of mine are flowering yet and one of the front garden ones has barely got going this year at all. Like most of the front garden, it’s rather a mess, but that’s another story.


Something from my own garden I can be proud of, our lovely white rose in the back garden (sadly scentless, but otherwise one of my favourites). I spent a good half hour this morning dead-heading it, so it’s now looking much more sparse, but it always grows back so vigorously I never worry too much about it. 

On the other hand, one of the other roses which was still flowering, I noticed was looking a bit bare in places – so I looked a bit closer…


See those little critters? Here’s a closer look.


It must be the Very Hungry Caterpillar and his friends! Luckily we have enough rose leaves to go round, and we are enjoying doing 30 Days Wild, so this was our ‘wild thing’ for the day. Quite thrilling for small children and me too.


The car/broken foot curfew is almost up, but next few weekends are busy with the school fair and other fixtures – Lambeth Country Show of course – but we will be back to days in the country soon, I hope.

Howling gales do not a happy gardener make

There’s not been much gardening done yet this year, and it’s been getting on my nerves – a wet and windy January has been followed by a wet and windy February, and the garden feels like a remote foreign land to me. 

I’ve seen it under snow, and much more waterlogged and neglected than it is now, but somehow the past month has made me feel much more cut off from it than ever before, and it has never looked as bleak and empty as it has done recently. 

I’ve only really been out the back lately to put out crumbs for the birds – I feel like I’m venturing into someone else’s territory, the domain of the cats, squirrels and foxes, not my back yard at all.

I suspect it’s because this time last year, I had a new baby on my hands and I wasn’t paying much attention to the garden – by the time March rolled around I was ready to get back out there and start gardening. 

This year, on the other hand, I’ve had time to notice how folorn the garden looks, every time I look outside, but the endless rain and howling winds have put me off wanting to actually go out there. It has not even been very cold, but everything has looked so dreary that I’ve felt rather uninspired. 

Perhaps I ought to have a baby every February to distract me from the lack of satisfying gardening I get done – rather extreme, I know – I suppose proper grown up gardeners use the time to read up on new plants and do their planning for spring, but that’s unlikely to be me being that organised any time soon.

We did have a mild-ish Sunday in January when I got into the front garden and did some tidying up – weeding and pruning back the roses, holly and hydrangea made me at least feel the public face of the garden was a bit more respectable. A quick bit of work that gives very satisfying results – every time I come in and out of the house I look at the fresh green hydrangea leaves just opening and the sprawling mass of holly now wrestled under control and feel quietly pleased.

Then of course the bulbs start to come up and again there is a quiet spike of joy – snowdrops back again in the exact same week! And there do seem to be more every year (I know that shouldn’t be a surprise, but it is so delightful to see!)

  
Plus we have grape hyacinth and crocuses…

   
 
My only regret is that I didn’t do a serious attempt at planting some more bulbs back in the autumn, to give us even more to enjoy now – but I’ve plugged a few gaps with some potted bulbs which should come up a bit later in spring, and I can at least be pleased that what I have put in already is spreading nicely and well-established – the snowdrops were all planted since we’ve moved here, as far as I remember, though the other bulbs were mostly there already.

One new treat which I’ve been delighted to see is some lovely pale primroses which my mum planted last spring – they were tiny seedlings from her garden, so wee and easy to miss last year I was constantly worried I’d pull them up as weeds by mistake, but one year on they are suddenly huge and in full bloom already – just lovely.

  
These two are on the north facing bed and seem to be thriving there under the kerria – some others she planted in the south facing bed shrivelled up completely, as have several other plants there which I’ve tried to keep an eye on. The ground on that side of the garden seems much poorer quality, dry and rock hard even in winter, and I wonder what I can find that will do well there? Something to ponder as we head into spring.

Springtime snooping, 2015 style

i was gifted a lovely day off last week – the Mr booked me a trip to a hotel spa where I had a morning lounging around in the pool and steam room, followed by a massage, whilst he wore out the big girl (I can’t call her a toddler any more) at Battersea Park zoo. 

I was then delivered two suitably tired children, who were happy to have a rather quiet and non-stimulating afternoon (well, baby sister doesn’t get much choice on the matter yet, anyway) and I got to do what I like best, take a long leisurely walk past some of my favourite local gardens. 

Not that this isn’t interesting for a 3 year old too – we stop to say hello to cats or dogs, watch birds and snails, and see which plants and trees she can recognise. But mainly, it pleases me and soothes my soul…. so let the snooping begin!

  
First of all, I was seeing irises everywhere. The white, dark purple and yellow variants were all familiar to me, but I’d never seen the pale purple and yellow variety before – nor the bright yellow with a dash of burgundy.

