St James Street

London W1

The other night I found myself heading south, so to speak, down to Pall Mall and the river. It’s not an area I venture into much, but I always enjoy it when I do. It’s olde worlde England as tourists must imagine it, with shops exclusively selling tweed, pipes, umbrellas, cheese and port.

These containers were illuminated by the light of an old apothecary style shop – the lime-green heucheras were glowing eerily and the erigerons were still flowering their socks off, as they are inclined to do. Quite a modern planting idea outside a distinctly traditional shop.

The Secret Garden market

Columbia Road

Just off the buzzing Columbia Road is the quiet oasis that is the Secret Garden Market. It’s in Annie Derbyshire’s small back yard, and the evergreen-clad walls are used to display the vintage clothes, bags, shoes and objects that she sells.

My friend Naomi bagsied herself a 1950s glass jug within seconds and I was drawn to a very cool 1970s? skirt that looked like it was exactly the right size. I was a tad alarmed when I looked at the label, which said it was a size 16. I was assured that it’s the equivalent to today’s size 12. I sincerely hope that it’s true…


St Albans

Every year I think I’ll plant paperwhites in autumn to flower at Christmas, and every year I don’t get around to it. Just as I never get around to posting Christmas cards by the worldwide posting dates, booking the sellout play/concert/restaurant that everyone’s talking about, or buying summer clothes before the winter ones start appearing in July.

My friend Huw is far more organised – he plants paperwhites as soon as the bulbs are on sale at his local market (in September). He has a steady production line of amaryllis and hyacinths too. As a result he is never without flowers of some description and has masses to give away.

These were planted outside, in mid September, and have been in flower since the beginning of November.

Lovely as they undoubtedly are, is it a little to early for them, with the autumn leaves still on the trees?? For me, early bulbs are a pleasure of Christmas, January and February – a hint of what’s to come…

Columbia Road flower market

Columbia Road

The last time I went to Columbia Road Flower Market, about 15 years ago, I knew nothing about plants and had a hangover. This time around I knew a bit more about plants and didn’t have a hangover. Maybe that’s what’s called progress.

The market has never really been on my radar because I thought you had to get there early, and I’m not a morning person. I’ve also never fancied the crowds and assumed the plants are overpriced for urbanites who don’t know what they’re buying. But I was wrong. The stalls were still going strong at 2.30pm, the crowds weren’t unbearable and there was a great selection of cheap, good quality plants (eg 25 quid for two big box balls).

And… it was really good fun. There were some cockney geezers, Hoxton trendies, middle class types with their giant buggies, salmon and cream cheese bagels, mugs of tea, mulled wine and more vintage knick knacks than you could shake a stick at. A bloke was selling orchids that he said were stolen from Marks & Spencer (‘It doesn’t matter, all the prisons are full!… You’re not a copper are you?’). Oh, and a man in a fox mask was doing some embroidery on a window ledge. Sometimes I really love London.



By some standards this garden is a bit ramshackle and could do with a good leaf clearing session. But its location makes it stand out – it sits amid blocks of flats, offices and warehouses near Waterloo. Apparently it was unused, derelict land for ages until some locals reclaimed it a few years back and started gardening there.

I’ve never much cared for chrysanthemums but these were positively glowing in the near dark of a November afternoon. And the dahlias were still going strong, as yet untouched by frost in central London.

Back in time

The City

In case you were thinking I took this pic a couple of months ago and am sneaking it in now, I can assure you that it was taken on the grey and chilly day that was 11 November. I nearly did a double take when I saw it, because a) it’s such an incongruous sight amid office blocks and roaring traffic and b) it seems like autumn never happened. Hardy geraniums, gauras, day lilies and clematis were still flowering their socks off.

It’s called the Christchurch Greyfriars Garden and covers a burial ground on the the site of a church designed by Christopher Wren. Its design matches the layout of the nave: the box-edged beds reflect the original positions of the pews and the clematis- and rose-covered obelisks represent the pillars. It looks romantic, wild and a bit abandoned, and not at all the kind of public space that you generally see in London.

I walked past quite early in the morning, and a girl in last night’s party clothes, looking rather worse for wear, was tidying herself up on a bench – combing her hair, putting on makeup etc.

A few minutes later, I saw her sitting in the reception of the building I was  also waiting in. She looked perfectly demure and was discreetly sipping a can of Red Bull.

The Providores

Marylebone High Street

Now here’s an pair of unusual and low-maintenance pots. They’re outside The Providores, a restaurant on Marylebone High Street which is always packed, whatever the time of day. The executive chef, Peter Gordon, is a Kiwi and these plants – Pseudopanax crassifolius (or maybe P. ferox?) and Muehlenbeckia complexa – hail from New Zealand.

Inspired by The Providores, my old flatmate had these exact same plants in huge pots in his garden, and they looked pretty striking. When my sister visited with my five-year old nephew, Joe, she asked what they were and whether the muehlenbeckia could be ‘trained’ (I think she meant clipped into a shape) like box. I said I didn’t think so.

Moments later we found Joe barking orders at the muehlenbeckia. He was pointing his finger at it and shouting ‘GROW!’ ‘MOVE!’ ‘SPEAK!’. He looked distinctly unimpressed when it didn’t respond to his orders.



St Albans

We had a disaster with our Florence fennel at the allotment this year. Bar a couple of plants, it all bolted, and once that happens the bulbs are too tough to eat. I think lack of watering at a crucial stage may have been to blame.

But every cloud has a silver lining and this weekend the bolted plants looked fantastic – about 6ft high and the kind of fresh, bright green that you only see in spring. They looked positively other-worldly amid a sea of decaying, brown plants.

Next year I’d like to actually eat some fennel so will make a bit more of an effort to look after the plants. But I’ll definitely neglect a row so I can enjoy the flowers too.

Shed heaven part 2

St Albans

I’ve never noticed this shed before, even though it’s on the way to my allotment. I’m not sure what the roof terrace bit is for – is it a sunbathing area, or a lookout point? It might have come in handy after the terrible chicken massacre earlier this year.

I’m loving the yellow and brown colour combo, anyway. And the huge windows. And the fact that it’s a bit higgledy-piggledy. I’d love to have a go at building something like this one day, but seeing as I struggle to put up an ironing board, let alone something more complicated, it’s probably unlikely…