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
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!

I Should Sugar and Preserve My Days Like Fruit

‘I should sugar and preserve my days like fruit.’ Wrote Sylvia Plath in her poem, ‘Last Words,’ a sentiment we totally agree with.

Talking fruit, this month, look around at the abundance. The trees are laden with the best apple crop for many a year. We are busily out and about with our pickers and press, visiting  local schools teaching kids how to press apples and turn them into cornucopia of fresh juice. It is so sad how disconnected some children still are from the seasons and abundance. At a recent apple pressing one child claimed how the apple juice, ‘just tasted like the real thing.’ When we enquired what ‘the real thing’ meant, she replied, ‘it tastes like the juice from Tescos.’ C’mon fellow abundance and fruity lovers, get out there, look for the apple and pear trees and their fallen, unwanted fruit. Pick ’em, and leave boxes of fruit for all take for free outside your house.

Do come and meet us on Saturday 26/9 at the Kentish Town Health centre where we are curating a fab Urban Harvest Fest, complete with mushroom growing, chicken keeping, herbwindow box out-of-pallet making, gin brewing stalls and of course tours of our wonderful well beeing garden.

Talking about well being, we have had a lovely couple of of new projects designing makeovers for care homes. Also, just confirmed, our gardens at St Pauls School, NW3 have just won silver prize in Camden in Bloom for being the second best Camden school for creating a haven of of happiness and wellbeing…

We Win (Ok, Partly Responsible!) for 20% of Camden in Bloom 2015 Awards!

Just announced, our Well Beeing Garden, in the Kentish Town Health Centre has won silver award for best community space in Camden. Our Transition Kentish Town Keg, Belsize Beer and Primrose Pint, wins bronze medal for third best community growing project in the hood. (If you would like to be a hop plant grower for us next year, get in touch!).

Fitzjohns School, NW3, wins gold for greening up the school projects to include the introduction of meat free Mondays, and St Pauls CE School, wins silver for creating the second best school to harness health and Well beeing as a result of outside space design.

Edible Landscaping

With all the very lovely plants in full flower now, you will be surprised to hear our star plant of the month… No, it’s not the pretty salvia hot lips, the regal monardas, the lovely achiella pommegranate, even verbascums in all their striking yellow candelabra glory; as lovely as all the aforementioned are; our fave plant o’ the month is the humble runner bean…

We say, no matter how lovely a climbing clematis, or a single petaled rambling rose, for the months June-Sept, grow a runner bean in a pot besides your front or back door, as well! Runner beans this month are at their peak of growing and twining, almost indiscernibly on a daily basis weaving their lattice of green, with pretty little white and red flowers, completing a pretty picture. To top it all – from mid August through September, you will be rewarded with a feast of beans.

Talking edible landscaping, July is the month when you need to get your winter veg seeds going (sorry!) To this end, we are busily sowing the incredibly striking rainbow chard. Also kale for winter structure (and nosh!)

To us, growing veg is not only for culinary, and health purposes, but we love the aesthetic that an edible landscape delivers. This year we are particularly loving planting the fab new salvia cultivar –  salvia amistad with red cabbages, surrounded by a flourish of verbena bonariensis.

This month, it is also important to plant up any late season colour, where you think you have gaps; we are talking sedums, japanese anemones, and asters. We partic. love aster novae angliae harringtons pink with its incredible flourish of bright pink. Surrounded by the plumes of sept peaking grasses like pennisetums, and you will have a great late season look.

Anyway, enough talking of promise to come…back to my pimms with homegrown borage flowers and apple mint….

Ponds, Pavlovas and Pop Up Primroses

They say that having a wildlife garden without a pond, is like having a theatre without a stage. A sentiment we agree with – save the dramatics! There is no summer sight quite as captivating as dragonflies and their aerobatics, pondskaters skimming the water surface, diving beetles rippling the water. In these times of habitat destruction in the countryside, creating mini-wetlands in our very own gardens is a vital part of nature conservation.

To this end we have started to encourage all of our clients, both existing and new, to let us design and incorporate a pond within their landscape, whether large or small. We are not talking nasty pre-formed ponds, but lovely organic shapes which we create from flexible liner. We then edge and fill the ponds with a selection of native wildlife plants; marginals from Cyperus Sedge, Marsh Marigolds, and Lesser spearworts; to oxygenators like Spiked Water Milfoil and Brookline. We love the floaters like Dwarf White Water Lily and Frogbits. All that’s left to do is fill with rainwater, and wait for the word to spread around the neighbourhood, amongst frogs, dragonflies, water boatman, and damselflies that there’s a inviting new water feature in town!

