We’ve just returned from a fantastic week in New York. A friend of ours is out there on a two-year stint with work – the lucky bugger. Happily for us he welcomed us to his apartment where we stayed for the duration of our trip (thank you Alan!). He’s living in the West Village on Manhattan – an historic, leafy, residential area that used to be all boho and arty. These days it’s a very gentrified, clean and desirable part of town, popular with families and celebrities. I can totally see the appeal. It’s an attractive neighbourhood with pretty tree-lined streets. Great little coffee shops, bars and local restaurants litter the blocks. It has a very relaxed and comfortable vibe to the place. For us it was great spending time experiencing a different side of New York, away from the canyons of Midtown and Downtown. I love New York all the more for it. One of the best things for me (aside from all the gastronomy on our doorstep) was that the apartment was just a mere ten blocks away from the start of the High Line in the Meatpacking District. Ten blocks that feel like a walk in the park when the stroll is through the green and pleasant streets of the West Village in the June sunshine. The first time we were up on the High Line, a year and a half ago at the end of autumn, the second section hadn’t opened yet so I was excited to go and check it out as well as to see the park during summer. We didn’t waste much time getting ourselves up there.
On our first morning in the city we were up pretty early. The weather was balmy and by the time we headed out for a delicious breakfast at Joseph Leonard’s in the Village at around 8.30 the weather was already in the 20s.
We wandered up West 4th (full of fab little restaurants – I can highly recommend Café Cluny and Mary’s Fish Camp) towards Meatpacking and got on the start of the Line on Gansvoort Street. We walked the entire length, which probably took us at least twice as long as most folk what with me stopping every few metres to look at something or take a photo. I have an eternally patient hubs.
As on our first visit I loved how well used the park is by visitors and locals alike. The High Line has been a huge success story attracting almost 150,000 visitors a week. Its popularity was evident by the number of people we saw enjoying all it has to offer. New Yorkers were catching rays, reading or having a break on the loungers whilst others were grabbing coffee and a gossip. There were plenty of tourists trekking by or resting their weary legs and taking in the views, school groups were on educational visits, arty types were doing photo shoots, families were out giving their kids a run around, others were just walking through using the line as a handy, pleasant route on their way to elsewhere. The place was full of life.
The planting (a mixture of perennials, grasses, trees and shrubs, which was designed to mimic the landscape that had self-seeded on the derelict line before it was resurrected as a public park), was lush and green, quite a difference to the swathes of golden autumn colours on our first visit. My favourite section is still the Chelsea Grasslands area.
As we were staying so close to the High Line it meant we were able to nip through on several further occasions, using it as a traffic-free, scenic route on our way to and from various places during the week. It was great to see it at different times of day and weather. Each time you notice new things. The light will have changed and different plants come in and out of focus or into flower. There is so much to look at and discover, as well as being great for people watching!
The High Line run various events and tours – you can hear talks from the gardeners and designers and find out about the art and sculpture or the wildlife on the Line. Sadly we weren’t able to fit any of these in this trip. They have a great website with loads of information on it, including comprehensive plant lists, which you can find here. If you are heading to NY I would highly recommend a visit!
For more High Line photos see my Flickr feed here.
It’s that time of year again. My favourite time of year actually. When everything starts happening: the garden is lush and starting to romp away (along with all the weeds – eek); the sun has FINALLY made an appearance in a very summery fashion; the days are longer which means evening meals outdoors; the diary is chocka with plenty of fun; and it’s also that time when everyone can’t fail but to notice gardens and plants and to take an interest, even if just for a tiny second, thanks to the theatre that is Chelsea Flower Show.
I was there on Monday and Tuesday this week, took far too many photos for me to deal with quickly and have only just got round to sorting through them. I hope you haven’t reached your limit of Chelsea chat. Well, tough wellies if you have. I’ll be darned if I don’t manage to post a few of my hundreds of photos on here. In an attempt to keep it brief (!) I’ve just chosen a few of my very favourite gardens.
This was the first garden I came to at the top of Main Avenue. It was a dull old morning on Press Day, the light wasn’t kind to anyone, but despite that the planting here was singing. The contemporary, informal arrangement of plants around the formal structure of topiaried yews really did it for me. It was so well executed. This man has a way with plants. The result of his loose mix of perennials and annuals worked better, I thought, than the same naturalistic style of planting seen elsewhere at the show. I loved the zingy reds of the poppies and lime green bracts of the euphorbias leaping out at you amongst the more subtle greens, whites and purples.
