You are cordially invited…

According to the old country saying, British summertime begins when the elderflower starts frothing in the hedgerows and ends when its dark-black berries appear. Our client’s gardens around us are all bursting with elderflower and new growth as late spring blossoms into summer, bringing with it a surge of colour. After the elongated winter, we have probably had our busiest spring season ever – hence not having a minute spare to write this column!

So, where to start? We have really enjoyed creating a Venetian inspired garden in N6. With a colour plant palette ranging from mulberry to claret and saffrons, and hues in-between, the garden is now full of: Salvias, Astrantias, Acteas, Echinaceas, Heleniums and my fave, Veronicastrum virg. Fascination – to name but a few.

We particularly enjoyed recently designing and creating a modern cottage garden look for a young family with a tropical twist! Whilst the garden was planted up with lots of our fave cottage plants ranging from Digitalis purpurea to Lupins and Hollyhocks, with white plants providing the unifying link, it was the addition of structural plants, such as Cardoons and Euphorbias, which helped give the garden a lovely tropical look. One of our favourite plants to create evergreen structure is rosemary, which we added in profusion, along with other edibles. We say out with the herbaceous border, in with the edible border!

Embarking upon a one day garden makeover, is always one of our fave jobs! We have been invited into several gardens this season to spend a day cutting back and pruning to let in light. You would be amazed how different a garden can look with a day’s worth of soil improving, re-shaping and a handful of new plants, herbs and edibles. In one garden, twin 7 year old boys were amazed to arrive home from school to find a giant den/tippee built at the end of the garden, created from the green waste we had generated that day!

In other news, it’s official, we are now fans of green walls! Whilst previously, we have always been reluctant to build green walls as a result of what we considered non-sustainable irrigation requirements, as a result of new affordable, and irrigation considerate systems coming on the market, we have created out first green wall. A green wall can be a great option for a small back garden. It creates a very contemporary look. Below is a pic, of a work in progress…

Our community projects are very close to our heart. Probably around 20% of the work we do is free of charge for the community. We are passionate about creating webs of well being around our neighbourhoods. To this end, we created our seventh green intervention in the NW5 area with an Orchard in the football pitch at Acland Burghley secondary school. Yes, you read it right – an orchard in the footie pitch! Bit of a shout out for another of our green interventions – at the back of Ceremony Restaurant in Fortess Rd, we have created a secret allotment. It’s bursting with delish veg and unusual edibles, some of which can be found in the menu. Just mention Transition Kentish Town, an you will get a 20% discount on all cocktails!

And here’s another call out – you are all invited to our wonderful ‘Listening Space’ garden in the Caversham Group Practice NW5 for a wonderful tea on 23/6, 2-5pm, to celebrate 70 years of the NHS. The Listening Space garden is a bucolic garden we planted up with swaying grasses interlaced with lots of lovely colour – a refuge for patients, wildlife and the community, alike.

On another note, not to nag, but try not to mow your lawn too often this summer folks! If you leave your lawn, you will be amazed how wonderful little wildflowers will soon colonise it. Just see the pic below of one of our client’s gardens…

Finally, back to the elderflower. In-between our myriad of jobs, we have had a mo to make some very yummy elderflower cordial. All that’s left is to top it up with a good glug of gin! Whilst our elder trees are in full bloom now, it won’t last long folks.. 

Below – Bladder campion – one of our fave wildflowers…like fairy wings

Don’t mow your lawn folks…


Green wall being built. We love the palette of strong greens tinged with purple.




From ‘Le Jardin Secret’ to cocktail corners and magic carpets.

Well our season has certainly got off to an interesting, flying start.

We are always happy when we get a garden brief from busy working parents with young families, as we did recently. Whilst the aim is to create a productive, pretty garden which is low maintenance and fun for the kids, our cunning plan is always to create an enticing outdoor space which will encourage you busy parents out into the garden – more than you were intending!

We say, out with the overly large trampolines, and in with the coppiced wood for den building. We say out with the formal herbaceous borders, and in with ‘Herbery’ next to the kitchen door, the kids ‘rocket’ growing, ‘bean pole’ race, and the edible landscape. Replace some of the heavy evergreen shrubs which you were told you needed for ‘winter structure’ with fruit trees/bushes. Not forgetting of course to leave space for a little ‘cocktail corner’ chocka full of mint/basil/borage/strawberries etc, for botanical cocktails, whilst the kids enjoy sailing their toy boats in the (clean) drainpipes mounted onto a nearby fence which have been filled with water to form oceans of fun!

An important piece of advice we always give to busy parents and working folk is to leave a section of lawn grow until June/July. You will be amazed the lovely succession of wildflowers that grows through. See below a picture of a lawn in a block of flats we maintain in NW3. The pic was taken last June. Left alone, the lawn will fast become a magic carpet with pretty little plants such as daisies, speedwell, self-heal, buttercups and clovers. Oxeye daisies, cowslips  might appear too. When allowing your lawn to grow you just have to shift your expectations of what a weed is!

By way of complete opposite to the native planting described above, we were recently totally inspired by ‘Le Jardin Secret’, Tom Stuart Smiths garden in Marrakesh. We are delighted to be re-creating a mini version of Le Jardin Secret on a roof terrace. We love the simple plant palette, the tonal hues of green, silver and purple. Whilst grasses are generally used in garden design to create a naturalistic look, there is something surprisingly formal yet impactful about the repeated planting of Stipa Tenuissima.

Warning all new clients, we hope you are not feeling as blue as we are? Blue in sense of the Majorelle Yves St Laurent Garden…  Statement walls can look absolutely stunning in a small courtyard garden, interested in a Moroccan blue statement wall anyone?!

