Why we love front gardens!

This week we are working on a great new job to transform a small, overgrown Belsize Park front garden into a wildlife habitat. Columns of herbs adding a formal edge to the design. A palette of whites and purples aiming to delight the residents in all 7 of the flats. The planting of season round nectar rich plants aiming to attract all manner of butterflies and bees whilst adding texture and shape. We have also included the very lovely Rosa rugosa ‘Scabrosa’ to our planting list. Apart from being shade tolerant, it will provide lovely big hips in the Autumn, great for making rosehip syrup, or a delish rosehip jam.

So, why do we love front gardens? Because we say to all you folk out there, rip up the drive, get rid of that concrete and show your neighbours and the community around you, that front gardens can do more than looking beautiful – they can be beneficial too!

Free companion (plant!) Come and meet us in Swiss Cottage this weekend…

We have been invited by Swiss Cottage library/Camden Council to run a workshop this Saturday 18th May on ‘Attracting wildlife into your outside space.’ We’ll be outside the library between 2pm-4pm. Come and meet us and take home a free marigold plant – great for wildlife and a very important companion plant.

Colour and community engagement in a truly inspiring brief from a TMO in Brent…

We have just been given the go ahead on a truly inspiring project in Brent to bring a burst of colour and community engagement into an estate in Brent with the most wonderful grounds. This is our fave kind of project where horticulture becomes so much more than a question of garden design and planting, but provides an opportunity for engaging with a whole community – with 500 flats and 25 cultures living around the gardens we are really excited about the potential.

Not forgetting to mention . . the planting of beneficial plants and shrubs will also provide another pollinator pathway in a much needed area of London!

A whole new take on fruit salad…

2013-06-03 16.33.35Last Autumn, we were given a brief at Fitzjohns school to plant an area of fruit bushes…

With the aim of really engaging the kids we decided to turn it into a fruit salad patch, lotsa currant bushes, raspberries etc all inter planted with quick growing salad crops. We had great fun at club painting up a fruit salad sign on a piece of re-claimed tree bark. The shrubs are now full of blossom and our Summer cocktail of fruits is surely just round the corner.

Food for free…cleavers pesto.

We were invited by City farm to run a community workshop last weekend. Whilst the workshop was billed at being a nettle workshop, as the weather has been sooo cold, even the nettles have been slow in growing! What to do – aha, cleavers.

Cleavers, aka Goosegrass, are growing all around us at the moment – they make a delicious pesto. Simply pick a handful, mix with some chopped up garlic and pine nuts, blend with oil and voila a simply delish pesto.

So good for you…local food production at its very best! As the growing season kicks in, why not grow basil, pick ramsons (wild garlic)….what other ideas can you come up with for your very own homemade pesto?

A whole new meaning to the term book worms…

We have just been asked by a certain council to design for the grounds in one of their large libraries, a series of beds which look like opened books. The beds will be filled with flowers/plants referenced in books to be found in the library. Methinks the book could be surrounded by a weave of hazel.

Brings a whole new meaning to the term book worms….

A wildlife garden why? The Kentish Towner explains.

Great piece this week in the Kentish Towner about ‘Of butterflies and bees’ and our social enterprises, both online and in print.

“First, some news just in. Soho House Group have agreed to sponsor six planter/bike locks which will be manufactured by Kentish Town’s very own Front Yard Company. Designed and maintained by the folks at social enterprise Of Butterflies And Bees, in association with the Urban Gardening group of Transition Kentish Town, the stands will be positioned along Kentish Town Road and filled with a variety of beautiful wildflower plants and herbs . . ”

Read the rest here 🙂

New client – a ten year old!

We had a great day out on Saturday at Parliament Hill farmers market where we ‘Gave peas a chance’ and sowed soooo many peas with lotsa young gardeners. What tickled our fancy most was that we have been invited to go and receive a brief from a potential new client – she is ten years old! She wants to attract butterflies and bees into her garden. How cool is that!

Why a wildlife garden?

Why a wildlife garden?

Come and meet us – kids can make nettle soup and give peas a chance!

During March we will be running three free community events. On Saturday March 9th, 10am-2pm, you will find us at Parliament Hill Farmers market where we have been invited to run a stall teaching kids how to grow lettuce and peas. We say give peas a chance! The following Saturday on March 16th, we will be running a ‘pop up editorial office,’ for The Ecobeat, a kids newspaper which we will be launching in June. Finally on Sunday March 24th 11am-2pm we will be running a nettle workshop. Come and learn how to make nettle soup and nettle pesto – soo good for you and the environment.