I didn’t think I was going to like this garden before I saw it. The PR pamphlet through the post showed a murky, blurry, uninspiring computer graphic and my glimpse of it on TV on the Sunday night didn’t convince me either. But then I saw it in the flesh and I was completely sold. The russet and umber colours were warming and inviting, the planting was original, the cedar wood frames shipped over from Germany didn’t overpower the garden as I thought they might but broke up the linear plot in a pleasing way, revealing the garden as your eye progressed. I spent a good amount of time staring at this, taking photos and wandering around it. You could really see everything in this garden, if that makes any sense. Each element stood its own yet complemented each other perfectly. I loved the choice and use of the trees in the garden.
The most thought-provoking garden (not that there was much contest) at the show was the Korean demilitarised zone (DMZ) garden. Designed to mark the 60th anniversary of the Korean conflict the garden was planted with indigenous plants that have thrived on the narrow, untouched strip of land that acts as a buffer between North and South Korea. Heavily guarded and a rather dangerous place for people, it has become a haven for plants and wildlife and has developed, in stark contrast to the war-ravaged peninsular, into something of an ecological treasure. Despite this show garden’s unfortunate location next to Diarmuid Gavin’s pyramidal playground and a restaurant marquee it somehow managed to feel authentic and atmospheric. It felt like it had actually been there for years – it’s boggling how they managed to achieve this. The majority of the plants were native to, and imported from, South Korea. Not a show garden that you aspire to emulate at home, no. But definitely one that forces you to reflect on the conflict and the people it has affected as well as on the insistent march of nature, its beauty despite the destructive nature of man and its ability to heal. Happily the garden won gold.
You can read a recent Guardian article on the Korean DMZ here: ‘How wildlife is thriving in the Korean peninsula’s demilitarised zone‘
Elsewhere at the show…
Sarah Price, the Fine Art graduate and young garden designer who has also had a hand in the landscaping of the Olympic Park, designed a show garden for the Daily Telegraph that took its inspiration from the British countryside. It had three main sections – a meadow, water area and a woodland. It was one that really benefitted from the rays of sunshine shimmering down on it on Tuesday. It really lifted it and made the garden come to life. I overheard someone say on press day that they were suffering from ‘cow parsley fatigue’. Unfortunately for the poor man I think the wildflower meadow look may be here to stay for a while yet.
Kazuyuki Ishihara’s Satoyama Life garden was a beautiful one in the Artisan garden section. Satoyama is a Japanese term for the area between the mountain foothills and the flat, arable lowlands, where people traditionally lived in a close and harmonious relationship with the land. The mossy garden sat well in the shady surroundings of Ranelagh Gardens. I love those shiny, huge stones. Don’t you just want to touch them!
That’s it for now (phew, I hear you cry). I plan to upload more photos from Chelsea to my Flickr stream, if I ever get round to it.
Spring has most certainly arrived with the start of the garden-visiting season upon us. And what better way to celebrate than by visiting beautiful and interesting gardens in the warm fuzzy knowledge that you are doing your bit for a good cause at the same time? This year is the 85th anniversary of the National Gardens Scheme. If you’ve never heard of it before it’s a scheme that raises money through garden visiting, tea and cake! Every year hundreds of gardens all over the country (over 3,800 this year), many of them private, open to the public and charge a modest fee for entry. Impressively 83p in every pound raised goes to charity – mainly nursing and caring beneficiaries including Macmillan Cancer Support, Marie Curie Cancer Care, Help the Hospices and Crossroads Care. Last year 2.6 million was raised in total for nursing, caring and gardening charities.
Yellow is the colour
Participating gardens are listed annually in the famous Yellow Book. You can order your 2012 copy (£9.99) online here. The NGS has rigorous and high entry criteria so you always know that gardens will have passed a minimum standard making it worthy of inclusion in to the scheme. For the first time this year the NGS has launched a free iPhone app making finding gardens to visit even easier. The NGS can also be found on Twitter here. Who says garden visiting is fuddy-duddy?
Last year I visited Tom Stuart-Smith’s garden in Hertfordshire on its NGS open day (I’m tempted to revisit again this year to see how the prairie he had sown is doing). I look forward to discovering many more gems in the book this season.
Right, I’m off to have a cup of tea, perhaps a biscuit or two, and to flick through my Yellow Book to see what’s opening near me this Easter weekend. Happy garden visiting everyone!
This is the view looking out to the bottom of our garden. It’s facing west so the sun sets behind these stately boughs. Pretty isn’t it? These shots were taken from upstairs but from ground level there is a Robinia in front of a silver birch in front of these two trees (an oak and an ash), which frame and layer the view. It makes for an appealing outlook at the end of a garden that sits near the edge of a vast urban sprawl. I am guessing they pre-date the house (there is a broken string of old, large trees running behind this road of houses) and are probably remnants of the wood that once stood here. These houses have been here for around 80 years so the trees must be older than that.