Talking about new features in town, we are particularly loving this month the display of self seeded evening primroses which seem to be popping up in all of our gardens. Tall, statuesque and very lovely.

We are also enjoying this month a couple of great new briefs; firstly from a client looking to turn their garden into an outside space for kids – one that works all year round.  Secondly, a habitat for bird spotting, which will include the aesthetics of leaving lots of seedheads on plants.

Talking of seedheads – to cut back alliums or not? That is the question. During much of our maintenance work there is always the dilemma of whether to cut back herbaceous perennials when they have flowered. Our advice is; if there is a possible second flush of flowers to be had, like for example with valerian, some salvias and bistort – then cut away. If not, leave seedheads to produce a lovely autumn feature, and provide an important food source for later in the season.

Talking of seasonal lovelies, I hope you are all enjoying making pavlovas out of the wonderful crop of berries we are getting this summer…

From Self Seeders to Heavy Feeders

How can it be May, our fave month of the year, already?

April flew by in a maze of several our new client garden designs being planted up; herbaceous perennials eagerly re-emerging through the soil, new veg seeds germinating and lots of new client pruning, planning & shaping.

And now early May has arrived with its beautiful blue wash of forget-me-nots self seeding all around, along with ramsons – wild garlic, now at their peak of aroma and pretty white flora.

From self seeders to heavy feeders, it’s that time of year again where we get busy feeding all our clients plants’ with blood fish/bone, and seaweed. We love to use organic, chemical free products, but even better are those we make ourselves! It’s easy – simply chop up leaves of nettles and comfrey plants, submerge in a bucket of water and leave for a few weeks! The result – a really effective nitrogen fertilizer for hungry feeders; and comfrey, which is high in potash/potassium – is great for flowering.

Talking edible landscapes, our fave plant of the month is bolted rocket. Yes, you read it right! Rocket, which is so quick and easy to grow (4 weeks at this time of year) is not only  absolutely delish, but when left to bolt, it sends out shafts of lovely ivory cream flowers which are not only really great for beneficial insects, but very beautiful to look at.               We are loving our early spring edible displays of flowering rocket alongside bronze fennels, soon to be complimented by wild carrot (Daucas carota) and dill.

Come and meet us any Friday afternoon at The Well Beeing Garden, James Wigg Practice, Kentish Town Health Centre, Bartholemew Rd, NW5 from 4pm -5:15pm where we curate a session of hort-therapy. Or if you need any inspiration for your garden or community plot,  give us a call.

Edible Garden Show – High Heeled Gardener Style!

Very excited about our stall at the Edible Garden Show this weekend March 20-22nd at Ally Pally, do come and visit us! Just putting the finishing touches on the weaving of our giant willow shoe. Our pruned pear branches have kindly just come into blossom; pea shoots and rocket plants in high heels all look rather original!

Come and hear Debbie, aka, The High-Heeled Gardener’s talk on Friday at 2:30, Saturday 12:30 and Sunday 2:30. Looking forwards to the drinks with James Wong. Cheers!

Winter Is on My Head, but Eternal Spring Is in My Heart

I am not sure I agree with Victor Hugo’s quote, ‘Winter is on my head, but eternal spring is in my heart.’ Don’t get me wrong, I look forward to the imminent coming of spring like all you good folk out there; the purest of white snowdrops and aconites already unfurling their golden yellow buds all over our clients’ gardens: Butter cream flowers of native primula vulgaris springing up, herbaceous perennials underground just starting to reveal the merest hint of fresh little green shoots. However, here at Of butterflies and bees, we really have been enjoying the very lovely framework of bare branches afforded by winter. The twisted stems of the hazel – corylus avellana contorted; the creamy bark of the Betula utilis jaquemontii, lovely shrubs like the ivory hues of winter flowering lornicera fragantissima. The end of Winter is the perfect time to contemplate the landscaping in your garden and plan ahead. We say, a winter’s garden should be a place to get out to and enjoy. A garden is for all seasons. Winter is on our head and in our hearts.

To this end, we have been busily topping up the winter interest structure in all of our clients’ gardens.

We also have several very exciting new design briefs in with a slightly unusual take on landscaping. A sunken den landscaped with objets trouvés; and a stumpery garden…

We are also very excited about working with a new school in Highgate, which was an original farm school. More news soon.

Holy Brassicas … I’ll Have to Dig Out My High Heels!

Come and meet us:
Monday 26 January. 7pm-9pm. Primrose Hill Books

The High-Heeled Gardener

Local author and artist: Debbie Bourne and Debo Jackson Brown

“To brighten the dull days of January, come and meet a hilarious couple of creative Transitioners who have written, illustrated and published a book describing their year of inventive gardening. The evening will also encompass the fashion industry, the joys of self-publishing, and encounters with their local MP, so you’re in for a highly entertaining evening!’