To my mind, irises are best growing wild by a pond, what I know as yellow flag, and while the lilac ones in my back garden look very nice when they are flowering, they are a bit ugly at other times of year when a big messy-looking bulging mass of roots is left behind (rhizomes, as my mum has taught me). Still, they do add a bit of drama and height to a bed, as you can see above.

  

I caught sight of something next that I hadn’t seen in years, and hardly ever seen in urban areas – cuckoo’s spit. The curious name hides a tiny green bug, the larvae of the froghopper – I had to resist the temptation to clear away the froth to show the big girl what was inside (I always used to do this as a child, but now it seems a terribly cruel thing to do, to leave the tiny thing without its defences).

Then I saw a plant – and smelt a smell – which always makes me think of summer, gorse. I know it flowers all year round, as the old saying goes, but the heavenly scent of gorse is one that always recalls summer holidays to me, walks along cliff tops and sand between the toes. Not very often seen in urban gardens, either, so it was very cheering to see it there.
  

This wasn’t just aimless wandering, either, (though there ain’t nothing wrong with aimless wandering!) – I am actively on the look out for ideas of plants which might fill in a gap, or things I’ve been missing from the old garden and yearning to replace. 

Some of these I spotted and photographed – Nigella (love-in-a-mist, to give it the prettier name) and California poppies (how I love that splash of vivid orange!) I have already bought seeds for, and waiting for the right time to plant them. Honeysuckle I long for – need to find the right spot for it. And snapdragons can be fitted in any old where, I just need to find some from somewhere!

I’ve already had a few successes this year – a heuchera and Mexican daisies which were transplanted during the building works last year are thriving in their new locations, and I’ve found an old friend, London Pride, on a recent trip to a garden centre and am thrilled to have it growing in my garden again.

The weather has been a bit too hit and miss to do any serious gardening, but it’s looking pretty good out there right now – and there always plans afoot for more things to do…

Front garden snooping: the uniformity of suburbia

One thing I’ve noticed about the time I spend traipsing back and forth with a toddler to various playgroups, crèches and parks is…how *little* I notice, relatively speaking.

We’d been retracing our steps along one particular road for several weeks, in the slightly ‘naicer’ part of town, and I’d been enjoying the general ambience of attractive suburban houses with well-kept gardens – houses like mine, but slightly smarter, with slightly posher cars outside – but without dawdling, as we’re usually on our way home and have other things on our mind, namely how soon the toddler can get to her milk and CBeebies.

Last week, however, was the last walk in that direction for a while, as a particular playgroup is coming to an end and our routine is changing. So I decided, for a change, to dawdle, and take some pictures on the way.

First of all, I saw a flower you don’t often see in the city, and a real harbinger of spring for me, Lesser Celandine. Nothing quite so heart-lifting as these lovely yellow starry flowers.

Lesser Celandine

Further along the road, though, I suddenly started noticing a rather depressing uniformity – rockery after rockery, and in virtually every garden, this rather garish lime-green plant.

I have no idea what it is, but the ubiquity of it reminded me of elephant’s ear, which I was seeing in front gardens everywhere last year (including my own, though I can’t quite face the epic task of digging it out and am reluctantly letting it thrive there).

Unknown lime-green plant

Granted, perhaps this lime green Triffid has self-seeded across various gardens, (in which case, I wonder why they haven’t dug it out…) and perhaps these people actually like it, in which case, good luck to them, but it won’t be welcomed in my garden I’m afraid.

I then spotted a slightly more subtle pleasure – beautiful lichen on a wooden gate post. They always say lichen can only flourish in good air conditions – the more lichen, the lower the air pollution – so I hope that’s a good sign…

Lichen

I was just ready to push on home when I spotted another garden I had walked past many times on the other side of the road, and never noticed – which just shows that hidden gems can be there amongst suburban uniformity.

This one had evidently drawn inspiration from Sissinghurst, as there was a beautiful white floral theme – including hyacinths and (new to me), a really lovely white forget-me-not, which I would love to have in my garden if I can find it somewhere!

White forget-me-not

Beyond that, though, what struck me about this garden was the variety of shrubs and trees used to form a backdrop for the white planting – a perfect contrast of green and white.

They even had topiary dotted around, rather than in a formal hedge – very random and apparently disorganised, but SO pleasing to the eye compared to all those other identikit gardens. So many different shades of green, and a variety of heights and textures which helps offset the otherwise basic colour scheme.

White garden

I would just like to salute those people, whoever they are, for their fine front garden. The all-white colour scheme is such a classic, and it makes me wonder what I could do with my front garden if it wasn’t already full of pink, blue, yellow, orange, red and purple flowers? (Yes, it currently resembles an explosion in a paint factory, but what can I say, I rather like it…)

Our front garden

Our front garden, spring 2014

 

Urban meadows, green roofs and tyre gardens

This post has been brewing for a while, but it took a few recent delightful and chance discoveries to bring together a few scattered ideas for a blog into a more coherent whole.

