Magic roundabout

St Albans

I went back to my hometown of St Albans the other day and nearly fell off my bike when I saw this annual mix on a roundabout.

It would have made an impact if I’d been sailing past it in a car, but at close quarters it really was something. Cosmos, calendula, nigella, poppies, mallows and nicotiana were all doing their thing perfectly.

A notice next to the roundabout explains that St Albans Council has replaced some of its bedding schemes with annual seed mixes as they’re more sustainable, wildlife-friendly and (ahem) drought tolerant. The schemes have won two Anglia in Bloom awards recently.

If anecdotal evidence is anything to go by, the mixes have gone down well with the locals. My sister’s friend Nina likes the scheme in Clarence Park so much she wants to sow one in her own garden, and my friend Jo, not known for her plant knowledge, mentioned in passing that the roundabout by the Cricketers pub is looking different this year.

Meadow-style planting is certainly having a moment, thanks in part to the planting at the Olympic Park, and sales of ‘wild’ flowers are apparently at an all-time high. I really hope St Albans Council (and other councils around the country) continue planting annual mixes – they’ve got to be more exciting than boring old coleus and begonias.

St John’s Wood

St Johns Wood

St John’s Wood has the highest box-ball-per-capita ratio of anywhere in the world and more people are employed to cut topiary there than in the whole of Italy. The area has more electric gates than all of the prisons in the UK and chihuahuas outnumber humans by a ratio of 2:1.

I could carrying on making up facts about St John’s Wood all day, but you get the idea – it’s seriously posh.

That’s why I was surprised to see this wafty, naturalistic planting in a front garden. There’s an awful lot of formal hard landscaping in SJW, so this is a very refreshing change.

John’s window boxes

St Johns Wood

My friend John often asks when his garden is going to feature on this blog, and I always tell him I’ll cover it when it’s up to scratch! I’m joking, of course. John has a great garden and I’ve tried to photograph it many times but haven’t been able to do it justice.

John would be the first to point out that his window boxes are past their best, and it’s a shame I couldn’t capture them in their prime. But I really like the colour combo – the bright orange geraniums against the dark leaves. There were some black petunias in the mix too, but John had to take them out because they got mildew.

Cat power

Kas, Turkey

OK, so this isn’t a garden at all. But it’s the outside of a house where some plants should be and it’s an excuse to show you these cat silhouettes. Street cats are everywhere in Turkey, and on the whole they seem well loved, well fed and supremely confident. They’re always up for a bit of attention and they got plenty of it from me.

The front of this white house was a homage to Turkey’s feline population, and it made me smile.

More lounging, Turkish-style

Patara, Turkey

I’ve just got back from Turkey, where I was mostly horizontal. I find it really hard to sit cross-legged on low cushions, so I had to recline even when I wasn’t on a lounger/beach towel/bed. I probably lost the use of some key sitting muscles as a result, and I may have to ask my boss if we can reconfigure the office to include a day bed or chaise longue from which I can work.

Some of my reclining took place on this Ottoman-style terrace at the Patara Viewpoint Hotel. Apparently such terraces are mostly used in winter and are often used to heat houses, but every night in summer, Muzaffer, the hotel’s owner, lights a cedarwood fire on his for guests to enjoy. Cedar wood has a lovely, spicy scent and, according to Muzaffer, it keeps mosquitoes away too. The terrace is the perfect spot for gazing at the stars.

The combination of fire and stars is a powerful and mesmerising one, and something most of us rarely experience.

Clearly an Ottoman terrace is not an option for the average British semi, but it struck me that most of us are free to enjoy a firepit, woodburning stove or chiminea, some old cushions and a blanket or two. It would be infinitely more fulfilling than a TV, sofa and permanently glowing iPhone.


PS: For more on Turkish lounging, see here

South Bank

Oxo Tower, London

Giant planters are mysteriously popping up all over the Waterloo area. There have been sightings outside a church opposite the station, at the top of a dreary walkway to the Imax (below), and in the last few days, round the back of the OXO Tower (above).