Talking about statement walls, whilst to-date we have been reluctant to deign and create green walls as a result of the extra water demand, believing them to be unsustainable; as a result of new irrigation systems coming on the market we have just taken on the brief to design a stunning green wall for a client. The wall will have two long strips of green packed full of wonderful heucharas, ferns and strappy grasses in shades of ginger, greens, marmalade and browns… watch this space.

Talking of sustainable gardens, we have recently been asked to design and create an extremely low maintenance front garden for a house containing several flats. Our idea revolves around creating a Beth Chatto’esque’ gravel garden. Borders will be replaced with a lovely hue of gravel out of which verbenas and other white and purple drought friendly plants will emerge.

In other news, our garden at the fab new Ceremony restaurant in NW5 continues to flourish. We particularly enjoyed the Pina-kale-adas we drunk there recently made from kale grown in the garden! With Transition Kentish Town, we are also working very hard on several local community gardens, which we are passionate about creating, free of charge. Coming soon, a ‘Green Machine putting the park back into parking’ in Kentish Town; an orchard in a secondly school football pitch (!) and another station cottage garden…












Sharing, caring & loving winter…


We love winter, not just for the rest it affords us all – not that there is any rest for us, as we are busily working on several really interesting, and very different design briefs (see below) but we love winter for the views through filigree branches on empty trees; the texture on revealed bark. We like to encourage our clients to not always be in such a hurry to plant for winter colour or structure, but think perhaps that there is beauty enough in the emptiness of the winter landscape: and purity.

Talking about trees, as wildlife gardeners and active environmentalists, we are so aware of tree wastage at xmas time. A Nordmann fir, the ‘non-drop’ variety now accounts for around 80% of the Christmas trees bought in the UK, it takes eight to 10 years to grow to 6ft. After its brief decorative turn in a festive front room, Wrap estimates that in the UK we throw away 6 million Xmas trees each year. Did you also know that 300,000 tonnes of card packaging is used at xmas; enough to cover London’s famous landmark, Big Ben, almost 260,000 times. 1 billion cards end up in the bin, when they could be recycled, and the amount of wrapping paper used for presents is enough to wrap around the equator 9 times. All once a precious tree which once we glanced at in a winter landscape.

Talking about landscapes, we have been given a brief to design a wonderful vertical landscape – a large green wall spanning the whole of a small garden in Kentish Town. This wall will be viewed through all the windows in this very contemporary house. More news soon.

We are equally excited about the prospect of creating a new wildlife friendly garden for a young family in N7. The main aspect of the brief is to design a child-friendly garden around the 3 existing mature fruit trees which are placed right in the middle of the garden. Who says a garden has to be all about lawn and herbaceous borders! We have always said ‘Out with the herbaceous border, in with the pollinator border!’

During the autumn time, we often turn our attention to community projects, which is a very important aspect of the work we do at Of Butterflies and Bees. We prioritise it, working for no cost, and often help raise the needed funds. Our work with Transition Kentish Town is progressing really well, with projects ranging from creating a community orchard in a local secondary school, to creating veg beds and cob oven in a youth centre, to continuing to develop our plans to create ‘Trails of Well being,’ all over North London. We recently turned our Platform 1 cottage garden at Kentish Town overground station into a winter wonderland, complete with a mistletoe kissing arch. We are hoping that the station will fast become re-named the snogging station!

Our ‘Listening Space’ garden at the Caversham Group Practice is fast becoming a hub for sharing, and community enterprise. Surplus/waste food and food insecurity, is an area we are very passionate about. Last weekend, a shared meal for over 100 people in the garden, was created partly from surplus food. (See dishes created on poster below)

Hoping that your winter will be peaceful and inspiring. Don’t forget to keep turning that bottle of sloe gin, and creating festive decorations from nature…



From pine-kale-adas and bringing down walls to building community and creating secret spaces

We have been rushed off our feet during September and October in our busiest couple of months ever! Where to start..

Everyone loves a secret garden, don’t they? Well, how about one hidden behind a restaurant in Tufnell Park? We really loved designing and creating the secret garden hidden behind the fab new decadent vegetarian restaurant ‘Ceremony’ which opened last month. The priority of course was to plant up goodies for botanical cocktails – pine-kale-ada anyone? Do go and see our urban trellis made from discarded copper plumbers pipes, and  planters made from leftover ventilation steel ducts.

At this time of year, beyond playing with colour, planting swathes of spring bulbs in many of our client’s gardens, we also love nothing more than a good pruning and clear back session. Remember folks, a garden is not only about what you have planted, but borrowing views; cutting back trees and shrubs, to let in light, colour, shape and texture from surrounding gardens. With so many vibrant copper and claret tones around at the moment, don’t grieve the fading away of summer’s flowers, but celebrate the surrounding trees and shades of autumn, by borrowing views. You will be amazed how a dramatic cut back, can completely change your view: in more ways than one.

Talking about flowers however, we have designed some very beautiful pollinator friendly, herbaceous borders this month: particularly striking will be the elegant white and green garden we planted up in NW3 filled with a seasonal succession of gorgeous flowers and grasses. In complete contrast, we had great fun creating a patio garden full of the brightest of colours…

With so much talk in the world at the moment about building walls, we were really happy to be invited to re-imagine the gardens of two sisters living next to each other in North London: And in particular, to take down the wall which separated their two gardens! Having taken down the wall and given both gardens a bit of TLC, what emerged was a light and airy, bucolic haven. We say, it’s time to start sharing gardens; to create big open spaces and wonderful habitats. C’mon ladies – and everyone out there, we urge you to take down those walls!

