Winter Structure… to Be or Not to Bee

As all trained garden designers know, at least one third to one half of any garden design should comprise of shrubs or small trees, to allow for that all important Winter structure when the herbaceous perennials die back for their Winter snooze. And talking of HP’s dying back, the RHS are quick to teach how the gardener’s main job at this time of year is to trim and cut back all perennials, make the garden neat and tidy for the Winter.

At OBAB we don’t always agree with the RHS view of design. We are not afraid of seeing empty spaces in the garden through which to view the big, sternly beautiful Winter sky.

We are not afraid of seeing patches of healthy, nutrient-rich soil thriving with microbial activity over which we scatter a Winter feed of organic green Winter tares and rye.

Infact, we postively encourage all of our clients to enjoy seeing the plants die back slowly, to allow the seed heads to fully develop and provide food and shelter for our local friendly wildlife.

From flat umbel heads of yarrow, to spiky and architectural teasels and thistles; from  Penstemons and Rudbeckias to Asters and Anemones, there is still much to enjoy and benefit to be had from these HP’s as they die back. Not forgetting to mention grasses which are still very much in their prime at this time of year. Including our fave grass of September – Pennisetum.

We are however encouraging our clients to think about Spring and early New Year colour. To this end we have been busily planting lots of lovely Spring bulbs (we love the dwarf Irises) and of course our favourite – Ramsons, for the pretty white Feb/March flowers, their leaves to be used in pesto and stir fries, and the early pollen they arrive.

Another firm fave of ours at the mo. is the Crab Apple ‘Red sentinel.’ Truly a small tree for all seasons. From wonderful blossom in the Spring to pectin rich small, bonny apples in the Autumn, many of which we have been recently using at a number school and local Transition events, to make hedgerow jams.

Talking about structures, we are working on some very interesting design briefs at the moment incorporating hazel hurdles, and secret passages…more news soon.

Having spent an incredibly busy September and October planting up lots of lovely Spring bulbs.

Camden in Bloom Gold Award – Special Needs Horticulture

Just announced, our design for the grounds at St Pauls CE Primary school NW3, has won a gold award in Camden in Bloom for the best Biodiversity garden. The school has also been given the accolade of being the second greenest school in Camden, partly down to the ‘Dig it’ club we run there.

On behalf of Fitzjohns school we also picked up a gold award for the work done on creating energy efficiency through-out the school grounds. We are working with Fitzjohns on a wonderful new project to link sustainability into the curriculum, and working to support and encourage special needs children through horticulture.

The Best Habitat?

Here’s an interesting design connundrum. Take two new clients each with a different take on what they want from their garden and what do you get? Answer, a lovely garden, half of it designed to look very formal, with clipped holm oak and forsythia hedges, geometric, concreted troughs planted with architectural plants and grasses. The other half, a naturalistic swath of wildflower meadow, a giant wildlife pond, a wooden eco studio…

We have just taken on the maintenance of new build in NW3 and we must admit the contrast between the two design halves works really well… That’s not to say we won’t be doing our bit busily adding Ramsons for wonderful February colour, aroma and culinary treats and Comfrey, Borage and a nettle patch to make homemade fertilizer….just don’t tell our client!

Talking NW3, a lovely design project we have just taken on is the build/landscaping around an outside classroom for a primary school. Our project called, ‘The Hide’ will include a series of RSPB themed resources, and planting plan to encourage birds and beneficial insects. These will be linked to a curriculum aimed at inspiring kids to embrace the natural world all year round. Now where are my binoculars…

Do come and meet us at our ‘Guide to Spring bulb planting’ at the Well Beeing garden, Kentish Town Health Centre, Bartholemew Rd, NW5, next Friday 5/6 between 2pm-3:30pm

Ladybird Larvae to Liatris Spicata

Gosh is it July already? We were so busy during June that we didn’t even get a spare mo to write a post. Lot’s of inspiring new clients and varied projects to report upon from wonderful secret garden in Primrose Hill, to a shrub heavy garden in Holloway. We have also just taken on the maintenance of a block of flats in NW3. Residents be warned – your grass will no longer be mowed to within an inch of it’s life! We are growing the lawn to allow for beneficial insects, and replacing the herbaceous border with a pollinator one brimming with butterfly friendly flowers like liatris spicata.