There’s always more than one – they’re usually in groups of about five. And what I like about them is that each one has a different colour theme – purple (petunias and salvias), red (geraniums, begonias and coleus), pink (petunias and geraniums again) and so on. They pack quite a punch.

The planters below also handily prevent drivers turning into the Imax entrance. I’ve nearly been run over several times by reversing cars and lorries, and now I can walk home without the fear of being squashed.

Queen Elizabeth Hall Roof Garden (again)

Queen Elizabeth Hall Roof Garden

I suffered rather an ordeal the other night. In other words, I had my photo taken. My friend Naomi at Out of My Shed is writing a book, and she plans to include me in it.

It is an undisputed fact that I always look awful in pictures. I was once photographed for Which? Travel magazine (clutching a bottle of tequila… it’s a long story). The photographer said that the harder the person is to take a picture of, the longer the job lasts. Taking one picture of me took FOUR HOURS. In the resulting shot I looked like a burglar with a drink problem (bottle of tequila + the unfortunate choice of a stripey top).

Anyway, Naomi rather sprung this picture-taking session on me and it was just my luck that I was having a bad hair (and bad cold) day. But one does not say no to Naomi, so off we went to the Queen Elizabeth Hall roof garden for the ultimate urban veg growing vibe.

The place has got a lot more popular since I last went (and rightly so – it’s fab), and there were people sitting everywhere. Naomi snapped away, doing her best with such a lousy subject, while everyone no doubt wondered why a woman was having her picture taken next to some vegetables.

The ordeal over, we had a beer and admired the gardens. I loved this informal screen that has sprung up the length of the pergola that leads to the Hayward Gallery. The raised bed underneath it is probably one and a half feet wide and deep, and is stuffed to the gills with Verbena bonariensis, Solanum jasminoides, Joe Pye weed, the odd rose, nasturtiums and herbs. Edible, ornamental, and scented.

Mum’s garden

St Albans

For the last couple of years, my Mum and I have been tweaking a small border that sweeps in front of the seating area at the bottom of her garden. She wanted it to be low maintenance, drought tolerant (ha ha) and to provide a hazy screen, so we went for more of a prairie/New Wave style.

It’s early days, but I’d say the success of it has been mixed. Quite a few of the grasses haven’t thrived (in fact, they haven’t grown an inch since they were planted, despite assurances that they were suitable for clay) and quite a few plants (kniphofia, echinacea) have inexplicably died. Maybe I’m just a lousy designer (although in my defence, this was a case of tweaking rather than a full-scale redesign), but it hasn’t quite come together as I’d hoped.

I was interested, though, to read an interview with legendary garden designer John Brookes in the September issue of Gardens Illustrated. He doesn’t think this type of planting is suited to small domestic gardens. Maybe he’s got a point? The best gardens I’ve seen in the New Wave style – Trentham, Pensthorpe, Marchant’s Hardy Plants – are all pretty big.

Anyway, that’s my nephews, Max and Joe, in the background. Unusually, they are playing nicely together, recreating the opening ceremony of the Olympics with my mum’s old farmyard set.



I used to spend a lot of time in Chichester (or Chi as the locals call it) because my grandma (or Seaside Nana as we called her) used to live in nearby Bracklesham Bay (or Brack as the locals call it).

My sister and I loved most things about our holidays in Bracklesham Bay, including the (grey sand) beach, the gift shop selling shell ornaments, the duck pond, the donkey and the fish and chip shop. We were also fascinated by my grandma’s blue rinse, squeaky orthopaedic shoes, acid-coloured neck scarves, bottomless bowl of Quality Street, liberal use of swizzle sticks and lunchtime tipple of sherry (‘liquid sunshine!’). We were alarmed and thrilled in equal measure by her rather dodgy cooking (she once accidentally made a chocolate cake with salt instead of sugar) and the not-entirely-legitimate apple scrumping forays that she used to take us on.

As a treat we’d go into Chichester. When I went back there last month after about 20 years, I couldn’t remember a thing about it, apart from the cathedral, which you can’t miss. The alms cottages in its grounds are postcard perfect. I don’t think I could handle gardening with tourists traipsing past all the time, but the residents obviously do, as the gardens are beautifully tended.