In terms of creating big open spaces, creating community gardens is a great passion of ours, and something we commit a lot of voluntary time to. Our community gardens at the Caversham Health Centre, James Wigg, Platform 1 KT overground continue to thrive and provide much joy. Currently, we are developing proposals to build a garden and cob/tandoor clay oven at a youth centre in Queens Crescent, and another cottage garden at West Hampstead Station.

Finally, our other big love in early autumn is our Abundance project: it’s all about collecting and juicing windfall apples and unwanted fruit. Do you have or know of any apple trees, that still need picking, get in touch? We have hosted several apple juicing sessions at local schools and health centres: incredibly rewarding, and juicy stuff!

Back to the drawing board now, three more garden designs to create for next month…





From a Decadent Kitchen Garden & Botanical Cocktails, to Platforms and Side Gardens!

What a busy and productive summer it has been for us! Variety definitely being the word that sums it up!

Our newly designed and planted up cottage garden on Platform 1 of Kentish Town overground looks very lovely and is now providing a lot of pleasure for commuters and Thameslink staff alike. Such fun to see folk getting off the train and emptying their water bottles in the beds! If you are passing, do stop and pick some runner beans.                   As a result of the success of the Platform 1 cottage garden, we have been asked to create another garden at West Hampstead station. Perhaps this time we will get the compost delivered by train! We love the idea of greening up underused drab, urban sites, and are happy to develop projects like these, with our community gardener (volunteer!) hats on!

Creating inspiring outdoor spaces in health practices is another area we remain passionate about. The Listening Space well-beeing garden.The launch of our naturalistic, The Listening Space garden, at the Caversham health centre last month was a huge success. The drifts of grasses – miscanthus, molinia, pennisetums, are now very much at their peak and look so beautiful mixed in with the new perennial selection of rudbeckias, echinaceas etc.

We have been approached by another oestopathic health clinic in NW3 to design a space for them and are very excited about this.

A new project we are also very excited about is the brief to design and maintain a new kitchen garden at a fabulous new restaurant in Fortess Rd, NW5 opening in September: Ceremony. We think it is so great that this new decadent vegetarian restaurant in our ‘hood is aiming to include items in the menu from the garden. Botanical booze and inspiring herb-infused cocktails being menu items we are particularly interested in!

Do you have a drab, unused, bin heavy side alley that you think might have potential to turn into an interesting little space? If so, get in touch. Side gardens are SOOO on trend.

Enjoy late summer, watch those apples and pears ripen by the day on trees heavily laden with fruit. It’s going to be a good harvest this year.

Remember, we also love nothing more than a good maintenance, pruning session. It doesn’t have to be all about design with us….

Trail of Well-being. Social Prescribing – It’s All About the Community.

Creating community gardens is something we are really passionate about and we donate, free of charge, a good deal of our time.

We are so proud to be curating an open day of 3 of our community gardens on Sat June 17th. The festival called, ‘The Trail of Wellbeing’ is aimed at showcasing our newest projects: First up, we will be joining in with the laughter yoga workshop at our Well-beeing garden at the James Wigg Practice which is now chock-full of veg and plants and shrubs with healing properties. We are very excited to have been invited in to present our case for social prescribing to the whole staff of the JW practice.

Community gardens like our Well beeing garden are aimed at treating folk as citizens within communities, rather than just patients. The BMA and Kings College have recently produced a report on the benefits of social prescribing, which clearly proves that gardening has a growing place in the NHS and wider health care system, particularly given the focus on greater integration of health services, social care and prevention.

Back to our Trail of Well being day, our second stop will be at our bucolic cottage garden on Platform 1 of Kentish Town station. We have been inundated with praise for the project. Folk and staff tell us how happy the garden makes them and what a difference a planted up area makes to a very grey and drab urban surround. It’s amazing what a few raised beds can do folk! You only need a small space. Anyone got any ideas for littles corners of their community they would like to see planted up?

the trail of wellbeing

In the afternoon of the Trail day, we will be stopping for tea and herb scones at The Listening Space. This courtyard garden with its surround of espaliered fruit trees is now blooming with a lovely selection of plants and grasses with the onus on a palette of purples and yellow. We have even built a large pond which we are hoping will provide an inviting new home for lots of friendly wildlife. The Listening Space garden has been designed to provide a place of refuge and contemplation for the many isolated and vulnerable folk in our community. Please do come and visit us there.

In other news, I am delighted to report that I am meeting with a new client tomorrow. Sasha is aged 7, and he wants to teach him to grow veg. I am sow excited!

Finally, here’s an idea for you sideways gardeners. Many of our clients, and so many of you gardeners out there have unused side alleyways. We want to inspire you not just to fill them up with old pots and bins, but transform them into a productive and inspiring area: perhaps a fernery. We have lots of ideas, got an unused side garden, get in touch!

Spring fever…

Gosh, just where did March and April go?

We have been incredibly busy working on some really inspiring projects, donating a good chunk of our time to designing and planting up – on a voluntary basis, several community gardens.

Last weekend saw us curating a great fun big day on Platform 1 of Kentish Town overground station where we created a cottage garden complete with planted up old leathered boots! Our vision is to create a bucolic garden on the platform where weary travellers on their way home from work can empty their water bottles into the bucolic beds, or potter about whilst waiting for a train.

Last week also saw us planting up an absolutely wonderful garden which we have called, ‘The Listening Space,’ in the Caversham Group Practice – a health centre. This space filled with drifts of grasses, Pennisetum’s and Stipas, and inter-planted with herbaceous perennials ranging from Echinaceas and Knatias, to Rudbeckias and Achiella’s, is aimed at providing a place of refuge; of contemplation: a place of well-being. With plants bursting into life, imperceptibly growing every minute of every day now, we hope that folk will be inspired.