We really enjoyed exhibiting at Grow London on Hampstead Heath and were delighted to hear that lumanaries such as Chris Beardshaw and Val Bourne had encountered as much trouble controlling slugs as we had during the wet Spring…

Talking unwanted pests, we are currently trialling the use of natural predators –  as a form of biological control. Even wildlife gardeners like ourselves, are forever fighting a battle against unwanted insect pests which damage our plants and edibles. Many of these pests have natural enemies and simply by introducing these predators, a control of pests can be achieved. To this end we have introduced ladybird larvae to help control of aphids in several of our garden’s, and lacewing larvae for red spider mite.

If you have yellow mottling on your leaves, this could be cucumber mosaic virus (CMV)…To find our more about plant health, pop along to our one of weekly Friday workshops, 2-3:30pm, at the Well beeing garden, Bartholemew Rd, NW5 2BX. A full 6 month programme of workshops will be posted on this website soon.

Edible Landscaping – Et Al.

April was such a busy month for us that we didn’t even have time to write up any of our news. So, where to start…

We have taken on some wonderful new projects. We are loving the Edible landscaping brief given to us by a client in Kentish Town. To this end, we are currently inter-planting lots of interesting veg amongst herbaceous perennials, including red chard and rainbow beet amongst the stunning Monarda ‘Duke of Cambridge.’ Set off against an array of the very lovely crimson leaved cow parsley ‘Anthriscus sylvestris ‘Ravenswing’ – the garden is going to be edibly stylish!!

Talking of edibles, we love experimenting… If you love the taste of asparagus but don’t have space for permanent crops in your vegetable bed, asparagus peas are the perfect idea. These small, shrubby plants produce pretty, sweet pea-like maroon flowers which are followed by small seedpods. These pods have the flavour and consistency of asparagus when cooked in butter with a little salt – delicious!

Another project we are really enjoying designing and planting up is the rustic garden for a school in Primrose Hill. We are talking gorgeous retro cottage style planting surrounded by coppiced hazel arbours and trellis. Lot’s of lovely climbers. A real refuge and place of contemplation and fun for the pupils (and friendly local wildlife!)

We are also working on another local authority housing co-op in Brent. The brief is to bring colour and delight to the estate and really engage the residents.

We love our community engagement projects. We planted up our ‘Well beeing garden’ in the Kentish Town Health centre last week…watch out for a host of Summer events we are going to curate there, first up in early June, the building of a wildlife pond.

We are also working with several new front gardens around Camden…see our earlier blog on why we love working with front gardens.

With many of our other gardens, we have been busy working away on creating lawns. We have sown lots of bio-diverse grass seeds (see earlier blog) and will be welcoming lots of beneficial insects and pollinators into these sites. For a couple of clients, short of time (not wanting to wait the 6 weeks needed before walking on the grass) we have even layed turf – but no ordinary turf! We are talking wildlife friendly turf which looks like ordinary turf, but in fact has over 20 species rich cultivars in it!

From Wizard Dens to Wildflower Circles..

We have taken on lots of really exciting projects this month. We love the brief from our new Tufnell Park client to create a magical garden for their little boy. Amongst the landscape elements in our design (from hibernaculum and cairns to hobbit holes) is a really nifty wildflower mound into which we are building a slide. We also really enjoyed building a den out of living willow and know our clients will love seeing the willow green up over the next few months. We would urge more of you out there to build willow dens, but alas – it’s too late now! Once the willow is no longer dormant and starts budding, it’s no longer advisable to work with it. If you would like us to build you a living willow den/structure, you will have to wait until October!

Whilst we have been hugely busy over the past couple of weeks sowing grass seed for many of our clients (lots of white clover and fragrant pollinator lawns!), for one new client who has moved into a new build we are actually laying a species rich wildflower turf. We are really excited about working with this turf as an alternative to a standard monoculture grass lawn, as it has improved biodiversity (over 20 low growing wildflower species)

On another building regulatory note, this lawn will help meet standards such as BREEAM and the Code for Sustainable Homes.

Much of the soft landscaping we have designed for our clients over the last few weeks has included the creation of really interesting pockets and islands of pollinator rich grasses.

