Tag Archives: gardening

Unexpected garden discovery in Marylebone

On a recent lunchtime wander around the neighbourhood, I was astonished to see this example of guerrilla gardening in the heart of Marylebone’s Harley Street medical district.

'Guerilla gardening' in Marylebone  'Guerilla gardening' in Marylebone

For those not familiar with the term, ‘guerrilla gardening’ describes the unofficial planting of seeds and plants to improve the urban environment. Typical sites include neglected planters and flower beds beside housing estates and other buildings, abandoned wasteland sites and bulb planting on grassed road verges and roundabouts.  So in an area which is generously planted with street trees and displays of bedding plants, it is surprising to find this example of a much wilder and frankly ‘untidy’ gardening.

On guerilla gardening by Richard ReynoldsFor the background to this movement and to see examples of guerrilla gardening, take a look at the following guide written by one of the London pioneers of this movement:
On guerrilla gardening: a handbook for gardening without boundaries
– Richard Reynolds

'Guerilla gardening' in MaryleboneAs the Weymouth Street example proves, one does not need a large ‘canvas’ to create a guerrilla garden. The sunflower and tomato plants have been planted around a tree in a space only 1m x 0.5m. Frankly I am astonished that they are flourishing in such an inhospitable situation! Rather embarrassingly, the exuberant tomato plant puts my own plants to shame. Apart from the hostile growing conditions next to the road, I am surprised this planting has survived the attention of human hands, whether by vandalism or ‘tidying’.

Nearby in Fulham, residents of Fabian Road are actively planting up the bare soil around pavement trees with the backing of the council, whose website currently features this short YouTube video of interviews with the gardeners:

Meanwhile, searching the library catalogue for ‘guerilla gardening’ unexpectedly turned up a novel: Guerrillas in our midst, by Claire Peate.

If unofficial gardening to brighten up the urban landscape doesn’t appeal, why not individually plant up window boxes, pots etc. or join together with neighbours in a community project? The Royal Horticultural Society has initiated the Greening Grey Britain campaign, one of several RHS campaigns which includes the Britain in Bloom and the School Gardening initiatives set up to improve the urban environment. The RHS website  gives advice and support; you can also search for volunteering opportunities. Remember that your library service stocks a number of books relating to urban and container gardening. The following titles are three examples which can be borrowed to assist you greening the urban landscape with ornamental and edible plants.

Growing up the wall by Sue Fisher Container gardening by Andrew Mikolajski The urban gardener by Matt James

One local initiative is found at Westminster’s Church Street Library , the site of a flourishing community garden. Information about and images of this project can be found in the recent post: A green oasis and a lot of fun.



A green oasis and a lot of fun

On guerilla gardening by Richard ReynoldsThe community gardening bug has bitten! We’ve posted before about the Marylebone Library garden, but did you know that not far away there is another band of green fingered enthusiasts making a beautiful green space around Church Street Library?

[I can’t help noticing that this book is available to borrow from Church Street Library… coincidence? Ed.]

Meeting on Saturdays from 10.00 to 11.30am, but with people popping by for maintenance tasks throughout the week, the project is led by volunteer head gardener Mike Wohl. Here are some pictures taken last week in the sunshine – Mike’s the one in the blue t-shirt:

All are welcome, no expertise needed – come and water the strawberries, plant some cucumbers, bring your little ones and get your hands dirty!


I Can Promise You a Rose Garden (The Marylebone Gardener)

RHS Enyclopedia of RosesOne advantage of being located at Marylebone Library is its proximity to Regents Park, beyond the Marylebone Road traffic fumes. After enjoying crocuses and other spring flowers it is now floral blockbuster time at the Queen Mary’s Rose Garden.

To be honest I am not too inspired by the beds of a specific rose variety grown en masse. Yes, it is impressive to see “carpets” of brightly coloured flowers but this disguises the fact that the plant is nothing to write home about minus its floral wow factor (which admittedly in massed beds does intensify the plants’ scent).

Rose beds  Rose beds

Stubby shootsHowever, if you take away these positives what is left – for much of the year – are some ugly stubby shoots sticking out from the main stem, ready to lacerate anyone who approaches too close!

It also does not help their cause that many hybrid tea roses are named after celebrities or sponsors eg “Redox Bouquet” – names that are hardly in keeping with the rose’s romantic and poetical associations.

This makes it seem I am not a rose fan. Not true! There are many climbing, rambling, wild and shrub roses which I consider attractive plants. An example of a rambling variety, ‘Rambling Rector’, is one of several varieties trained here on the ropes slung between posts to provide a dramatic garden feature. The posts and ropes frame the central circle containing the rose beds.