Wildflowers have always been a passion of ours. To this end, we were thrilled to be asked to create another wildflower garden in North London this week. Now, some may call this cheating, but we do sometimes work with wildflower turf. In terms of laying, it is just like normal garden turf, but our turf comes filled with anywhere from 20-80 flower and grass cultivars, bursting with glorious colour.

Talking about colour, we do really love it when a client gives us a strong colour brief. We are currently designing a very large project for another new client which includes major landscaping re-design. The brief is for the garden to be sexy, boho and chic, and low maintenance! The emphasis on planting in shades of green, purple and white. We are going for a look which we are calling ‘English exotic’ – more news soon.

What we are also really enjoying about working on this project is that the build will not take place until the autumn. With that in mind we would like to offer you all out there a note to self: autumn planting is MORE SUSTAINABLE. Planting at this time of year, which most folk do, places too much emphasis on watering. C’mon folks, let’s all work together to protect our environment and resource usage. Planting in the autumn allows the autumn and winter rains to gently allow roots to establish and the plants to settle in.

Another plea to you all – please don’t over mow your grass at this, or any time of year. One of the best ways to create a wildlife friendly garden is to let your grass grow long. This creates a cozy habitat for all manner of creatures. Or just simply leave an uncut area of lawn and see what grows. You will be amazed!


Shaping up nicely…

We are in thoroughly enjoying are meetings with Thameslink to plan our design for greening up the platforms at Kentish Town station, a pioneer project which we hope can role out across all stations.

Under consideration firstly is an Overground Orchard, planted with a selection of heritage apple and pear cultivars and inter-planted with soft fruit and cherries. We are visualizing the particularly beautiful spring blossom that adorns fruit trees, turning to leaf and fruit for passengers to pick. But then we are equally inspired by the idea of planting a romantic cottage garden, in a complete contrast to the harsh urban surround: The vintage charm of foxgloves and hollyhocks, runner beans and roses scrambling up coppiced hazel tripods. Long flowering wallflowers inter-planted with evergreen rosemary. Water cans laying around for pottering passengers.

Another interesting project is the library garden we have been asked to design. We love our clients’ idea to install a library at the end of the garden. We are looking forward to coming up with a planting plan in the form of a literary trail! The term book-worm very much comes to mind.

Yes, our February is shaping up nicely.

Whilst on the subject of shaping, we have lots of ideas for hard landscaping. Early spring is often a time when folk start to think about their hard landscaping and giving their fencing and a fresh look. We urge you not to only think in straight lines, but outside the box. Consider new materials, for example coppiced hazel and chestnut. Shape your fences with undulating lines. Paint your trellis and decking a different colour, match with pots.

We have just been given a brief to design a bright small decked outside space. With limited room for planting, hardscape colour and shape is going to be a vital part of our design.

In terms of helping with our shaping up personally, we have just signed up to receive a wonderful weekly offering of organic veg and fruit from The weekly bag comes packed with seasonal recipes. We loved turning jerusalem artichokes last week into a yummy dip, and the crow garlic, which some may see as a pernicious weed, into a wild garlic bread and pesto.

If your garden needs a late winter shape and clear up, do give us a call. Sometimes we enjoy nothing more than spending a morn doing a good ol’ garden clearance.

A Wassailing Winter!

With each year that passes, we have come to appreciate the sculptural and fragile beauty of winter, more and more: The charcoal wash of trees silhouetted against the low light in the sky: The filigree, lace like bare branches, the space that hibernating herbaceous shrubs and plants reveals in a garden, a space we don’t think you should be in a hurry to fill up. There will be plenty of time for new growth in the garden, for the riot of colours that this will bring, so we urge you to go out and enjoy the contemplative mood in your gardens, terraces and community open spaces.

That said, there is always a little bit of room in a garden for the vibrant red berries of Cotoneaster horizontalis, and the emerging pinks on the bare branches of Viburnum Bodnatense Dawn. We are even rather enjoying the rather sultry looking yellows of Mahonias, which seem to having a bumper season.

We urge you all to not follow the lead of one of our clients (sorry R!) as wonderful as he is, who recently informed us that he does not go out in the garden between October and April! We at OBAB say, get out there and host a winter barbie – we recently did. Get that camp fire stoked up in winter, cook tandoori chicken, root veg and halloumi kebabs and serve with kale and hazelnuts, its great, invigorating fun!

Talking of fire and light, winter is also a great time to experiment with garden lighting, we are working on a lighting design project for a number of clients. Don’t limit yourself to enjoying a garden by daylight.

The team at OBAB are also feeling in a very fruity mood. We are currently designing a really lovely courtyard project for another health centre in Camden called, ‘The Listening Space.’ A garden which will hopefully inspire many of the patients who devastatingly are victims of war and torture: victims of social exclusion. Social prescribing in community gardens is a project which are very close to our heart. The first part of our design which will be planted up later this month, includes planting espaliered fruit trees all around the perimeter of the garden: Apples, pears, peaches, cherries, plums. Incorporated into our design, there will also be step-over apple trees, which are very lovely and add structure. We visualize a time when all health centres will have bucolic outside space and offer a place of peace, refuge and inspiration.

Talking about fruit, why not get out there and host a night of waissailing. Waes hael means good health. Based on ancient custom, mid January is the time when we toast the health of our apple trees for the forthcoming year by banging pots and pans.

Wassaile the trees, that they may beare
You many a Plum and many a Peare:
For more or lesse fruits they will bring,
As you do give them Wassailing.

This time of year also sees us working on several hardscaping projects. It’s all about landscaping and water features. Are you happy with your garden layout? Could some of your hard landscape be turned over to naturalistic soft landscaping? Do you have room for a pond with a lovely organic shape? Do you have a long thin garden which could be re-imagined in the form of several inter-linked spaces. And not forgetting our favourite, working with coppiced hazel and chestnut. How about building that honeysuckle arbour this spring.