Imagine a lazy Summer eve, sipping a glass o’ homemade Elderflower bubbly, breathing in the aroma of a fragrant pollinator lawn …

Well Soiled…

It’s that time of year when it’s all about improving the soil. In horticultural terms, soil is everything. By getting the soil right, creating nutrient rich soil filled with well rotted manure, organic matter, homemade compost, or spent mushroom compost; by treating roots to mycorrhizal fungi; dressing top soil with seaweed extract – we are really helping enhance our soil, and getting the conditions right for the plants which we will be soon putting in for all our clients, to flourish. Not of course forgetting to mention we will also be creating a habitat for the populations of microbial activity which live beneath the soil. Did you know that in the upper 30-cm layer of soil there are about 25 tonnes of soil organisms like bacteria, fungi, earthworms!

As a company we believe in investing a good amount of our clients’ budget on soil preps; we are currently trialing Bio char – Carbon Gold, which also helps with carbon sequestration. We love working with Lakeland gold compost made from bracken and sheep’s wool – ( on many projects ranging from our NW2 local authority sites, to our Camden and Islington schools  – it’s a great alternative to peat. As an every day product, we are always very happy with a couple of dumpy bags of well rotted manure from Thompsons of Crewes Hill. (

Not forgetting to mention the best value compost of all – homemade compost!

We loving getting well soiled…although it’s not terribly glam. See Debbie below!

Any questions on how to improve your soil, or advice on creating your own homemade compost centre Give us a call!

From Scented Planters to Fruity Climbers

The start of February sees us busily bee-vering away on eleven really exciting projects – and this is meant to be the dormant season! From a client brief to create year-round scented planters for a school entrance, to creating a vertical design for a small garden in Camden – from creating a woodland slope in a lovely shady garden, to designing a mini orchard, it’s all go here.

Don’t forget that now is the time to get planting those bare-rooted fruit trees/shrubs. We are busily planting fan-trained cherry trees in particular at the moment. We are particularly loving the Cherry ‘Sunburst’ and ‘Stella’. These 15L fan trained cultivars will also bear lovely white flowers in the Spring. Not forgetting to mention the sour Cherry ‘Morello’ which is fab in tarts and jams, and is also semi-shade tolerant. If you would like some advice on how to select bare-rooted cultivars, give us a call!

A Happy New Year Indeed!

We have started the year by taking on three very exciting new projects.

Firstly, a wonderful large garden in the Islington area. The challenge is a classic one – the garden is very long and thin. To break this up, our design will incorporate areas of lovely soft landscaping; a white clover lawn, a fragrant pollinator lawn and a woodland edge. An area of lawn filled with white clover is a wonderful way to create an area of soft landscaping with a difference. Imagine a lawn dotted with white clover with a hint of pink, flowering May onwards. Clover is also a prime nectar source for bees and moths. We will also plant an area of the lawn with fragrant pollinator plants – a mini wildflower meadow. At the back of the garden is a slope filled with rubble and old soil. Our solution is to create a gently undulating slope filled with woodland edge Spring flowers.

Around the garden we are going to plant a delightful array of wildlife friendly herbaceous perennials and evergreens. Plants to inspire through all seasons, colours and light conditions. A scattering of fruit trees and shrubs will complete the lovely bucolic look and feel of this garden.

Our second project in Camden is a front garden. We are particularly happy that our client’s have taken on our recommendation of not just planting a usual ‘box’ standard hedging – but to create a hedge that will also act as a beneficial wildlife border. By adding hedging to provide hibernating sites, climbers with nesting and roosting opportunities and Winter/Autumn berrying shrubs, this front garden will not only have visual appeal, but be of great benefit to wildlife. We are thinking Ligustrum vulgaris (wild privet) to provide nectar for insects, Viburnum opulus (guelder rose) to provide nectar for birds, Crataegus monogyna (hawthorn) for flowers, berries and foliage, Rosa rugosa, a wild rose with magenta Summer flowers which are followed by masses of orange-red hips.