Rambling Rector rose   Rose trained up pillar and ropes

David Austin's English RosesThe garden also contains a number of varieties of shrub roses. These have a much better natural shape and therefore can be better fitted into a general planting scheme. Amongst the examples of historic varieties are a number of more recent varieties bred by the grower David Austin. Further examples of David Austin English roses can also be found nearby at Paddington Street Gardens South.

Lurking in curved border north-west of the central circular rose garden I was fortunate I discover another rose bred by David Austin “Kew Gardens“. I was so taken by the simple flowers and its useful habit of repeat flowering that I plan to include it to my new garden. There is not a strong perfume from the flowers but as it is a thornless rose one can approach the flowers closely to sniff without injury. It can be used for informal hedging and this effect can be seen here at Regents Park.

'Kew Gardens' rose  'Kew Gardens' rose detail

For anyone interested in growing roses check out the Library Catalogue for advice and inspiration. Remember you don’t need to travel to another library to pick up a copy. Simply reserve the copy from the catalogue and specify your home branch as the pickup location (there is a small charge for reservations – but it’s cheaper than the bus!).

The Rose, by Jennifer Potter  Growing Roses, by Alan Titchmarsh  How to grow beautiful roses, by Peter McHoy

If you’re now feeling inspired to grow roses, do use the useful RHS online resource Plant Finder to seek out nursery sources for your chosen variety.


Staff Garden – the Marylebone Gardener

On moving into Mackintosh House in August 2013, Marylebone Library staff discovered a raised earth bank behind the building. Rampant ivy and buddleia had been strimmed back, leaving bare earth which is surrounded by high walls and overhung by an overgrown privet bush. Fittingly, as the library stands on the site of the 17th-18th century Marylebone Pleasure Gardens, staff decided that rather than leaving it bare we would create a garden.

Marylebone Pleasure Gardens - 18th Century print


A collection of potted houseplants, transferred from the previous library, were lined up on top of the front retaining wall. Behind them, happily rooting around in the soil, two pig statues mysteriously appeared overnight. Around them the blank canvas awaited plants…

Pig in Marylebone Library staff garden

Pig among the garlic - Marylebone Library staff garden

It has been quite a challenge to create a garden on this site due to its situation at the bottom of a ‘well’ which receives little direct sunlight and sports ‘unfriendly’ soil conditions. A clue to what we were facing was the rather fine carpet of moss covering a heavy clay soil more suitable for brick making than supporting plants! In addition, after attacking this ground with a trowel it became very apparent that the bed was riddled with roots. All in all there was the temptation to put the entire garden to a spreading ground cover thug such ivy.

Undeterred by these conditions, over the last two years various plants have been added and some even thrived.

Bluebells and narcissi in Marylebone Library staff gardenSources include staff donations and purchases from a pound shop: don’t scoff! We had a welcome early splash of colour from a large bag of crocus bulbs which competed with grape hyacinths followed by Narcissus Golden Dawn all obtained from the same shop. One introduced plant which thrives in this heavy soil is Primrose.
The bluebells in front of the Narcissus predate our arrival and so they were a pleasant flowering surprise in the following spring.

It should be said that this is a very haphazard type of gardening with no real design element or planned planting. Any donated plants are introduced and left to sink or swim in these challenging environmental conditions.

I am also in the fortunate position of running a plant stall for a local gardening club and a number of unsold plants have come from this source, including the tough-as-old-boots orange flowing Crocosmia. This plant is rather shy in flowering, I suspect due to the lack of sunlight, but the plant does its job in covering a sizable area in green leaf. It is noticeable that due to the situation a number of plants do grow tall and spindly as a reaction to the relatively low light conditions.

Fern in Marylebone Library staff gardenAmongst the crocosmia,  to contrast with that plant’s narrow leaves, I have planted male ferns. These take an age to burst into leaf so I am always convinced that they have given up competing with the heavy soil conditions.

In fact this plot is rather “top heavy” with narrow strap-like leaved plants which include a military line of garlic which for some reason was not harvested last autumn. Optimistically I hope they will produce some flowers.

I have also planted three Acanthus mollis plants from side roots hacked off from a parent plant.

Acanthus in Marylebone Library staff garden     Acanthus

From This…                                      to This?


In addition to my library colleagues, other wildlife has been spotted in the garden. A regular visitor is a solitary pigeon attracted no doubt by left out bird food. It also makes use of a recently added birdbath. Other regular visitors are female and male blackbirds searching the ground for worms. On two occasions a small flock of great tits descended upon the buddleia searching for insects. In the summer the large privet bush is covered in white flowers. This attracts a number of bees; presumably from a nearby hive situated on some one’s rooftop garden. All these creatures have found their own way over the surrounding buildings to the garden.