Enjoy your outdoor spaces this winter: they are a place of connection and change.

The Listening Space

We are thrilled to have been asked to design a second wonderful Well being garden in a medical centre in Camden under the auspices of social prescribing. The Listening Space will be based at the Caversham Health Centre, NW5. We are working alongside a group of NHS health professionals to build this community garden and therapeutic space to enrich the surgery’s clinical work. Our work in other medical centres, has demonstrated the importance of a well being garden in helping folk connect to each other: doctors, patients and colleagues, to the natural environment and to the food we all eat.

Our purpose with this garden is to create a safe and convivial outdoor space to improve physical and mental well being by providing opportunities to increase activity, social networks, skills and confidence. The project specifically aims to benefit those in the community who find it difficult to access other services and for those where no other provision exists.

For the first phase in this exciting project, we are curating a community Big Dig.


This will be followed by workshops to build wooden raised bed, and even a workshop to build a pizza and breadmaking cob oven in early 2017. At every step of the way, we want to encourage our community to get involved in the design, and the build, so we can all learn, and move forward as one community, together.


From the Fading Light to She-sheds. It’s Nestival Time!

With each new year, I come to love and appreciate autumn more and more. In inner cities we do not have a access to to the big open skies, the forests and the hedgerows to usher in the subtle changes of season. It is our gardens which help us be part of something so much bigger: rowan, hawthorn, cotoneaster, and roses with their berries and hips bring to birds to us; the fallen leaves on our ground bring in the forest. We are never in a hurry in our gardens to cut back all the herbaceous perennials at this time of year, but to encourage our clients to enjoy the fading; enjoy the changing light and colours of crimson and bronze. To enjoy the intense shadows as the sun sinks lower in the sky revealing new shapes in the garden.

We have, as usual been incredibly busy this month planting up shrubs and bulbs, lots of maintenance and preparing gardens to be enjoyed in winter.

We try and encourage all of our clients to go out in the garden in winter; to enjoy the frayed edges, the new textures and smells. We have been building gazebos, just add fairy lights – perfect for the winter season; we have even built a she-shed complete with green roof! We are working on various pond projects – after all, didn’t someone famous once say –  a wildlife garden without a pond is like a theatre without a stage!

In complete contrast, and something very new to us, we have also this month been working on a Japanese garden. A garden with a series of smaller rooms/spaces, which in design terms is interesting as it helps create a sense of mystery/anticipation. Interesting gardens are those that do not reveal everything at once. Whilst Japanese gardens are very much known for their formality and use of evergreen, and we are really enjoying working on this space, in our designs we very much favour a mix of deciduous with evergreen, as the deciduous die back is always a wonderful way of ushering in the seasons.

We urge you all to go outside – whatever the weather, pick rosehips and make syrup – great for a rosehip royale! Play leaf snap with the kids and build giant nests in the garden with fallen twigs and cuttings from prunings. Have a wonderful autumn Nestival.



From Hodgson Burnett’s ‘The Secret Garden’ to A Late Summer Night’s Dream…

img_0013It may now be mid September, but in our heart it is still mid August, and we are in a romantic, languid mood. The reason: three gardens, we are currently designing, which have completely enraptured us.

The first, inspired by Frances Hodgson Burnett’s ‘The Secret Garden,’ was a brief to bring a ‘forgotten’ garden back to life. With trepidation, we ventured out into a huge garden hidden behind a basement flat in North London, to find a dense canopy of elders, entwined with holly; the ground, a sea of ivy: a dark and foreboding atmosphere. Having spent the morning sensitively pruning to allow islands of light to filter through, discovering hidden climbing roses, clearing patches of ivy to reveal fountain like ferns; the forgotten garden began to unfurl.

Having now returned to the garden and planted up some magnificent Polysthichum setiferum Proliferums, surrounded by Dropteris wallichianas, white tinged Athyrium nipponicum pictum’s, island beds of Digitalis, Astantia’s and Anemones,’ patches of Aquilega Blue Barlows and white spotted Hellebores, Rosa Bobbie James to climb up the trees; all that was needed was to add candle glass holders to hang from branches, a small fire dish for those snug autumnal evenings, and the enchanted garden was ready to cast its spell.

Our second garden looks really like a scene from a midsummer night’s dream. We love the idea that even as the evenings draw in, we should all still be out there enjoying the magic of darkened eve’s in our garden. Maybe the moment of mid-summer floral glory has passed; but still the whitest of pink Gaura and diminutive Bladder Campion mix in with Persicarias and the seed heads of alliums; Echinaceas entwine with Molinia caerulea ‘Transparent’ and billowing Bronze Fennels. And our favourite plant of all, the magical Penstemon very much holding court with it’s elegant glory. In this small garden in Kentish Town, we suggested that our clients place a wonderful old ornate brass mirror that wasn’t being used out in the garden to add depth, and a sense of wonder. A final touch – an old chandelier, strings of fairy lights, the sound of flute in the distance, a glass of homemade blackberry wine, and let the late summer night’s dream begin:

‘I know a bank where the wild thyme blows, where oxlips and the nodding violet grows, quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine, with sweet musk roses and with eglantine.’

The third garden we are currently designing is also somewhat of a forgotten garden in Islington. Very much a formal garden with brick wall beds and a crumbling stone walled surround, we set about with glee, bringing this garden back into it’s former glory. The brief from the client was to keep the garden formal and introduce a palette of predominantly purple and white, surrounded by walls of elegant roses.