Those who follow me on Twitter will know that 4 weeks ago we came home from a weekend away to discover that a neighbour was about to remove the tree on the right. I took these photos on consecutive days from my phone when I was feeling sad that the view might be about to change irrevocably. The scene decided to be particularly poignant in response.
The news had me in a bit of a panic that such a large, old tree was suddenly going to be chopped down. Why was it being removed – was there a good reason? Had it been given proper thought? Had the right advice and permissions been sought? What kind of precedence would this set for the other trees (another tree – I think an oak – had only just been razed to the ground a bit further down the road a few weeks previously)? What were the implications of its removal on the health of the adjacent oak, for wildlife and on the appearance of the area?
Trees and tree felling can be such a contentious and emotionally charged issue. Many people are probably quite happy for trees to be protected, as long as this doesn’t apply to ones in their own back garden. I don’t believe felling a tree is intrinsically a bad thing. It is not always to the detriment of the environment or character of a place. In some instances it is the sensible thing to do. It may be dead, dying, diseased or dangerous. Removing a tree could be part of a larger plan in the management of an environment or garden. I have worked in gardens where taking a tree out has been the right decision even though there may be consternation from visitors and residents in the area. But I do think a mature tree, that has been standing there for a longer time than your house, that supports wildlife and contributes to the personality of a place and has taken 80 years to reach this state deserves a bit of consideration and should not be destroyed in a single day under what may be groundless reasoning.
Today the tree is still standing. Just. It has survived two dates where tree surgeons have been booked to come and fell it.
The first date for the tree’s demise was averted when I went round at the eleventh hour to try to find out from my neighbour why it was being removed and whether they had sought permission from the council first (I myself had no idea whether it was protected or not and could not get through to anyone useful at the council at such a late hour – i.e. 4pm).
The next morning there was blissful silence. Chainsaws failed to appear. My questions had prompted them to postpone the chop.
I eventually got through to the tree officer at the council who came over to take a look. They made a decision to put a Tree Preservation Order (TPO) on it (the oak on the left was already covered by one). They could, of course, have decided it had no value and was not worthy of being saved. Then it was a matter of waiting for the TPO notice to come through.
The following week I had a voicemail from the neighbour to say a second date had been set for the tree to be felled. This was again thwarted when, the next day, notice arrived from the council of the proposed TPO.
The neighbour was less than happy. We had a 5-10 minute conversation on the phone during which she was ranty and irrational and then she hung up on me.
A few people have said that I was brave or I did the right thing. Some believe I should ‘mind my own business’ or not get involved. But the thing is, it is my business. It is the business of all of us. No, it’s not my tree and it is not on my property but it certainly does affect me, and my property come to that. We all have to live in this environment, and I want the environment we live in to be a green and healthy one. All I know is that I felt sick when I found out the tree was coming down. The reasoning for it to be destroyed did nothing to convince me. I would have felt much worse if I had sat back, said nothing and just watched as an 80+ year old tree, that may not have been causing any harm, was felled in a day.
If the tree is a danger to people or property then of course it has to go. I’m just glad that careful consideration plus sound and valid reasons must now be given first before this old tree can be permanently removed. Just a bit of thought. That is all I ask.
- If there are any trees important to you in your garden or surrounding landscape and you think they may be under threat, check their TPO status early on – don’t wait until they may be chopped down.
- Planting trees is a wonderful thing to do but please plant responsibly. If you are planting a tree in a small garden make sure its ultimate size and vigour is appropriate for the distance you are planning to site it from the house. I read somewhere (unfortunately I have forgotten where) that as a general rule you should plant your tree at least as far from the house as its eventual height will be. If you are unsure of what to plant then seek advice first.
- Don’t move into a house with a large or potentially large tree in the garden if you don’t want to manage it or live with it. Check before you move in to a house whether any of the trees on your land are protected or if you are in a conservation area.
- Be wary about removing a tree because you think it is causing a problem. Unless there is imminent danger from structural failure, hasty action could cause more extensive damage in the future. Seek independent advice from a qualified arborist as well as a building surveyor if you think your tree is causing a problem.
- Before carrying out work on a tree check with your Local Planning Authority that the tree is not protected by a TPO or in a Conservation Area.
In 2003 we were living in a rental flat in east London. The patio was a bare, north-facing, gravelly patch that was empty save for a few weeds that had sprouted up about the place. It was pretty desolate and soulless out there. One afternoon I looked out to see a little bird perched on one of the offending seed heads of something thistle-like (I forget what it was; Senecio vulgaris/groundsel perhaps?) and was having a good peck. It was beautiful. It had bandit-like eyes, a bright red face and a streak of vivid yellow on its wings. I was mesmerized. And I had absolutely no idea what this bird was. It was shameful that such a beautiful bird would grace our cr*ppy patio with its handsome presence and feed on our unwanted ‘weeds’, and yet I didn’t have a clue what it was. I went out and got a bird book to rectify this sad state of affairs and so started my appreciation of our fine-feathered friends (although that appreciation still fails to extend to feral pigeons or seagulls).
