I’ve just been doing some emergency repairs on the roof. My beans have grown so big and bushy that they’ve got quite unwieldy and prone to collapse. The netting and canes, which seemed such sturdy support when they were young, is struggling to keep them in order these days. They look wonderful, this wild tangle of green vines, but, yes, they’re causing a small amount of havoc, especially when the wind picks up.
I just got creative with a ball of string and I’m hoping they’re now secure. I ate some beans with my dinner this evening, young, tender ones. They were delicious, which was a relief. I served up a rather stringy number to a friend at the weekend which was a little embarrassing! I learnt my lesson – don’t try and impress people with huge king size beans, the little ones taste far better, even if they look slightly pathetic in comparison.
Dreams of a tom shaped breakfast
The most exciting news from the roof at the moment is that I have lots of toms. The plants are looking so healthy and strong, covered in flowers and tiny tom babies that I’m rapt watching grow bigger and plumper by the day. My labelling system turned out not to be weather resistant so I’m now unsure of which variety is which, some are your classic round numbers while others are gloriously plum shaped.
I can’t wait for them to start turning red. My thoughts are currently dominated by fresh, just picked tomatoes, sliced and topped with fresh, just picked basil or perhaps fresh, just picked rocket. Summer salad heaven, right there on my roof, a short crawl from bed. I imagine I’ll soon be indulging in warm tomatoes straight from the vine while still in my pyjamas.
Like the beans before them, having known the toms when they were the tiniest of seeds makes seeing them bloom and fruit all the more exciting. Among the plants I most definitely planted, from seed or seedling, there are some rogue growths that have appeared from nowhere. There’s a plant with the smallest, prettiest purple flowers that’s growing in a old green ceramic pot that, as far as I was concerned, contained nothing but a little bit of old, crumbly compost.
There’s also something more recognisable as some kind of dandelion type thing growing in an old basket. I looked this one up. I was hoping it was nipplewort but I think it’s some kind of hawkweed, a great but perhaps not quite so amusing name.
In the same basket a very beautiful purple leaved tree spinach plant is growing. The spinach is a funny one, as I thought I’d planted ruby chard, and not in the basket but in a salad box. I think the resident squirrels must have transplanted it. Despite the missing chard, I’m very pleased with the spinach. It has matt leaves that look like they’ve been dipped in an intense purple powder, and a lovely statuesque look to it, tall and elegant and slender.
Beyond the roof
I had a little adventure in Hackney last week. I went to meet Hedvig Murray, who, along with her friend Sara, runs a brilliant project called ‘Get Growing’ (www.getgrowing.org.uk) that’s giving people who sign up the equipment, guidance and moral support to start growing vegetables in their outside space, whatever shape or size it may be. They’re working with ten households in Hackney this season, whose growing spaces range from window boxes and roof terraces, to front steps and back yards. The people involved are novices or gardeners who’ve become disheartened due to a lack of success.
Hedvig and Sara are teaching the group the principles of permaculture and giving them one-on-one practical tuition. Their enthusiasm for the project is infectious, Hedvig glowed with the sheer joy of sharing growing know how and watching the people who’ve signed up become confident gardeners. It’s a community building scheme too – through it they’ve linked up with various local projects, all devoted to urban growing and outreach work.
Gardening adventures by bike
Hedvig and I cycled to one of the gardens that’s part of the ‘Get Growing’ project – a front garden, a ten minute ride from Hedvig’s own house. She’d been there earlier in the day, delivering compost via her natty bike trailer. I have a confession. I’d never cycled in London before, I was a city cycling virgin and suddenly found myself on a bike. It was absolutely brilliant. I even survived being overtaken by a bendy bus without even the smallest of squeals. My bicycle bravery was rewarded with a tour of a brilliant front garden, the work of a lady called Joanne.
Joanne’s front garden and front steps are currently dripping with veg. She has beans, courgettes, aubergines, strawberries, tomatoes, herbs and salad. Neighbours have started shouting compliments across the street. She plans to install a wormery and a compost bin next. Suddenly her street seems a much friendlier place and she’s bubbling with creative confidence.
Hedvig seemed very proud. Gardening can be such a powerful force for good. It’s even managed, in a roundabout way, to convince me to get a bike. Carting compost home from the garden centre a few days later by bus, I dreamed of having a trailer like Hedvig’s.
Returning to the roof, I’m enjoying the salad leaves I’ve been growing, eating them pretty much daily and really delighting in how many different and intense flavours a simple leaf can offer. I’m also enjoying the process of picking, there’s something terribly peaceful about five minutes spent harvesting leaves for supper. It’s a good time for calm thoughts.
The roof has looked at its prettiest florally over the last few weeks. The towering tobacco trumpets (Nicotiana slyvestris is still my favourite flower) have been joined by glorious yellow evening primroses, prongs of purple lavender and deep orange nasturtiums. I inherited a courgette plant on a recent visit to Wales to see my mum, which has five exotic looking fluorescent orange flowers now. All these blooms mean I’ve had loads of bee visitors of late.
The huge, furry bumbles have been wonderful company – they seem to like drinking from the lavender when I’m curled up amongst it with a book. And today I had my first butterfly. I lost a good 15 minutes stalking it round the roof trying to get a photograph, but it simply wasn’t having any of it. After being thoroughly harassed by a girl wielding a camera, flapping as manically as it was in the end, it fluttered off over the chimney tops, leaving me picture-less.
Open gardens and flower shows
I went to Hampton Court Flower Show recently, where London Wildlife Trust (who I work for) won gold with their wonderful sustainable show garden. The show reminded me how creative gardening can be, how important good design is and how gardening can allow you to go on some incredible imaginative journeys. That visit to my mum’s a few weeks ago involved an open gardens event in the small town of Usk, as well as the matter of inheriting a courgette plant. After some serious nosing round other people’s gardens, both real and ones just for show, I’ve started having new ideas about what to do next with the roof.
I want to explore more creative ways of planting in my space, I feel like this year has been a success so far but that I’d like the roof to look better, to be more inventive, to use more interesting materials and explore different levels. Suddenly I’m itching to get my sketch book out and re-plan my space… or at least make some creative tweaks. I’ll let you know how I get on.