Wormery in Marylebone Library staff gardenOne invertebrate deliberately introduced are Tiger worms for a wormery, which was bought to cut down the amount of food waste (cooked food and raw leftovers such as banana skins) which would otherwise be added to unrecyclable rubbish.

A rather disgusting smelling by-product of this compost making is the liquid drained from the container. However, suitably diluted, this liquid ‘rocket fuel’ did give an excellent boost last year to some malingering tomato plant seedlings.

Finally for any frustrated local gardeners you are welcome to join in a community gardening project at the library. Just turn up at Marylebone Library on Wednesdays between 10.30am and 12.30pm to help grow a variety of vegetables and flowers in containers.


Why bother with botanical Latin?

The Marylebone Gardener ponders…

Like many gardeners I am frequently irritated and bamboozled by plants’ botanical Latin names. Often difficult to pronounce and a nightmare for those of us with poor spelling skills, eg: Zygopyllum prismatothecum… Why are we stuck with botanical Latin? The simple answer is that the Latin botanical name is universally recognised and identifiable. Sticking to common names can cause confusion. Recently a library colleague asked me what a certain purple flowering plant was in the staff garden. On replying, “It’s a (hardy) geranium”, they said, “I thought they had red flowers” – referring to the pelargonium family.

Geranium pratense (Meadow Cranesbill) at Camley Street Natural Park, Kings Cross

Geranium pratense (Meadow Cranesbill) at Camley Street Natural Park, Kings Cross

Pig amongst the Pelargoniums (Marylebone Library staff garden)

Pig amongst the Pelargoniums (Marylebone Library staff garden)

Likewise there is common confusion over the name bluebell. Referred to in the Scottish folk song:

“Oh where, tell me where
Did your Highland laddie dwell?
He dwelt in bonnie Scotland,
Where blooms the sweet blue bell”

This refers to Campanula rotundifolia, commonly known as the harebell, rather than the ‘English’ bluebell Hyacinthoides non-scripta.

Flora Britannica, by Richard MabeyHere the plant’s common name is restricted to two, but other plants within Britain have many more local names. Sixteen names have been recorded for the dandelion, including lion’s-tooth, puffball, fairy clock and pissabed! When you consider that many plants can be found growing across continents, the use of local names just doesn’t work for identification purposes. It’s fascinating from a cultural / historical viewpoint though, and Richard Mabey’s extraordinary Flora Britannica is a mine of curious information.

Latin names are often long due to the fact that they are frequently portmanteau words made up of descriptive elements within it. So returning to the hare bell the Latin name Campanula = bell-like (flower) and rotundifolia = round foliage. These descriptive elements occur in many botanical names and so are useful clues to the plant’s appearance such as colour, leaf shape or growing habit.

You may be aware of the name Carl Linnaeus (1707 – 1778) the Swedish botanist who brought order to previous attempts to classify plants by dividing 7,700 species into 109 genera each one having an unique botanical name. In spite of being born and dying in Sweden, Linnaeus spent a significant part of his active life in England so warrants an entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. His entry can be consulted either online using the Westminster Libraries 24/7 electronic resources or in the printed version held within the Marylebone Information Service or Westminster Reference Library collections.

An entertaining history of Linnaeus and his predecessors attempts to bring order to the plant world can be read in Anna Pavord’s book The Naming of Names.  Westminster Libraries also stock several lending and reference guides to botanical Latin to aid the puzzled gardener:

The Naming of Names, by Anna Pavord   The Names of Plants, by D Gledhill   RHS Latin for Gardeners

We also stock Geoffrey Grigson’s Dictionary of English Plant Names, and Some Products of Plants. Please note that this reference book is currently held in a library store so it must be ordered in advance from Marylebone Information Service – but we’d be very pleased to bring it out into the light of day!



Visiting London Gardens and Parks

Having inspired you (I hope) to seek out London trees in a previous post, here are some resources to help you to plan park and garden visits – within the borough and further afield. Gardeners are fortunate in that there are many gardens, parks and other open spaces open on a daily or seasonal basis.

Kew Gardens, April 2014

Within Westminster, check out Westminster Parks, Gardens and Public Open Spaces which lists all the council’s open spaces together with comprehensive descriptions and information for many of the individual entries. To take a local example close to Marylebone Library, the entry for Paddington Street Gardens includes historical information about the two sites prior to becoming public open spaces.

The council is not the only authority responsible for administrating public open spaces within the borough. Hard to ignore (not that you’d want to) due to their size within Westminster are Green Park, Hyde Park, Regent’s Park and St James’s Park. These form four of the total of eight parks currently administered by The Royal Parks agency.