The first chance discovery, down a side road in Streatham I’d never been down before and haven’t since, was several months ago, and I’ve been longing for a chance to post it.

It was this lush green sedum roof on top of a garden shed (unusually, in a front garden). It was so gorgeous I must have stood and gawped at it for 5 minutes at least.

Green garden shed roof

Green garden shed roof

I’m not sure I’ve seen a green roof with so much variety and colour – a real treat, especially in a humble suburban garden. I thought excitedly ‘ooh, I’ll blog about this‘ and then proceeded to see NO more green roofs anywhere, or anything even remotely similar, so the picture sat in my photo stream for several months, waiting for an opportunity to be used.

I had been hearing about a green roof initiative on a row of otherwise unremarkable shops in Herne Hill, but it is best visible looking down from the train line, and I haven’t had a chance yet to take a picture of it.

Then, on a trip to Brockley to visit a friend, I was stunned by the planting around the station there – I knew that there had been improvements and landscaping going on, but I did not expect to see this beautiful meadow on a railway embankment where you’d normally see cans of lager and crisp wrappers…

Wildflower meadow, Brockley

Wildflower meadow, Brockley

Near the station entrance, they have created a more formal bed of mixed planting – I assume selected on the basis of being hardy and vandal-proof, based on the presence of some rather prickly and evergreen plants, but still plenty of variety in colour, shape and height, and the overall effect was very impressive.

Formal planting outside Brockley Station

Formal planting outside Brockley Station

What I like most of all is that someone – as it turns out, Brockley Cross Action Group – has bothered to think about this, and take some time to make it nice, when it could just have been some woodchippings and a few tired shrubs chucked in as an afterthought by the urban planners and landscapers. People of Brockley, you’re very lucky to have this.

After my Brockley envy, I went to Brockwell Park, and found, to my delight, an even more lavish flower meadow which has been planted outside the Lido.

Brockwell lido flower meadow

Brockwell lido flower meadow

I honestly don’t think photos could do justice to the colours – the sheer impact of the red poppies against the red brick wall was the first impression I had, but then other colours started to jump out – blue of cornflower, yellow of corn marigold, white of ox-eye daisy, purple of vetch – and more.

The work, by various community groups associated with the Park and Herne Hill, obviously creates a scene very pleasing to the human eye, but also a significant new habitat for bees and other pollinating insects – and I was glad to see several bees bumbling around the flowers as I watched.

Finally, it was just yesterday I saw the final piece of urban landscaping which I realised would be the perfect conclusion to this blog.

On a housing estate just down the road from us, I’d recently seen these tyres nailed up on the wall of the carpark. At first I thought it was some kind of urban art installation….

Tyre gardens, West Norwood

Tyre gardens, West Norwood

…but when they were painted green, I thought ‘Oh – they’re going to use them for planting!’ – and that’s exactly what has happened.

Taking a look up close, they are looking pretty well established already…..

Tyre gardens up close

Tyre gardens up close

…and even from a distance, although the wall itself is still shabby and blighted by graffiti, the tyres really are helping to make an otherwise dull environment a little more bright and interesting.

And that’s what made me finally realise the point of this blog – just to admire the effort some people and groups have made to add a little (or a lot) of greenery where previously there was none, and to praise them for making London nicer for us all. Thank you.

A good year for the columbines

If there’s one flower that seems to be everywhere this year, it’s columbines. They are back in fashion, featured on TV at Chelsea, and practically any direction I walk in from my house takes me past a garden bursting with these glorious, cheery plants, and for me it’s been one of the year’s little delights.

Purple and white columbine

Purple and white columbine

There are many reasons I love this flower, but a major one is its multiple names – just as TS Eliot thought cats should, the columbine has three different names, all of which suit it very well.

The elegant Latin name Aquilegia suggests a refined, shapely plant, while the common name Columbine (inspired by the fact the petals resemble the silhouette of a dove, apparently) reflects its tranquility and grace.

Dark burgundy columbine

Dark burgundy columbine

Finally, the colloquial nickname I knew them by as a child, Granny’s Bonnets, captures perfectly their jaunty, sunny attitude.

They grow vigorously, and yet never seem to swamp gardens the way other prolific flowers do – and, as I’ve discovered from seeing them in so many gardens, they are highly promiscuous and cross-breed to produce a huge range of colours and petal shapes.

I’ve already praised the rich purple in an earlier post, but I also love the dark purple-red pictured above, the pretty pastel shades, and perhaps best of all (as it’s the one I grew in my garden a child), I love the pink and white version.

