From the archives: New York part 1

New York

Almost three years ago to the day, I went to New York. Spring comes a few weeks later there – tulips and blossom were only just coming out and there were no leaves on the trees. And the weather was just as changeable as it is here – within the space of a week, the temperatures went from 20 degrees to 10 and back to 20 again.

I loved New York for the same reasons that everyone else does, but I was also intrigued to see how people garden in another big city. Often the plants used were the same as ours, just planted a little differently.

New York really put the idea of community gardens on my radar. The city has a long history of them and they’re found in the most unlikely places, tended by volunteers. This one was on the corner of two very busy main roads.




The Lyric, Hammersmith


My friend Jo works  in a darkened room in Hammersmith, in a TV editing suite. If she manages to escape for a lunch break, this is where she goes. It’s the roof garden of the Lyric Theatre, funded partly by the 5p charge for carrier bags at M&S and created by Groundwork London. It contains some pretty neat ideas, such as the benches with raised beds behind them, that could work well in a smaller garden.

Sadly it was so cold and wet when I visited last week that a lone smoker had the garden all to himself.  Let’s hope we have a decent summer so that it can be properly enjoyed.



I went to the Garden Museum the other night for a talk by the landscape architect Charles Jencks. I like what he does and he was a great speaker, but  I didn’t really understand a word he said. I came away feeling a bit thick.

Anyway, on the way there I saw this wisteria. It’s been so wintry that I was surprised to see it out already. Isn’t it spectacular? I doubt I’ll see a better one this year. It like the orange watering can, too.

Wisteria is also trailing along the railings by the pavement – lovely idea.

Danny’s garden


I’ve featured Danny’s garden quite a few times on this blog and it’s been much admired. Here’s his front garden in spring. He tells me that the tulips are: ‘Golden Apeldoorn’ (tall yellow), ‘Don Quichotte’ (single bright pink), Havran (burgundy), ‘Raspberry Ripple’ (white with raspberry red), ‘Evita’ (double white), ‘Camargue’ (tall, pale yellow with rosy streak) and ‘Blue Parrot’ (which haven’t come out yet). Plus some ‘Bowles Mauve’ wallflowers.

That’s quite a daring combination, but it works. Danny is one of those people who has a way with plants, and with a camera – he took these pics. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg as far as his talents are concerned.

Danny was recently informed that he had been awarded a ‘Silver Gilt’ in the Waltham Forest Best Kept Front Garden Award that he entered last year. That means his garden was in the top 12, but not in the top three. Standards are clearly exceedingly high in E17!




To my mind, there’s no sight more beautiful than blossom set against a blue sky, and nothing more pleasurable than lying under a blossom-laden tree.

So I couldn’t wait to see 23,000 fruit trees – apple, plum, cherry, quince and cobnuts – in bloom during the blossom weekend at Brogdale Farm, home to the National Fruit Collection.

We had to wait a while for the blue skies, as hail and rain were very much on the agenda. But finally they appeared, setting off the cherry and plum blossom perfectly. Above  is a ‘Victory’ plum.

Ooh la la!

Regent Street

‘LET’S GET OUT OF HERE – THE PRICES ARE RIDICULOUS!!!’ cried Vicky after we’d been lured into Anthropologie by a nice dress in the window (price tag: £198). In that respect she reminds me of my French friend Esther, who  says ‘ILS SONT MALADES!!!’ when confronted with hefty price tags.

I always say I don’t mind the prices in Anthropologie because I’m happy just to look at all the pretty things (even though it’s apparently much cheaper in the States, which is annoying). But I fell hook, line and sinker for this vintage French table, chairs and umbrella. They weren’t for sale, which is just as well because I no doubt wouldn’t have been able to afford them. That would have prompted more choice words from Vicky and some wistful looks from me.

City Hall

Tower Bridge

I went to a Chelsea Fringe meeting at City Hall the other night.

It’s a pretty nice walk from London Bridge – walk through Hay’s Galleria and you’re presented with a view of the skyline opposite before Tower Bridge looms into view.

That part of the river has lots of swanky new high-rise buildings and it’s not the kind of area where you’d expect to see much in the way of greenery, so I was surprised to see this garden.

It’s all very snazzy and modern, with heucheras, sarcococca (winter box) and ferns laid out in rows beneath silver birches and magnolias. It’s divided by lots of box hedging, which I like best at this time of year when it’s new growth makes it look bright green and fluffy around the edges. There are plenty of places to sit – the perfect urban oasis.

As I took some pics, I was surprised to see a squirrel darting around one of the granite seats. As I got closer I saw the reason why – someone had left some peanuts in their shells there. I can only assume they were a squirrel fan.

The Inner Temple Garden


I didn’t get many pics of the Inner Temple Garden as it started to rain (hooray) but I did grab a few of the pots that flank some steps near head gardener Andrea Brunsendorf’s office. Andrea uses this area as her ‘playground’ – it’s where she experiments with different varieties to see which ones will end up in the garden.

Above is a great mix of ‘William of Orange’ and ‘Willemsoord’ tulips, plus what I stupidly thought were a grass but are actually Crocus etruscus ‘Zwanenburg’. Below is the same crocus, mixed with Tulip ‘Zurel’. Andrea says she likes this tulip because it looks good even when the flowers haven’t opened.

The orangey tulip in the front of the combo below is ‘Adrem’. It can be found all over the garden this year and Andrea loves it because it flowers for ages. It’s peachy without being sickly and almost seems to glow. Elsewhere in the garden it’s teamed with the lipstick red tulip, ‘Ile de France’.

Hosepipe ban


Now here’s a sight many of us won’t be seeing for a while: a sprinkler gently watering a border.

I took this pic at the Inner Temple Garden the other day, where head gardener, Andrea Brunsendorf, was giving everywhere a soaking while she still could. Today, hosepipe bans kick in in many parts of the country, which means that sprinklers and hosepipes can no longer be used.

This is challenging for any gardener, but Andrea has three acres of garden to keep looking good. In fact, she’s not actually sure whether the gardens are covered by the ban or not. On the one hand, the gardens are commercial because they’re rented out for events and are open to the public – and so could qualify for an exemption. On the other hand they’re privately owned.

The gardens must be surrounded by some of the finest legal minds in the country, but no one seems to be able to give Andrea a definitive answer. So to be on the safe side she’s installing leaky pipes, which are permitted under the ban, and putting away the hoses. And, like gardeners everywhere, she’s keeping her fingers crossed for some rain.

It’s a mash-up

La Gomera

La Gomera is a lovely island, but aspects of it played with my head. For starters it has a dramatic volcanic landscape with a green and ancient rainforest on the top. And in the towns, the planting is a total mash-up thanks to the year-long climate of around 22 degrees.

I’m sure it all looks perfectly normal to Gomeran person but to a Brit some of the planting combinations in the gardens are quite startling – geraniums next to amaryllis, snapdragons alongside orchids and daturas rubbing shoulders with orange blossom.

It’s all very colourful, though. I wonder if La Gomera has the equivalent of Britain in Bloom?