Bike planters – greening up our high street!

Very exciting – we are working alongside the urban gardening group of Transition Kentish Town to design and maintain several bike lock planters which will be placed all along Kentish Town High St. Thanks to the sponsorship from the team at Pizza East, the project has just been given the go ahead. We are imagining herbs and wildflowers… people parking their bikes and breathing in a beautiful aroma. If any shop owners out there are interested in having a bike planter outside their premises, do give us a call!

A School Literary Garden

Very excited … our idea for the design of a literary garden has been commissioned by a school in NW3. What greater way to get those kids reciting and engaging with beautiful Shakespearean language than by having the flowers and plants, mentioned in the plays, all around them in the playground!

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:

There sleeps Titania sometime of the night,

Lull’d in these flowers with dances and delight.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Act 2 Scene 1 255-60)

Our planting plan will also include: Lavender (The Winters Tale – A4 Sc5); Rose (Hamlet – A4 Sc5); Fennel (Henry IV Pt2 – A2 Sc4); Crab Apple (The Taming of The Shrew – A2 Sc1); Roses (Henry VI – A2 Sc4).

What a fabulous way of linking garden design with a school curriculum! If only the head would let us build a raised bed, which from a top shot, looks like an opened classical book.

That Woodland Edge Effect

As all gardeners know, particularly those that follow the principles of permaculture, the most productive and fertile part of a woodland or forest is often its edge. This interface between areas not only provides a place where the most interesting growth takes place, but also furnishes habitat opportunities for a diverse range of wildlife species. Did you know that you can create your own mini woodland edge effect in even the smallest of gardens?

This week, we have created a woodland edge in another of our client’s back gardens. It was sooo easy to do. After clearing much of the general over growth (and more nettles!), cutting back the trees, clearing one half of the ground over plants (leaving the snowdrops which are already peeking through)…we prepared the area for our new woodland edge plants. Using the principles of permaculture, we will plant up through several layers of canopy, based on the principle that because plants grow to different heights, a diverse community of life is able to grow in a relatively small space.

For ground cover, we selected the early flowering ‘Lesser Celandine’ whose little yellow flowers will spread in no time to form a yellow carpet (much loved by the Flame Brocade Moth). These will be mixed with the lovely white April flowering ‘Wood Anemone’ (loved by the Fern Moth). From April to June, the pretty purple ‘Germander Speedwell’ (loved by Spotted Fritilary Butterfly) will flower to mix in nicely with late Spring to Summer’s (and sometimes a second flowering in the Autumn) ‘Yellow Pimpernel’ (loved by the Green archer moth), a great nectar plant.

For the second layer in our canopy we planted several semi-shade tolerant currant shrubs; red, white and black! Leaving just enough room to plant a dwarf ‘Gisela,’morello cherry tree. Growing to 7’, it will produce a cluster of slightly sour tasting berries in July, perfect for making morello cherry jam, me-thinks. Only prob, is the birds might get at them first. Half for them, half for us, we say!

For the final layer we planted several climbing honeysuckle plants. Lonicera japonica, ‘Halls prolific’ will work well in the dappled light/semi shade, climb nicely up around the beautiful Silver birch trees, and provide masses of fragrant white flowers turning a lovely buttery shade.

Quickly time to pile all of our tree cuttings into a corner to form a warm and snug duvet of a log pile for resting Winter wildlife…and it was time to retire for a nice cuppa.

Curvy Sandstone Paving

It might be siesta time for much of garden life, but early January is a great time of year to be thinking about garden landscaping. We’ve been working this week on designing a really lovely elliptical shape for a paving area in a client’s back garden. Time to bring out the angle-grinder! It’s oh so easy to have a perfect rectangular shaped paving area, so we were delighted to be given the brief to come up with something a little different. Having also managed to procure some wonderful warm honey toned sandstone @ £25 per square metre (York paving at £75 per square metre, move over) – for a mere few hundred pounds we are, this week, putting the finishing touches on a fab new landscaped area for our client. All that’s needed is some complimentary coloured wooden furniture, a large glass of G&T and a bird feeding station, then it’s time to sit back and enjoy the beauty of late winter, watching the buds of those first early woodland spring plants soon appear.