Although requiring a longer journey than the borough’s Royal Parks, it would be remiss of me not to mention Kew Gardens (pictured above) as a place to visit for gardening inspiration throughout the year.

London also contains a number of privately owned open spaces and gardens which are occasionally open to the public. To check opening details consult the following three online sources:

  • NGS Yellow Book 2014You may be familiar with the National Gardens Scheme, in which private gardens are open to the public to raise £2.5 million each year for nursing, caring and gardening charities. Apart from nosiness it is worth taking the opportunity to visit other people’s gardens for further inspiration for one’s own urban garden. The NGS Yellow Book (also available online: NGS Yellow Book) lists 212 gardens within the London area alone.
  • Another “key” to visiting private gardens is the Open Garden Squares Weekend scheme arranged by the London Gardens & Parks Trust. One ticket allows the visitor access to 200 private squares and gardens on the weekend of 14-15 June, 2014.
  • Finally, remember that several of the National Trust London properties include maintained gardens.

In addition to the websites listed above remember that Westminster Libraries stock guide books for loan. Visit your library for guides to London parks, open spaces and gardens. Public open spaces are often included in general London travel and walking guides so it is worth using these if you are planning to visit a specific area.

The London Garden Book by Abigail WillisMy favourite guide, with loan copies available in several libraries including Marylebone, is The London Garden Book A-Z, by Abigail Willis.
Whilst the big guns such as Kew Gardens (with four seasonal entries) are included, this guide includes many small and surprising entries such as front gardens, a wildflower meadow below an elevated motorway and the barge gardens at the Downings Road moorings near Tower Bridge.

London contains a number of community gardens which are open for visitors. The London City Farms and Community Gardens section of the Federation of City Farms & Community Gardens website lists London community gardens and forthcoming events, training sessions etc.

Phoenix Garden facing north towards Centre PointOne of several community gardens included in Abigail Willis’s book lies just over the Camden border. This is the Phoenix Garden which I unashamedly include here as I was a volunteer helping with the initial landscaping and planting in the early 1980s. If you are frazzled by the crowds in Charing Cross Road and Oxford Street why not visit this green oasis? It can be found hidden behind the Phoenix Theatre in Charing Cross Road.



Gardening + children = flowers, fun & fiery chillis

Doing the Garden by Sarah GarlandSpring has arrived, and with it Easter holidays and longer daylight hours. This will spur many people into gardening; whether they have a big space or simply a few window boxes or patio containers. Whatever your situation, we have plenty of books to help you if you’re planning to get your hands dirty this Bank Holiday weekend.

Gardening as a hobby is not confined to adults, so this post lists a number of titles relevant for the younger gardener. I have to admit my efforts to persuade my sons never amounted to much permanent interest with one fiery exception… Whilst the results were welcomed, we were overwhelmed one year with the results from our youngest son’s chilli plantation. We could have done with a guide such as this one: Best-ever chilli cookbook: hot and spicy dishes from around the world, by Elizabeth Young.

Eddie's garden and how to make things grow, by Sarah Garland Before marching your young child outside it might be worth introducing them to the idea of gardening through a story. Two of my favourite children’s picture books are by author and illustrator Sarah Garland:

Plant reproduction by Cath SenkerFor children interested in why and how plants grow, the following two books explain this with practical planting information around specific plants which will produce a spectacular result. (Judith Nicholls’ “small small seed” is a sunflower seed).

If you are not sure which plants are most suitable for children to grow and are spectacular enough to maintain their gardening interest, don’t panic. The Royal Horticultural Society has published a guide with you in mind: 

Grow Your Own - for kidsRHS grow your own for kids, by Chris Collins
The author  shows how to sow and grow up to 12 key vegetables including tomatoes, cucumbers, aubergines, peas, sunflowers, potatoes, monster pumpkins, mustard & cress, runner beans, courgettes. It also includes child-friendly fruits such as strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and grapes, together with other plants such as sunflowers, edible flowers and snapdragons.

A garden is not just a space for gardening and I imagine that few children would be happily occupied all summer solely with gardening tasks. A wide range of alternative outdoor (and indoor) activities are included in the following books: 

Also of interest for any child who has ‘caught’ the nature bug is The RSPB children’s guide to nature watching, by Mark Boyd, which includes a guide to many common species of British birds, animals and plants. Clear illustrations and key identification points, such as behaviour, voice and habitat help the child to identify the plant, animal or creepy crawly within your garden.

We wish you a very enjoyable Easter. Please note: the libraries will be closed for the weekend, reopening as usual on Tuesday 22 April, so make sure you get hold of all the books you need by the end of Thursday 17 April!