I found myself lying on the grass in St James’ Park on Sunday, staring at a sky framed by the yellowing leaves of London plane trees. Later, cycling along the Regent’s Canal, I admired virginia creepers that were turning a deep gloss red as they spread across the side of a brick warehouse.
Autumn is certainly in the air, although there are still summery moments to be had on the roof, which is officially a sun trap. On Monday I was out there in my shorts, indulging in some last minute sunbathing. But yes, a change of season is definitely in the air. There’s a horse chestnut tree at the end of my street dropping conkers all over the place, and the local squirrel community suddenly seems a lot more active, concerned to bury treats everywhere in preparation for harsh weather ahead.
The tomato thief
One grey squirrel has started experimenting with tomatoes. My tomatoes. My lovingly nurtured from seed tomatoes. I’m not a bad person, I’m willing to share, but this squirrel doesn’t even like tomatoes. He steals one (often a barely ripe specimen), eats half, then leaves the remains in a pulpy mess in a flower pot. He doesn’t learn. The next day he’ll take another, eat half, realise it’s not the fruit for him, and discard the rest. I’m sure you can appreciate that this is wildly annoying! It really wouldn’t be so bad if he ate the whole thing and enjoyed it.
They are wonderful, the toms. I’m picking a few everyday now, eating some straight off the vine, dropping some into salads and filling little tubs of them to take to work. A tupperware of toms make the computer bound desk job almost bearable… I’m expecting to be harvesting them for a while yet.
The beans sadly aren’t faring so well and are actually in a bit of state at the moment. They’re looking wizened and elderly, with bald patches and yellowing leaves. They’ve also become home to some mysterious black bugs. Bugs that look like a cross between a ladybird and a beetle and like hanging out in gangs on large runner beans. I’m not sure if they’re responsible for the beans’ demise, or whether it’s old age that’s got to them.
I do feel a little sad that they’re dying, but we had a good summer together. I had some absolutely delicious bean suppers – they tasted amazing simply steamed – and I also managed to impress a few people with them. I took a bundle to a pot luck dinner party a few weeks ago and they proved very popular. Bean compliments are lovely to receive!
An aerial adventure elsewhere
August ended with an adventure onto another Londoner’s roof, and I started September feeling utterly inspired by the people who live in my home city and the aerial adventures they are having. Temporary pop-up shops and supper clubs have been all the rage in town this summer and a friend and I went to a wonderful pop-up-restaurant-cum-fairytale-installation in an artist’s east London home over the bank holiday. The artist in question has an amazing live/work space, which he’d transformed into a fantastical eating place. A few of us who stayed late on the final Sunday of the project were lucky enough to get to explore his large roof.
We climbed a ladder and discovered a rooftop world that is currently home to three chickens! The birds have a huge run and seem gloriously happy up there, providing their owners with fresh eggs, oblivious to the trains and traffic rumbling in the background. After battling with temptation, I’ve come to terms with the fact that I can’t get livestock on my roof space as it’s tiny in comparison, but it was a real joy to see them living there, true urbanites, content city birds amid the bustle. It was also just a joyfully imaginative thing to do and spoke of the endless possibilities of random urban spaces. Everyone loved the fact there were chickens on the roof – the surprise and the idea that it was even possible.
Although poultry is sadly out, I have been thinking about what to do on the roof over autumn and winter. I’d really like to continue with growing food and have been researching more into what will survive a deep chill. I’ve planted spring onions for early next year, and chard, spinach, parsley and rocket that I hope to harvest during autumn and the milder part of winter. I’m going to plant garlic and investigate perhaps planting some winter brassicas. I also bought some spring bulbs this weekend, the classic daffodils and crocuses, and also a couple of giant allium bulbs.
The other thing I’ve been doing more of this month is seed collecting. The seeds that are drying in my room at the moment look very pretty, stuffed in an old pink lemonade bottle and sitting on a low coffee table that has been secretly fashioned out of a cardboard box. The radish and coriander seeds look especially nice, the coriander ones tempting to nibble on now and then. They taste wonderful, but I’m trying to hold back from eating too many. It will be very satisfying to grow plants from seeds I’ve collected from plants that I’ve grown this year.
High rise, autumnal thinking
I’m working on the next issue of ‘Wild London’, the magazine I edit, at the moment and this week I had the pleasure of interviewing two ladies who’ve lived in the same Hackney tower block for over thirty years. I wanted to find out about their rooms with views. The building that Daphne and Lillian call home looks bleak from the outside, but step inside their spacious high rise flats and you get the most magnificent views of a reservoir, reed beds, village-y Stoke Newington Church Street and then a central London skyline in the distance.
The mag is to have a high rise theme and also a wintry one. So, instead of mourning the end of summer, I’m currently trying to get excited about the colder months of the year. I’ve been thinking about my thickest and most favourite woolly jumpers, boots and leg warmers. About golden leaves and crunchiness underfoot. And about breath frozen into clouds on crisp clear mornings and tree skeletons cast in shadow against dramatic winter skies.
It’s easy to get excited when standing up high, admiring London from above. This year I’m going to wrap up in my woolliest of woollies and spend some serious time hanging out on my autumn and winter roof. But for the time being, I’ll make the most of those now rarer moments when I can don my shorts and catch the sun while its rays are still hot. And I’ll eat fresh tomatoes off the vine while I do it.