Talking of hedging, we are also very proud that a third new client we are working with are the TMO of another really inspiring Local Authority estate in Brent. We are working with them to transform the large grounds into an oasis of colour and envirnomental benefit. We have encouraged them to apply for the Woodland trust community hedging pack. We are envisaging that long pathways of bland metal fencing in our Council Estates will be replaced by miles of beneficial hedging, forming vital habitats, providing food, shelter and breeding sites. Wildlife hedging will also act as an important wildlife corridor linking urban areas together and acting as wildlife highways! and stop off-points.

Fewer than 1% of Britain’s 22,000 species of insects are garden pests, and many are beneficial pollinators and predators of garden pests.

The Well-Beeing Garden – Kentish Town Health Centre

Big Dig poster.001

We have been commissioned to design and create a wonderful new space outside the Kentish Town Health Centre. Called the ‘Well-beeinng garden,’ our concept will turn the over-grown area into a abundant, beautiful and beneficial space filled with plants and herbs that not only have healing qualities, but are bee friendly – hence the name, ‘The Well BEEing garden.’

We have organized a community event which takes place on Saturday 30/11 1-3pm, where we will all dig over the site to start to shape out the space. If you have got a spade and an hour free, please do come along and meet us!

Fancy Growing Your Own Beer? Then Hop Along…

In tandem with our local Transition groups in Belsize and Kentish Town, we are developing our very own beer: Belsize beer, Kentish town keg, and Hampstead Heath hop. Our bit is to advise how to grow the hops! We are looking for as many of you as possible to join in with the fun and plant some hop plug plants next March. Hops, a perennial are so easy to grow, not only are they are great climber and have very beautiful white flowers, are also extremely beneficial to wildlife, but they can also be turned into beer!

All the hops we all grow will then be harvested in September and sent along to local brewery The Bull in N6, who have agreed to brew the beer. Fast forward to October 2014 – we will all be drinking our very own beer in our local pubs.

To join in with the campaign, please get in touch.

Kentish Keg Poster v1-01

Purple Haze…

Just putting the finishing touches on the design of a very small but lovely back garden in Islington. The brief is to stick to a year round colour palette of purple and white – hues thereof. Thank goodness for Anemone blanda, a bulb which will provide a wonderful carpet of early delicate blues and purples in March to be followed by lots of Greater stitchwort, Germander speedwells and Muscari before the herbaceous perennials of pop back into life…who says early Spring has to be mellow yellow – with this design we say bring out the purple haze!


We have been busy, alongside Transition Belsize and Kentish Town, the last few weekends taking our apple press around to lots of local schools and events. We particularly enjoyed the event at the local forest/Montessori school in Camden whose grounds we have just started designing/maintaining.

Our fruit trees whizzo – Paul, was in attendance at the events. He would like to encourage you all to plant as many fruit trees as possible this Winter, as we are now heading towards the right time of year to plant those bare rootstocks!

Attention parents and teachers – please look in our community/schools resource section for, ‘The Story of Two apples,’ which provides a great workshop for kids wanting to consider the merits of local food!


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A Blooming Healthy Healthcare Centre!

We have been asked to come up with a design for a local NHS healthcare centre. The brief is to incorporate shrubs and plants which apart from looking beautiful, can be also used to create tinctures and herbal remedies – we are thinking Valerian, Rosehips, Echinacea, Feverfew, St Johns wort, Lavender, Elder, Comfrey, Rosemary…so many possibilities and colour palettes for a wonderful herbal landscape. But what we love most about this brief is that it gives us another opportunity to create a series of community engagement events. Healing through horticulture. We love it!

Our Woodland Spring…

We have been busy this week ordering thousand of wonderful, beneficial bulbs and plug plants on behalf of our clients to create that first flush of Woodland Spring…

The wood is where flowers start their year. They have to get out early to beat the shade of the leaves from deciduous trees which close over to create deep shadow by mid May.

The tapestry starts in February with the yellow chalice shaped flowers of Aconite, followed in March with the star like bright yellow flowers of Lesser celandine heralding the start of Spring. Wild primroses abound, gradually added to by the graceful nodding white and pink flowers of wood anemones which carpet the woodland floor. Bluebells follow along with the Yellow archangel flowers, and white stars of Greater stitchwort.

We particularly love Ramsons – wild garlic, with their umbels of long stalked white flowers and thick green leaves which are delicious chopped up and added to stir fries! These start to appear late March/early April.