Pink and white columbine with spurs

Pink and white columbine with spurs

The one pictured above I particularly admired because of the long spurs bursting out the back of the petal – the little doves look like they’re about to take off into flight at any moment.

The white and cream varieties are also lovely – like this delicate example I captured in a shady spot.

White columbine

White columbine

To me, they are one of the quintessential cottage garden flowers – their tall shape makes them a perfect plant to slot in at the back of a bed, with attractive shamrock-style leaves massing around the base to help fill in those tricky background gaps – and with their spreading tendencies, you can (hopefully) rely on them to put on a good show every year.

So far, though, my new garden is not exactly bursting with aquilegia – I brought seeds from the old garden, stored them faithfully in the outhouse, and scattered them around liberally earlier this spring, but there are no signs of germination yet.

My seeds having let me down, I succumbed to garden centre temptation and bought a purple and white variety which settled in nicely, although having slung it into the first available gap, I could probably do with moving it somewhere more suitable next year.

The good news is that, at least I know there will always be more aquilegia to be planted, more colours to be sought out, and more hybrids to be made. I may even stoop to pinching a few seeds from my neighbouring gardens – especially that pink one with the spurs, perhaps…

In praise of…purple

If you had asked me, when I was a child, what my favourite colour was, I would have had a very definite answer: purple.

Not just any purple, either; I particularly liked the pastel shade of purple Smarties, and claimed they were my ‘favourite’ Smarties. (How stupid was I? Everyone knows the orange ones are the best).

Smarties

Smarties

(Yes, I did buy Smarties just for the purposes of illustrating this blog, and no, I’m not ashamed…)

These days, I can take or leave purple Smarties, but I do have a lasting fondness for that pale shade of purple, especially when I come across it in the garden.

The classic purple spring blossom, for me, has always been lilac – so classic, in fact, that it gave its very name to that delicate, lovely pale shade of purple.

Besides my early interest in Smarties, I can remember that I loved the Lilac variety of the Flower Fairies – indeed, the Flower Fairies can be found at the root of many of my most-loved flowers from childhood – and of course the Lilac Fairy of the Sleeping Beauty is the stuff of many a ballet-mad girl’s daydreams, so there are clearly all sorts of reasons why I’m predisposed to like lilac.

However, as I’ve discovered, not all lilacs are lilac!

Classic pale purple lilac

Classic pale purple lilac

This gorgeous specimen above is on an otherwise rather shabby street corner near me, and as far as I’m concerned is a proper shade of lilac. When I came across it, I had to stop and take a picture straight away, regardless of the fact that the house behind was shrouded in scaffolding and it was otherwise not a great photo opportunity – the lilac simply demanded to be photographed.

Then, I discovered to my delight that we had a lilac in our garden. As it prepared to bloom, I noticed the buds were much darker, closer to the brash, showy colour of buddleia, and was a bit disappointed it wasn’t my favourite pale shade.

Our lilac, a deeper shade of purple

Our lilac, a deeper shade of purple against a perfect blue sky

Looking at it in full bloom, though, I would be seriously churlish not to admire such a magnificent tree – and close up, the smell is wonderful. I’ve noticed, too, that the blossoms seem to get paler as they mature, so I have been able to enjoy a whole range of lilac shades in the last few weeks.

White lilac, raindrop

White lilac, raindrop

Suddenly I began to see lilacs everywhere – even a white variety, above, and one that was so pale it was almost pink.

Another recent purple favourite is wisteria – not a plant I’ve ever appreciated very much before, but I’ve come across it in a couple of local places recently and been blown away by how beautiful it was – and again, the scent is also gorgeous.

It’s one of those plants which impresses with its scale, whether it’s covering the front of a house or along the length of a garden wall. It would never work on our 1930s house, which is far too boxy and lumpish, but on the more elegant proportions of this Georgian style house it looks just right.

Wisteria on a Georgian house

Wisteria on a Georgian house, in late afternoon sun

What with the lilac, and pansies, and sweet peas (hopefully, eventually) and irises, and violets, and lavender, my garden certainly isn’t short on purple, but from my front garden snooping there is one thing I REALLY want…

Purple columbine

Purple columbine

I love columbines in all sizes, shapes and colours anyway, but isn’t this dark purple shade just heavenly? Photographed in a rain shower with raindrops still on it, which somehow made it even better.

Finally, something bizarrely NOT purple, also seen in a local garden: a white lavender.

White lavender

White lavender

I’ve heard of white heather, sure, but white lavender, never. Didn’t get close enough to find out if it smelt properly lavendery, but it certainly looked rather classy (although I will admit to picking a bit of goose-grass out of the middle of the bush to make a better picture. Yes, I’m now actually weeding my neighbours’ gardens for the sake of this blog. Don’t thank me, folks, it’s all part of the garden snooping service…)