Venue: Primrose Hill library. Sharpleshall Street, London NW1 8YN

No-Dig Gardening – We Are Digging It!

Happy Horticultural New Year everyone!
As you all know, us folk at Of Butterflies and Bees remain dedicated to designing and maintaining edible, as well as wildlife friendly, landscapes for you. We know that growing annual veg can be time consuming, so our New Year’s resolution was to come up with something new…

Introducing … no-dig perennial vegetables?

Just before Christmas we planted up the garden of one of our Primrose Hill clients with perennial veg. (PV) But why PVs, I hear you ask? Why grow them?

The technical definition of a perennial veg is one that lives for at least 3 years. Some of the benefits of growing PVs are as follows:

  1. Less work. You don’t have to cultivate the soil each year.
  2. Better for the soil. When you stop digging the soil and grow perennial crops that cover and protect the soil, soil structure is maintained as is the all important microbial life that lives just beneath the soil. (See blog Feb 27th, 2014).
  3. Healthier food. Most perennial plants contain higher levels of mineral nutrients as they have larger and permanent root systems.
  4. They extend the harvest season.

We have all heard of the perennial vegetables asparagus and artichoke – but we would like to introduce you to some new ideas.

How about:

  • Babingtons leek (Allium ampeloprasum babingtonii) A perennial leek which all parts  are edible with a leek-garlic flavour.
  • Sea Beet (Beta vulgaris maritima). A perennial, growing up to 1.2 m (4 ft) high when it flowers, native to the coasts of Britain and Europe. A parent of Swiss chard, the leaves are similar but with less of a thick mid-stalk and are excellent eating cooked.
  • Daubenton kale (Brassica oleracea ramosa). A perennial kale with nutty-flavoured leaves available all year round.
  • Siberian pea shrub (Caragana arborescens). A large leguminous shrub from Siberia, reaching 6 m (20 ft) high and growing some 40 cm per year. The seeds, produced in pods following yellow flowers, are edible when cooked. Bees visit the flowers and the species is a good fixer of nitrogen.
  • Perennial wall rocket (Diplotaxis tenuifolia). A low growing perennial whose peppery leaves are excellent in salads.
  • Caucasian spinach (Hablitzia tamnoides). A trailing perennial climber which prefers some shade and produces excellent edible leaves and stems throughout spring.
  • Really beautiful is Szechuan pepper (Zanthoxylum schinifolium). A very aromatic shrub growing 2 m (6 ft) or more high. The leaves can be used as a flavouring, but the main use is the peppercorn-like black seeds, which are used a spice (peppery and fragrant) A fab, pungent addition to a nice lemony cocktail!
  • … or Honeyberries which are edible forms of the honeysuckle (Lonicera). The fruits are very similar to blueberries in taste and looks, and can be eaten raw or used in jams and jellies. Like blueberries they are high in antioxidants and vitamin-C and make an interesting addition to your fruit collection.

As Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall recently commented about growing perennial veg, ‘We are not just missing a trick, we are missing a feast!’

Ssshhh… Don’t Tell Anyone!

Rather than work quietening down for us in the winter months allowing us to go into a cozy hibernation with our friendly wildlife, we have had several new design briefs this month.

First up, within a major re-design of a large garden in NW3, we have been asked to incorporate a secret passageway using a mix of soft landscaping. Our first point of call was to re-shape the existing shrubbery. We often find how amazed our clients are when they see how different their garden looks after it’s had a good 5 hour sculpting by our Andy Morris. When overgrown shrubs and trees are cut back, all kind of secret new vistas are found and framed. December/January, when all is dormant, is the perfect time of year to be re-shaping your garden. Aimed at the kids (ok – and adults!) the next stage of our secret passageway is going to be to add layers of new shrubbery and some hazel wood work. Roll on Spring, it will be time to get lost in the jungle – NW3 style!

We really enjoy designing landscapes for kids, and talking of kids, we have also just been asked to re-design the grounds of a large school in N6. More news soon.

We also have been asked to design a colourful edible landscape for a lovely garden in NW5. In this we will plant a cornucopia of edibles ranging from the lovely red leaved tinged Lolla rossa which will be inter-planted with Salvias; climbing beans and passion flowers intermingled, a bed of edible flowers such as Viola odorata…

Talking of edibles, another area of expertise that we have been cultivating this month is perennial veg. From Babbingtons leek, to Daubertons kale; from both an ecological and  aesthetic point of view, perennial veg is a highly important. For all you wanted to know about perennial veg but were afraid to ask – tune in to next months blog!