Quinoa’s Rainbow Effect!

Here’s another unusual idea for growing beneficial plants that are edible as well as looking beautiful – our fave combo! We’ve just designed a bed that will have grains growing in it. Yes, it is possible (and easy) to grow your own grains here in the UK. We are talking quinoa, which we will start to grow and pot on in April, ready for a September harvest. Quinoa, cooked just like rice, tastes good, is rich in lysine, and gives a good nutritional balance to your meal. And as for the rainbow colours – well how lovely are they going to look in a bed mixed with rainbow chard, perhaps surrounded by more statuesque plants like corn or beans!

Colourful Quinoa.

Colourful Quinoa.

Nettles and Gooseberries

Meanwhile, at another client’s house, we were asked to clear a huge, invasive nettle patch. Now… this poses somewhat of a quandary for an environmentally friendly gardener:

  1. Nettles are just about the most wildlife friendly plant there is.
  2. Nettles are incredibly useful. (Soup, pesto, organic fertiliser, string – yes we did make nettle string with one of our school gardening clubs recently).
  3. Nettles are a sign of a healthy soil, replete with nitrogen.

However, we removed the majority of the nettles and the area we created freed up space for a mini fruit orchard into which we planted several gooseberries and black and white currant shrubs (in the more shady area).

Shrubs and Haircuts

It’s that pruning time of year again! Armed with secateurs and shears we march on…ready to cut, shape and cordon. Talking of shaping, Andy, our chief shaper (we are sure he must have worked in a hairdresing salon once) was asked by a client to heavily cut back a number of shrubs and trees which were drastically taking light out from the garden. It’s a hard decision for a client to make, in writing terms, we call it ‘kill your darlings.’ Two days, several (hundred) cups o tea with initially reluctant neighbours, later, the garden looks absolutely amazing.

Benchmark Herbs

Another brief arrived for a front garden to include a bench (methinks will suggest a bespoke one made from pallets – see website www.palletfurniture.co.uk of our good friend Ali Stephens).

As the front garden is small surrounded by a cream wall, a lovely palette of whites and yellow and silvers…abounding with aroma and elegant, graceful and beneficial plants, for example; Angelica and Nicotiana Sylvestris – the tobacco plant which attracts bats with its night scent! A hedge of six different thymes to complete the effervescent look as well as providing a mix of sweet and pungent fragrance.

Ramsons and Shady Places

Aah, a shady woodland area. The brief from another client was to plant some early spring flowering plants. Simple … we love love love Ramsons. Ramsons flower in Feb/March, have pretty white flowers, shapely green edible green leaves with the most heavenly pungent aroma. When chopped up and added to a stir fry they are unbeatable…and best of all, they love shade. Add to that some Red Campion for later Spring, some Dog Violets, Wood anemone, and some Figwort for later in the year, and the scene is set…

Wildflower Lawns

One of our highlights of the week was planting a rather lovely wildflower lawn. Our client’s garden was a rather formal one, filled with box and topiary surrounding two large circular shaped manicured lawns. Our client, having read our thoughts on the importance of each and everyone of us doing our pollinator,  asked for our design help. As the grass was amazingly still warm (as lovingly also noted by Monty Dom in one of his twitter posts this week) we straightaway suggested planting wildflower plugs into the lawn, to which she readily agreed, with the proviso that we stuck to a colour palette of purple and white. As her lounge was on the first floor, we thought a wildflower dotted lawn, as well as providing a wonderful habitat for visiting creatures, would also look very lovely from her lounge window! A week later having planted a mass of wild basil, betony, self heal, white clover and germander speedwell plugs, we all shared a cuppa, some homemade quinoa biccy’s, and enjoyed the result!

Plugs for Dig It!

Now, we don’t really like buying vegetable plug plants as a rule, as we like to grow veg from seed, but for two local schools, we decided on this occasion to order a small winter garden selection of veg plugs from Garden Organic and the £39.00 was split between two of our local primary state schools, who as well as being maintenance clients of ours, are from where we run weekly gardening clubs. ‘Dig it!” I must say, the quality of the plugs were great, and very plentiful (until doubtless our local wildlife friends enjoy their equitable share of the goodies) Also, some of the veg were fairly unusual enabling us to teach the kids and community about some lesser known kale and winter salad crops, particularly Japanese greens like Mizuna.