Having persuaded our clients to let us drill into the concrete to create several new low herringbone brick walled beds, and given the garden a good two day clear up; the garden is now ready to plant. We are visualising next year’s purple and hues thereof show of Aganpanthus ‘Headbourne hybrids,’ Verbana’s, Perovskias, Cynara’s, and Salvia Nemerosa Caradonna’s, all inter-planted with the whites of Veronicastrum and Aquilegias and Lillies. All surrounded by climbing white roses, and peppered with the palest of pinks. All herbaceous perennials overlooked by a lovely Amelanchier lamarckii. All that’s needed is to add trailing Erigeron Karv and Campanulas out from cracks in stone and down stone steps, evergreens in the from of lavender, rosemary, thyme and ceanothus. Bring out a faded sage green/grey cast iron sage set of table and chairs, a steaming hazelnut latte, cinammon bun, and enjoy!



From Mellow Yellow to Summer Gold

What with the Foxgoves (spelling mistake intentional!) now gone to seed, and all the burnished Bremainia, we can’t believe it’s already July and we haven’t written a post for 3 months. But what a fantastic 3 months it has been! We have been rushed off our muddy feet designing some wonderful gardens, and instant makeovers.

Where to start – perhaps the ‘Shades of Yellow’ 60 metre entrance designed for a school in Tottenham. Filled with a gamut of wonderful shrubs, small trees and peppered with the odd herbaceous perennial, we transformed the derelict space into an oasis of yellows, copper, lime greens, chocolates, burnished orange – and all the hues in-between. From Tilia Winter Orange and Albizia Summer Chocolates to Heuchera Sweet Teas and Clematis Tangutica Golden Harvest, the space is now enjoyed by the local community and teachers sitting sharing their lunch.

Then there was the pop up beach we designed for a local health centre. Add stones, vintage deckchairs, all that’s needed is a refreshing cuppa from the home-grown fennel, chamomile and lemon verbena bed!

We enjoy very much creating wooky pathways, and have incorporated a number of really interesting hardscapes into our designs. Do remember that a pathway is not simply a space left between plants but can be a magical area of stepping stones, a hopscotch game, a bridge over a pop up pond, a clearing between drifts of grass… More news on this in September when we review several interesting show gardens.

We have created a number of instant garden makeovers this season and really love seeing the joy it brings folks. Our plan: In the first morning we arrive to an overgrown garden; by the afternoon a whole new canvas is revealed with shaped beds and areas for planting, sculptured trees and shrubs, and most importantly – empty spaces, for the mind to imagine…

A second morning a week later, we return, our arms over-spilling with an agreed palette of colour, shape and seasonality, and plant up the garden. By late afternoon, all that’s left to do is to sit in the garden with a G&T…

Whereas last year was very much the year of purple design, this season it’s all about hot colours and we are lovin’ it. We have had a number of briefs to design tropical gardens – and have done so whilst sticking to our remit of being butterfly/bee and edible landscaping gardeners, using a gamut of wildlife friendly plants. Who says rhubarb and rainbow chard mixed in with hostas and angelicas can’t look exotic!?

Over the last couple of months we have also designed gardens to incorporate sculpture as part of the design, and very much agree with Sarah Prices’ ethos of taking inspiration for garden design from the arts…  More news soon.

Wooden structures and pergolas are something also close to our heart. We are designing a pergola garden at the moment. A pergola is a great way of creating shade in summer and extending the season in the autumn. But do forget about buying one off the shelf – there’s lots of lovely local, reclaimed wood around.

Enjoy the season, enjoy your outdoor space – however big or small, and do grow runner beans up on your doorstep!

From a Rose by Any Other Name, to Venetian Voluptuousness

Whilst for many, March is that time in the garden when the popping up of the first Iris reticulatas, daffs and Primula vulgaris, signifies a sure, but slow return to growth and renewal; for us here at OBAB, March has been an incredibly productive period of fervent garden design; with our trademark of designing hardscapes with relaxed naturalness, and planting plans with a rich canvas.

We love the way that each season, brings with it a new palette of inspiration. For one of the designs we are currently working on, the brief has been to use what we are calling, a Venetian palette: deep clarets and mulberries giving way to saffrons and browns. We are dreaming of a lovely a combo of: Echinacea purpurea ‘Fatal attraction’ combined with Helenium waldtraut. A mix of Penstemon garnets and Persicaria amplexicaulis. Iris germanica ‘Kent Pride & Euphorbia griffithii fireglow. All foiled by the intriguing, Heuchera marmalade.

For another client, it’s all about bright, vibrant colours, almost akin to a plate of tropical fruit salad! Yet for a large shrubbery we are designing, surrounded by a hardscape of beautiful ethically sourced UK larch, it’s been all about a gentle purple and white.

Whatever hue of plant colours are inspiring you, make sure your plant selections offer as much year round nectar for wildlife as possible.  An example of this can be seen in roses:  The trouble with roses with big double blooms is that they are of no use to insects at all. Given the worrying shortage of pollinating insects around, we should all be growing bee-friendly roses. All those extra double petals invariably take the place of the flowers’ reproductive parts and without stamens and stigmas there’s no pollen or nectar for bees and other insects. Instead, go for a lovely single-flowered rose such as the field rose, Rosa arvensis, or dog rose, Rosa canina, which are fantastic for pollinators as well as looking really beautiful. Single flowered cultivars like ‘Kew Gardens’ and ‘Rambling Rector’ are also good. The foilage of varieties, ‘Madame Alfred Carriere’ and ‘Golden Showers’ may also be used by leafcutter bees to line their nests.