This may seem quite an insignificant event but it was also one of those little moments when I realised I wanted more of that in my life – more of that colour and natural beauty, more discovery of something meaningful – less of the endless meetings, grey suits and grey faces in those grey offices. That (energy-saving) light bulb in my head was powering up.
When we moved into our suburban semi we didn’t have any expectations of the feathered guests we’d be receiving, but we’ve been lucky. We have several woods in the surrounding area and from the moment we moved in we’ve had an array of birds visiting our modest patch of green, including:
Blue & Great Tits, Starlings, Chaffinches, Dunnocks, Wren, Great Spotted Woodpeckers, Green Woodpeckers, Jays, Parakeets, Nuthatch, Greenfinches, Collared doves and we’ve even had Redpoll, Redwing and Long-tailed Tits. Not forgetting the robins, wood pigeons and magpies, which we get on a daily basis.
But no Goldfinches.
Despite putting out niger seed, practically as soon as we moved in in the hope that we would attract them to our turf, two years passed and not a single one came even close to a sniff (well, not that I ever saw).
And then, a few weeks ago, I look out of our kitchen window whilst making breakfast one morning and see a little bird bobbing about, clinging to the top of a seed head. I blinked and looked again. Unmistakable gold and red! It was feeding on seed heads* I had left over winter, both for interest and for the birds. And there a bird was. A Goldfinch no less. Feeding on my seed heads.
A couple of days later and there were four of them feeding amongst the plants. And then the following weekend AN ENTIRE FLOCK of them descended onto our little patch to feast on the dried winter seed heads. You wait for a goldfinch for two years…nada…then fifteen come along at once.
Wildlife brings a garden to life and sharing it with these little creatures is part of what it is all about. There is something extremely satisfying and happy-making when the garden you create is enjoyed by wildlife as much as it is by you.
Visits from butterflies, bees and birds have been a rewarding validation of my small gardening efforts. And with them comes a joy that, for me, makes gardening and life colourful.
Some photos from when the flock visited:
* We only have a modest garden but I still wanted a herbaceous bed. My criteria for plant selection, other than personal preference and aesthetics, was that it had to: a) suit the soil/situation/aspect – I’m far too lazy to be bothered to continually battle nature to make something thrive in a place it just doesn’t want to grow, not to mention the waste of time and resources that would involve; and b) it really had to earn its keep – with a long season of interest (preferably lasting into the winter with its form) and to be ‘useful’ or edible (if not for humans then for insects and birds). The two plants that attracted the Goldfinches were Verbena bonariensis and Rudbeckia fulgida var. sullvantii ‘Goldsturm’. They are both popular choices in contemporary planting and I can’t recommend them enough. They both look fab with a long flowering season and a good enough structure to stand up over winter. Butterflies and bees love them in summer, especially the verbena. Plus, the verbena has the added benefit of self-seeding about the place (which I see as a good thing). AND the goldfinches love them in the winter. What more do you need?
The tour of cool London venues courtesy of B&Q continued today with their latest press show being held at The Hospital in Covent Garden – a private members club for people in the creative industries. Unfortunately the event was held in a fairly unremarkable room on ground level so there wasn’t an opportunity to poke about the swishy-looking rooms hidden away on the seven floors of this nondescript building. Ah well, on with the more important gardening stuff…
On that front there wasn’t a great deal of new news this year. Many of the stories were similar to last – minus the excitement of a Chelsea garden. A new brand ‘Verve’ has been created for their gardening products, which includes a new ‘Beginners’ range of seeds and a new range of peat free composts. Apparently growth of GYO fruit sales is ahead of GYO veg, with soft fruit and ‘superfruits’ still proving popular. Not particularly surprising perhaps given the trend for preserving and pickling and gardeners discovering the easy, perennial nature of most fruit plants.
I asked them about not selling Impatiens walleriana (Busy Lizzies) this year because of the downy mildew problem*, which got particularly bad in 2011 – you might have heard about this reported in other places. B&Q sell around 20 million Busy Lizzies a year (gulp!) but decided not to stock the plant in 2012 – both to give the industry a chance to deal with the problem and also because they don’t want to sell plants that are unlikely to perform in the garden. They’re hoping to plug the gap mainly with begonias as well as petunias, marigolds and pelargoniums but admit it will be a question of informing and educating the public who tend to like what they know when it comes to bedding. Maybe this will encourage a few people to do something more worthwhile/interesting than to plant a whole patch of bedding in their gardens this summer? Here’s hoping.
A few pictures from the show:
* For advice from the RHS on Impatiens downy mildew see here.