Red campion, with their bright rose pink flowers start to appear from late April – another firm favourite of ours, and so good for encouraging beneficial wildlife.

Why not create your own mini woodland effect by planting some shade loving Spring plants in your garden.

Our fave combos:

Wild primrose with Wood anemone and Dog violet in deep shade

Germander speedwell, Greater stitchwort, Red campion and Bluebells in semi-shade.

Come and Meet Us at the Transition Belsize Green Fair.

Come and meet us on Saturday 28/9 at the annual Transition Belsize green fair. Kids, come and help us create a willow butterfly tree which we will fill with lots of lovely fluttering butterfly messages.

Time: Midday to 4pm.

Haverstock Hill

London NW3

From fragrant pollinator lawns…to Spring bulbs.

As we approach the end of September it’s the last chance to be thinking about sowing any lawn seed before the Winter sets in. But why lay just a traditional grass lawn? We are urging all of our clients to turn a section of the lawn over to create a fragrant pollinators Lawn.

With a mix of clovers, wildflowers (such as birdsfoot trefoil, self heal), and herbs, the sward contains no grasses, and is a truly diverse mixture. The mix is designed to be cut very infrequently, to ensure that the flowers are allowed to come into bloom. The mix will tolerate a little wear and tear, but is not terribly hard wearing. Come on, what’s stopping you!

Meanwhile, it’s been an incredibly busy period, we are currently ordering over 4,000 Spring bulbs for all of our clients. From February to May, our clients’ shady spots/woodland areas in the garden will be bursting with wild primrose, wood anemone and dog violets. Germander speedwells, greater stitchwort, red campion and blue bells will be in full colour in our semi-shade areas. We are plantings lots of ramsons – with their pretty white March flowers and gorgeous aroma – fab for cooking up in pestos stir fries. Wild tulips and snowdrops, winter aconites and lesser celandines will provide many a bed filled with a lovely Spring colour palette of yellows and whites.

Camden in Bloom – Our winning schools!

We are off this afternoon to pick up the following great awards for several of our school designs/campaigns:

Fitzjohns Primary School – Greenest School in Camden 2012/2013

Fitzjohns Primary School – 1st prize in horticultural/eco links to the curriculum

St Pauls Primary School – Second best food growing school in Camden.

Our view is however, that we are all winners. In Camden alone, so many schools now have beneficial and productive gardens, grounds and food growing clubs. Recent research by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) on behalf of the RHS has proved that students involved in school gardening were reported as providing pupils with:

  • Greater scientific knowledge and understanding
  • Enhanced literacy and numeracy, including the use of a wider vocabulary and greater oracy skills
  • Increased awareness of the seasons and understanding of food production
  • Increased confidence, resilience and self esteem
  • Development of physical skills, including fine motor skills
  • Development of a sense of responsibility
  • A positive attitude to healthy food choice
  • Positive behaviour
  • Improvements in emotional well being.

We will soon be starting to work with a Camden Montessori school helping turn their grounds into an even more magical, wildlife friendly and productive space with the aim of inspiring their nursery aged pupils and the community around them.

Supporting our community veg box scheme!

Last week we were delighted to be able to contribute a tasty amount of herbs from three of our community growing spaces to a fantastic new veg box scheme in NW5 – Our thanks go to the Year 3 kids from Eleanor Palmer school (a school whose grounds we have just taken over the maintenance of); the folk at our weekly food growing club at St Pancras Almshouses; and the Dig it Club at St Pauls School NW3. A well herby time was had by all, washed down by copious amounts of our freshly made elderflower cordial!

From ‘dyeing’ to meet you…to ‘lettuce be friends’

We love the clubs we run at local schools. Last week at Fitzjohns School we really enjoyed creating natural dyes from plants and veg and designing our own bamboo t-shirts. The madder plant we had grown in our natural dye bed worked particularly well. All that was left to do after a great creative session, was to enjoy a cuppa – a cup of HERBAL tea, that is, made from herbs picked from the garden. The pic shows Kyle enjoying a nice cup of fennel, lemon balm and chamomile tea!

Meanwhile over at St Pauls, several of the pupils are having a good look at how our inter-class ‘Lettuce be friends’ competition is coming along!