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Archive for January, 2012

This week I climbed up to the roof of Thornton’s Budgens supermarket in Crouch End, N.London, and discovered three fantastic enthusiastic volunteers gardening at ‘Food from the Sky’. If you want to improve your gardening knowledge and have some time you can spare, then what better way to learn than to volunteer.

The  roof top scheme is the brainchild of Azule-Valerie Thome, and now employs an urban farmer, Jack Aspery (above), who directs the horticultural activities once a week, every Friday.

Ayako Tokumine volunteers on Wednesday mornings, every week from 10a.m-1p.m. and on Fridays too alongside Jack. She loves the gardening and feels she greatly benefits from Jack’s shared expertise. When not volunteering, Ayako translates English into Japanese and is interested in environmental and conservation science. She’s also researching insects that come to the roof and developing ideas for organic pest control.

Ed Brooker works as a personal tutor, but loves being involved with ‘Food from the sky’. He’s helping to develop a template to share with other growing projects, acting as a transferable model that other supermarkets could follow.
Vincent McGarry, a retired radio and TV journalist, really enjoys getting involved with the practical demands of roof gardening.
He’s helped build the bottle greenhouse, above, and is continuing to work on ideas to put a roof on the structure that will be able to withstand the elements at such a height.

At the moment, the lovely decorative mustard leaf ‘Green Frills’ is doing well inside the greenhouse,

alongside some Land Cress (Barbarea verna, above)

and some Winter Marvel lettuce.

There’s an impressive array of salad leaves growing merrily away outside the greenhouse for January too, such as Mibuna above, and all the salad leaves are harvested once a week in winter and sold in the supermarket below. How great is that! Areas are being prepared now for growing tomatoes and beans which will go on sale at Budgens later on in the year.

I feel I’ve learned a lot too from my brief visit to this amazing gardening space. At the moment I have a large amount of self-seeded Rocket at my allotment, aided by our incredibly mild winter this year. But seeing what has been achieved by the gardeners at ‘Food from the sky’ has really inspired me to plan ahead for plenty of late summer salad sowings, so that I too will be harvesting interesting and tasty leaves all winter long.

If you fancy volunteering at ‘Food from the sky’, sessions are on Wednesdays 10a.m.-1p.m. working with Azule, the first Saturday of every month from 10a.m.-3p.m. and Fridays 8a.m.-4p.m.working with Jack.

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I don’t often write about gardening ‘stuff’, but I was so delighted with a recent gift, that I had to share. Having broken a few cups and mugs on my gardening travels, these enamel coated tin mugs are just the ticket to pop into a basket with a flask of hot coffee. And you do need plenty of hot drinks at this time of year! I’m a big fan of Rob Ryan‘s paper cuts, so mug and design combined will make drinking my coffee an even more pleasurable experience on a cold wet winter’s day.

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I’ve just spent the morning working in a client’s garden that was packed full of Sarcococcas (Christmas or sweet box). The perfume was intoxicating, mesmerizing even, and it just got me thinking about how important scent is in a garden.

Plants with a powerful winter scent jump to mind easily,

such as the delicious Viburham bodnantense ‘Dawn’ (above),

the subltle perfume of Daphne Bholua (above),

and the delicate aroma of Mahonia japonica (above), with a scent akin to that of Lily of the Valley,

but as the year progresses, I find myself  being seduced into using colours, form and texture for planting plans,

with scent really taking a back seat. So while sitting on a bus, I gave myself the challenge of calling to mind flowers and shrubs that provide fragrance for the garden for the rest of the year.

Euphorbia Robbiae with Hyacinth ‘Blue Jacket’

In  March and April I recalled the heady scent of Hyacinths really knocking my socks off,

and Clematis armandii delicately perfuming the air , especially on warm sunny days in March and April. Oh, and the delicious honey scented Euphorbia mellifera.

Pittosporum tennuifolium flowers

The flowers of Pittosporum tennuifolium are so tiny and dark that you barely notice them , but last April, the sweet scent caught me unawares as I passed by this wonderful (and very useful) evergreen shrub whilst I worked away in my own garden. Will grow happily in semi-shade too.

May did fox me for a while, but Lily of the Valley has to be one of my all time favourite scents, and how could I forget Wisteria (call myself a gardener!).

For June, July and August, fragrant choices abound from Roses (which flowered well in to December last year too!), Lillies,  mock orange-Phildelphus and star Jasmin-Trachelspermum jasminoides. But I started to struggle as I mentally planned ahead for the autumn months.

Roses will still be flowering in September, and then I remembered the delicious scent and waving wands of Actaea Simplex (aka Cimifuga atropurpurea) as I entered into the magical Jardin Plume  last year. These should flower well into October too.

And taking us through November and December is the wonderful shrub Camellia sesanqua, a joyous surprise, both for its loud scent and riotous colour (and also happy in semi-shade),  as autumn turns into winter and the rest of garden looks as if it’s shut up shop for the year.

Erriobotya in bloom 2Another evergreen and beautifully architectural largish shrub (or small tree)  is Eriobotrya japonica, also known as a Loquat. More subdued in colour and perfume than the above Camellia, its scent is a real treat when least expected on a frosty morning in November and well into December.

Then I thought I’d start all over again with all year round colour, then all year round structure and this brought me back to the Sarcococcas, planted where I was working both as evergreen arching shrubs (eventually growing to about 4-5ft, 120-150cm) and more formal hedging. With its small glossy dark green leaves, the ability to grow in shady parts of the garden (even dry shade in mine) and the added benefit of its fragrant perfume, it’s a great structural plant for any garden and one I wouldn’t be without in my own!

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