Winter blossom arch

Viburnum x bodnantense 'Dawn'

Viburnum tinus ‘Bodnantense Dawn’ is one of my favourite plants – it flowers in the middle of winter and has the most fantastic scent that stops you in your tracks.

This one is in a community garden near Waterloo. It’s somehow been trained to cover an arch – its base is covered by the fence I was peering over, so I’m not sure how it’s been done. But it’s a nice idea, don’t you think?

Isabella Street

Isabella Street, Southwark, SE1

I’d like to say that Isabella Street is one of London’s best-kept secrets, but it isn’t really. It’s just that I’ve only recently discovered it. I was initially drawn to it by – you’ve guessed it – the plants that adorn the archway at the entrance.

Isabella Street isn’t a ‘street’ as such – it’s an odd patch of ground sandwiched between a railway bridge and Southwark and Waterloo East stations. Strangely, it’s home to a few restaurants and bars, including EV, a Turkish place. Dozens of hardy yet exotic-looking plants in pots – bamboos, cordylines, Mexican orange blossom (choisya), loquats (Eriobotrya japonica) and date palms, all watered lovingly by the restaurant staff – line the walkway and seclude the outdoor tables. At night they’re lit with fairy lights. Somehow all this gives the place a holiday feel. The place is packed on Friday and Saturday nights, especially in summer.

I’d wager that no one would be drawn to Isabella Street without the plants – they make the place. Without them it’s just a patch of concrete with a view of the Shard.

Tree fern

Tree fern in winter, in a basement stairwell in Fitzroy Square, London

Temperatures have plummeted recently, but in Fitzroy Square it seems to be an eternal summer. The red geraniums that filled every window box during the Jubilee and Olympic summer are still going strong, and this tree fern, in the stairwell of a basement flat, is surviving without any protection (shame someone’s thrown a ball of newspaper into it, but that’s London for you).

A tree fern is an interesting solution to this most tricky of spaces – I’ve never seen this idea before. I think it works pretty well.

Jungle effect


My friends Tim and Alan have recently moved to Brighton, where they’ve bought a house that is identical to the one they lived in in London. The only differences are that the new house is a bit larger, has a loft extension and was cheaper (natch). As all their furniture is in exactly the same place as it was in the old house, the effect is a tad disconcerting. I only remembered I was in Brighton and not East Dulwich when a seagull screeched outside.

I once mortally offended Tim and Alan by telling them that their London garden ‘could’ be very nice, when in their opinion it already was very nice (I’m not known for my tact). This time I was careful to keep quiet, but even Tim and Alan agreed that they’ll need to sort out their front garden at some point. It’s typical of so many terraces – less than a metre deep and currently consisting of some dodgy paving and some recycling bins.

This house, a few doors down, has dealt with this tricky space by filling it with big evergreens. The bamboo and fatsia are low maintenance and provide a screen against prying eyes. They also give lots of impact, even on a dark winter’s day.