Very much at the forefront of our mind this month is the launch of our campaign to green up London’s front gardens: one paving stone at a time. Did you know that 1 in 3 of London’s front gardens are paved over? A very worrying statistic that we can all do something about. To find out what you can do, go to:

Talking about paving and porosity, watch out later this month for more news on some of our landscape and hardscape designs. We believe that pathways can be simply be a space left between plants; we love meandering hopskotch paths edge with scented thyme. We create softscapes from ethical hardcore designed to provide the perfect outdoor eating and wildlife observing areas!

Our gardens and designed spaces increasingly constitute a significant part of London’s remaining green spaces. As more natural habitats are destroyed around us, never before has the value of our own spaces, whether a one metre square front patch, or a huge back garden, been of greater importance to cultivate. Let’s design and plant away, to increase biodiversity, and share with our beneficial wildlife friends!

Happy spring equinox!

March Meadows

We are really excited that over the next few weeks we will be laying some lovely wildflower turfs for several of our existing and new clients. So why do we love Wildflower turfs so much?

  1. They provide a beautiful looking habitat!
  2. The twentieth century saw a sharp decrease in the variety of wildflowers in the UK countryside. This was due to changes in agricultural policy and practice, herbicide use and the growth of urban sprawl. We need to reverse this trend and bring back diversity. Whilst we can’t all control what happens in the wider countryside, we can ensure that a small part of our outdoor space is a model of diversity!
  3. Our wildflower turfs contain over 50 difference species of flowers, including our faves:   Bladder Campion, with its palest of pink balloon like calyx surrounded by white petals;  Vetch with its deep crimson purple nose and paler magenta pink wings which fade as they age. We love the pale yellow and orange Toadflax, the tiny Birds foot Trefoil in the boldest of yellows. Field Scabious with its flowers in the softest lilac, fading to a rose pink mauve at its heart. Who can resist the Common Knapweed with its eye-catching flowers and very high quality nectar. Did you know, its petals are edible and can be used in salads? Not forgetting of course the widely recognised, Ox Eye Daisy, with its oh so charming white florets centred round a yellow disc. The list goes on… Don’t hesitate to call us and we will chat for hours about our faves!!
  4. A wildflower turf will add a changing palete of flowers through-out the season.
  5. Makes a great alternative to lawns and borders and is LOW MAINTENANCE. Different leaf textures, ie yarrow, with it’s feather like leafs, look very lovely, even without flowers.
  6. Needs to be mowed only twice a year; late June and late September. Beyond this, it will look after itself.
  7. A wildflower turf does not like improved soil, meaning that soil does not have to be improved before the turf can be laid.
  8. It’s a misconception that a wildflower meadow has to look like a field. A small strip – a micro meadow, 6mx1m, can be grown amid the most contemporary of gardens.
  9. A wildflower turf is easy and quick to lay. A perennial rich wildflower meadow sown from seed, may not fully flower for several years.
  10. Wildflower turfs provide a habitat, and nectar, for a wide range of wildlife. Calling all insects, invertebrates, butterflies, bees, spiders, birds, mammals and hedgehogs. Come and enjoy a feast of new wildflowers coming to several North London homes, schools, public and community spaces, this month!

If however, the cost of wildflower turf is too prohibitive for you, simply turn over a piece of land and sow some annual seeds: Cornflower, Poppy, Calendula, Corncuckle. Get sowing this month, and you will see flowers by summer…

A dreaming wildflower meadowjpg

Toxic Soup or Natural Solutions for Plant Health?

Together with Friends of the Earth, we are co-curating a screening of the hard-hitting documentary ‘Toxic Soup’, tonight at The Grafton, NW5.

Film Night at The Grafton – Poster

Film Night at The Grafton!

It is a film about the use of toxic pesticides and herbicides, and the politics of pollution. Of course this is something that we, at Of Butterflies and Bees feel very strongly about and we cannot support the use of any chemical pesticide or herbicide! There are plenty of natural solutions to create a balanced eco-system and healthy plant community. Below are some ideas:


Most people use pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers as they don’t feel they have any other choice. There are however, lots of solutions to keep pests and diseases away through natural controls, to create a balanced eco system. Below is a list of ideas all of which will help form a part of an integrated pest management plan:

  1. Maintain soil health. Correct watering, soil composition, mulch, organic matter comfrey tea, green manures. For helpful advice visit
  2. Right plant, right place. Shade v sun. Exposure etc.
  3. Companion planting. Plants have natural substances in their roots, flowers, leaves that can alternately repel and/or attract insects. Companion planting can discourage harmful pests without losing beneficial allies. Use them as a border, backdrop or interplant in your flower or veg beds. Use plants that are native to your area, so the insects you want to attract know what to look for! Plants with open cup shaped flowers are the most popular with beneficial insects. Example:

Aromatic plants like alliums (chives, garlic, leeks, onions and shallots) repel aphids, fruit tree borers, rust flies, nematodes, weevils, red spiders and carrot flies. Alliums are believed to inhibit the growth of peas and beans and should be planted on the opposite border from your nitrogen producing beans. Planted among your carrots, the smell of alliums confuses onion and carrot flies and sends them looking elsewhere for food.

The Companion Planting Guide for more surprising and useful combinations.

  1. Homemade sprays: Neem oil from the neem tree has been used for centuries to ward off insects. Garlic oil spray made from water, minced garlic which you leave for several weeks and then spray on stems and leaves. Simple soapy water can also work! Rhubarb spray has been suggested by some to control aphids (although some claim the oxalic within it adds toxins to the crop)
  2. Biological control. The term for when a predator controls a pest. Add beneficial insects, ladybirds, certain nematodes, parasitic wasps to take care of insect problems.
  3. Attract insect eating birds. Provide safe nesting sites, habitat, food. Plant year around nectar rich plants. (see our Trail of Wellbeing)
  4. Crop rotation.
  5. Bug club!!! Get the kids out there and start plucking up those snails and make a snail racing track!!

