It’s the longest weekend of the year, it’s getting late but it’s still just about light. I’m not long back from a rather bloody (but wonderful) RSC production of Julius Caesar and have been finding watering the plants very soothing, as a dusk duvet wraps itself around the roof. I discovered my first rooftop caterpillar perched on Edith the rose, a bright green fellow looking luminous against pink petals in the half-light. Sweet relief after a Shakespearean bloodbath.
My night planting has paid off – the tobacco plant is definitely my new favourite, for this week anyway. The leaves are funnily sticky, the stalks tall and willowy, and the flowers utterly beautiful. Fragrant trumpets, star shaped when you look at them face on, and the brightest of whites. As the light fades as it is now, they seem to get ever brighter and whiter. My radishes and coriander are flowering at the moment too, tiny white sparkles on tall shoots, dancing around the tobacco trumpets.
Once you’ve eaten one you’re doomed…
Reading back over last month’s entry, it feels like so much has changed on the roof. It’s all berries, beans and bees at the mo. Well, the berries are no more, I’ve eaten them all! The green strawbs that I was waxing lyrical about back in May have been devoured. They tasted amazing, sweet and tangy and just extra special because I’d grown them myself. As predicted, my hanging basket looked very pretty dripping with ripe berry baubles.
The plan was to save a few to take to Wimbledon next week but I failed to exercise enough self control. It is simply impossible to ignore a strawberry when it is calling to you from your balcony. Once you’ve eaten one you’re doomed. You’ll be pleased to learn that I was a good gardener and did manage to share. It was a small crop so now I’m feeding the plants up, hoping desperately for more later this summer.
Bees love beans
Onto the beans and bees. Well, I have beans, and they get bigger by the minute. Tomorrow a friend is coming over for a solstice supper and we will eat the first harvest, toasted, finally, with that glass of Pimms. I love my runner beans – I love the fact I can remember so clearly buying the seeds on a snowy day in Brighton way back when, that they shared my room for weeks, and that they are now a huge tower of leaves and flowers and vegetables growing against our exterior bathroom wall. I feel like a proud mother.
And the bees. I’ve had many big fuzzy bumbles visiting, plus the less furry kind as well. I’m a big bee fan and extremely pleased to be working with my local community. In return for my best and sweetest nectar, they’ve been super busy pollinating my crops. Bees love runner beans, it’s official. They’re such a great crop to try – incredibly easy to grow, satisfyingly creating a fast mass of vegetation in the smallest of places, plus they’re climate and wildlife friendly. Local, organic, bee friendly produce. Perfection.
Beyond the roof
London is looking very lush at the moment and everyone’s loving the long summery evenings. Pubs are over-spilling all over the place and every green spot is a potential picnic waiting to happen. At a recent Sustainable Cities event organised by the Natural Capital Initiative (www.naturalcapitalinitiative.org.uk), I learnt that 37% of London is designated green space, not including gardens (which themselves cover over 90,000 acres of the city), making the UK capital one of the greenest in the world. The event was all about good, sustainable design and development that is sensitive to both human and environmental needs.
As DEFRA releases stark UK climate projections (http://ukcp09.defra.gov.uk/), it seems more important than ever that we make London, and all urban areas, greener, literally. Ken Livingstone from Progressive London and Lorna Walker from CABE both highlighted the importance of gardens and individuals getting growing in the face of climate change.
An epic journey
London is home to some amazing growing projects. I’m currently working on an article about city farms and last week my friend Mel and I embarked on an epic farm crawl across the capital. We managed to visit five farms in one day, journeying by train, tube, bus and foot.
We started among rolling fields that were framed with sci-fi views of Canary Wharf and the Docklands, and ended up on a train-trapped island in north west London. It was inspiring to see small community farms growing bumper crops (often cooked and sold in lovely on-site cafes) and caring for a variety of livestock in some really quirky places.
Spitalfields City Farm was extra special, a tiny place bursting with colour and energy bang in the middle of an inner city estate near Liverpool Street station. We watched the young farmers club in action, admired some delicious looking produce and cooed over some very cute goats. At Kentish Town, we witnessed city farming on a piece of land cut across by two busy rail tracks. A noisy cow managed to make itself heard over the speeding trains. It was brilliant.
Rocket, radish, tomatoes…and dewy dreams
Back to my own rooftop mini city farm… A quick update about some other produce that’s growing at the moment. The toms are doing well, getting stronger and sturdier. Today I spotted the first flowers budding on one of the plants. I absolutely cannot wait to have home grown tomatoes. They’re going to taste so good with my rocket, which is also doing very well and has been a favourite with most meals over the last two weeks. I’ve taken to mixing freshly picked mint, rocket, coriander and parsley leaves into fromage frais, as a cooling side to hot dishes.
I ate my first radish recently, which took a while for me to persuade myself to do as I battled with a bizarre guilt about eating something I’d spent so long growing. For some reason I wasn’t sure I would be able to grow anything as exotic as a neon pink radish and was faintly suspicious it would taste funny. It is with relief I report that it tasted just as a radish should, cool then hot – a crunchy, peppery magical root. I have discovered that radishes are actually easy to grow in containers and their flowers are terribly pretty.
It’s dark out there now, the shortest night of the year has begun and the moths are on the move. It’s been hot of late so I’ve been sleeping with the door open, with rooftop breezes blowing gently around my bedroom. Dreams wafted with roof dew and birdsong (and, OK, the odd siren wail and helicopter drone) – green London loveliness, noisiness included.