A little while ago I moved on from the garden which, for the most part, provided the recurring inspiration for this blog. As a near full-time gardener employed by its owner, this small yet indomitable and humbling landscape stimulated within me observations of a certain variety; reflections that would sit comfortably together on a page. This is one of the factors which made the act of updating and maintaining this blog relatively effortless, and something of an enjoyable process. Since my departure from the garden however, it has been difficult to continue at the same pace, having yet to settle on any particular focal point or muse.
I thought for a while that I might instead turn my attention to ‘weeds’. Living in a dense city, when your feet experience little besides concrete, tarmac and mortar, the rosettes and protruding stems which unfurl along the surface have become a new novelty to me. Their contrasting green against the pavement and my insatiable need to identify and familiarise myself with any unknown plant variety combine to form an inquisitiveness that regularly stops me in the street. During the winter months it was the thought and visualisation of what flowers would soon spring from the green that most interested and excited me. Recognising leaves beneath their coating of dirt (kicked up by the street-cleaning vehicles and passing pedestrians); knowing, but often not knowing, what colours and forms they would provide if left to flourish or simply survive, this was to me a kind of secret thrill, an escapism or even refuge perhaps. So I began to take photographs and to log the details, with the intention of beginning a new chapter on this blog.
Sadly both time and preoccupation got in the way, and in place of the garden I’ve been absorbed in a couple of garden designs and a book commission. However the photographs remained on my phone and having spotted a particularly colourful curb-side display this morning, I felt compelled to make use of them.
‘The more we seem effortlessly – but temporarily – to eradicate weeds, the less we bother to understand them. They were regarded as powerful medicines, and more pragmatically as important contributors to domestic economy. Their appearance now sparks reflexes, not reasoning. They are regarded as inexplicable and impertinent intruders, quite unconnected with the way we live our lives’.
Richard Mabey writes this in his popular 2010 book, Weeds. It’s a fine observation of the cultural shift in the association between man and weed. To write much more on this subject would be to power-phrase Mabey’s fantastic work. So I wont. But the question that most often reoccurs in my mind when I stumble upon these unexpected ‘conquerers of the concrete’, is one relating to ornamental quality. To me this is the most interesting; what is it in us that will allow some plants to thrive and others not. Why do we take pleasure in a roadside violet, but chemical spray a dandelion. Is it ignorance? Practicality? Taste? ..Or is it a far more complex response. I have always believed that in taking time to learn about the plants around us, we grow to appreciate and often cherish them. However I myself am guilty of overlooking a Shepherd’s Purse flower (Capsella bursa-pastoris) in favour of another, perhaps more showy plant.
A recent written commission took me across the water to the cities of Toronto and Detroit. Although the two occupy separate countries, they share their regional territory with an ancient woodland: the Carolinian forest. Much of this once sprawling and prolific disiduous wood has sadly been lost, 90% in fact. Originally spreading across America, climbing North-West from the Carolinas into southern Ontario, Canada, sadly now only pockets can be found: those baring the original broadleafed footprint of the true Carolinian forest.
Having undertaken the otherwise strictly-urban commission in prime-time, fully swung, brightly glowing autumn, making a few dashed escapades into the surrounding woods was something I couldn’t have resisted. More images on the AWAY page.
Really pleased to have had the garden photographed and featured in this fantastic book. I feel very honoured to be included alongside such iconic London gardens as Lambeth Palace, Winfield House, Hampton Court and even 10 Downing Street..
The book was written by Victoria Summerly and included photographs by the fantastic, Hugo Rittsen-Thomas. It’s available from Amazon.co.uk, and here’s a sneak peek..
During the course of my time at the garden in Richmond I’ve recorded notes, thoughts and reflections on this blog, however I’ve also been keeping a physical diary. Spanning the five years I’ve spent developing the grounds, numerous notebooks have been (almost) daily filled, with not just the mechanical day-to-day lists and reminders of a working garden, but with observations that recount everything else that comes with working in an outdoor, and often wild environment.
In late 2015, I spent some time putting together a journal which I’ve named, ‘Ivy Cities’. The journal comprises diary entries, photographs and workings selected from my notebooks, and serves to preserve, in a small way, some of the memories and experiences that went with caring for this wonderful garden.
Ivy Cities has had a limited print-run and copies are available for order. I ask for a donation of £8 per copy, which covers printing and postage. Please contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org for orders and further information.
I went to meet the illustrator of a much-loved and treasured book from my childhood, Peter Cross. Peter’s drawings capture the back-garden, natural-world with exquisite, precise and entertaining botanical detail. During my recent correspondence with him, Peter noted that his garden was in fact his greatest work, and kindly agreed to discuss both his artwork and his outdoor-influences with me at his home in Surrey. From the perspective of both gardener and nature enthusiast, it was a great privalige to meet the man behind this unique book.
You can hear this short podcast on my ‘Listen’ page: Listen
Marsh Marigold flowering stoically in the pond. The more this area of the garden develops (now in its 6th year since filling and planting up) the more I’m drawn to it. Garden ponds, no matter what the size or scale, are forever an eye witness source of evolution. You begin with a few periphery plants and before you know it you have all kinds of aquatic growth appearing from water mint and iris to frogs and damselflies. Marsh marigold however (Caltha palustris) is the true beacon in the bog, so to speak. It’s one of our oldest native wildflowers in fact, having pushed its little yellow light bulbs up through the thawing ice-age.