We will be running a natural solutions for plant health workshop in March/April.

Front Gardening: Let’s Get Full-frontal!

Impressions of a late summer day
A vintage feel, and morris minor
Did you know that 7 million UK front gardens contain concrete and cars rather than plants and greenery? That 3 times as more front gardens are paved over than a decade ago, and hard surfaces in London gardens increase by 2.5 times the area of Hyde Park every year?

Let’s make a stand against all this tidal wave of grey, folks, it’s January, a new year, a new opportunity to lift up that paving, and plant up your front garden; no matter how large or small. Even one plant, one lifted paving stone can make that difference.

Research has shown that planted up front gardens are vital for biodiversity, providing food and habitat for wildlife. They help mitigate against pollution and heat-waves, and porous plants of course, protect homes from flooding. Greenery, veg, flowers, a hedgerow – whatever you have room for out front, also create a great sense of well-being and look very lovely.

Here are pics of some of the front gardens we have designed

Hues of pink and purple with accent red bus!
Hollyhock pretty in pinkjpg
Watlingafter from another direction
Cabbage front garden
A wooky pathway

From Guerilla Garlands to the Bayleaf and the Ivy, When They Are Fully Grown…

We have been having great fun with local schools, libraries and health centre making garlands and wreaths out of gorgeously aromatic bay leaves threaded with ivy and springs of cottoneaster berries, then like all good guerilla gardeners, draping them in unexpected and delightful places. As we are in the midst of the crucial climate change talks in Paris, never has there been a more important time to re-enforce the message to kids about resource use. We say, who needs plastic baubles when you can keep it natural!

Talking about ivy, love it or hate it, we have never understood why ivy arouses such strong feelings in folk. Ivy is a very beautiful and productive liana; far from damaging walls built of sound mortar, brick and stone, ivy, in complete contrast, will be insulated by it. Ivy also provides crucial shelter for birds; it’s evergreen leaves not only provide a great hibernating habitat for over-wintering animals, butterflies and insects, but late flowering flowers and berries provide a valuable source of winter nectar when all else has gone.

But the main reason we love ivy, is because we think it is very lovely to look at, never more so than in winter time, whether the elegant scalloped edged ‘Parsley crested’ or the silvered ‘Helix glacier’.

Another benefit of ivy is its use for masking unsightly garden structures. Talking of structure and landscape, we are working on a couple of interesting hard/soft landscaping projects at the moment – more news next month.

Finally, whilst on the subject of keeping the festive season natural, we will be curating a workshop at the Kentish Town Health Centre on Thursday 10/12, joined by the fabulous Tracy, from clean – an organisation set up to aid the rehabilitation of female offenders into the community. At this session we will be re-cycling palettes, turning them into herb window boxes. Just fill with evergreen rosemary, sage and bay, and you have the perfect natural Xmas pressie.

Bay, sage and rosemary, when they are fully grown…


From Secret Gardens to a Luverly Shrubbery

Let’s face it, we all love a secret garden! A narrow passage way opening up into a little hidden areas of garden, be it woodland or filled with the promise of early spring colour. A rustic archway veiled with climbers leading to a secluded pond, as yet undiscovered by  damselflies, whirlygig beetles and pondskaters.

This month we have designed the very garden in good ol’ N8. What was particularly lovely about this brief was the client’s request for a colour palette of yellow, oranges and brown. We are loving the idea of primula vulgaris giving way to a seasonal display of geums, lupins, sumptuous iris dutch chocolate, verbascums. Followed by chocolate cosmos, heleniums and rudbeckias. All nicely foiled with a peppering of anenanthele lessionia, heucheras and the supremely elegant anthriscus ravenswing.

In complete contrast, this month has also seen us design a vast, shrubbery to cover a large open space in a school in Primrose Hill. We particularly loved the huge climbing trachelospermum Jasminoides, which we have trained into almost heart shapes to cover the fence at the back of the shrubbery. We in-filled this with passiflora, and early and late clematis. The shrubbery itself, we filled with a delightful promise of purple and white ceanothus and choisya’s, dotted with the elegant evergreen needles of the aromatic rosemary. The design was completed with clouds of catmint which will froth their way along the border.

Don’t forget to sow your broad beans now everyone, and it’s time to get those bare rooted fruit trees in!


From Hazel Heaven to Fruit Allees

We are in hazel heaven. Next weekend we have been invited by a school in North London to curate a day, along with a crowd of enthusiastic volunteers, to build coppiced hazel structures for their woodland area. We are planning hazel heart backed bench, a den with canvas peep holes, a silver birch bolt hole, an arboretum arch. Entwining it with honeysuckle and jasmine. and single petaled cream, thornless rose  Woven hazel fencing around a magical fairy garden filled with violas and feverfew and a climbing thornless, cream single petaled rose. A sambucus nigra to complete the look, and let the magical adventure begin…

Talking about wooden arches, it’s that time of year when all garden designers start to use the words, ‘winter structure’. Fruit trees, in our world, is an important part of structure. We say, how about training fruit trees with a difference? Fanned, cordoned, etc, fruit trees are really flexible. How about planting pear cordons trained on arched hazel rods to create a lovely structure? Creating stunning allees of trained fruit? Pruning wineberries to form interesting winter shapes? Designs of cordoned fruit can create stunning entrances, division and silhouette.

Lots and lots of great projects this month, from designing a seaside themed front garden in a close of town houses, to creating care home wildflower garden.

And of course, it’s harvest time. This very weekend sees us making sloe gin, crab apple jelly, fennel seed roasted veg, and a soup with 8 garden harvested veg. Bon appetit!