Roof gardens were catapulted into the London spotlight this weekend as Boris proclaimed them his secret weapon in the war on climate change - or rather, to help prevent flooding in the capital by soaking up rainwater. Brilliant, say we, let's have more of them. But there's a slight problem, then, in what to do with it. With ever increasing interest in growing your own food, whether in your own patch or as part of a community scheme, where is the clueless Londoner to find advice, support and greenfingered guidance on creating even the smallest windowbox garden? Well, we're very fortunate that Nic from gardening community website Myfolia.com is a Londonist reader.
Hello Nic! How did Myfolia.com start and why?
The idea for Folia came about last year when I started to try and be a little more organised with the way that I approached my gardening. At the time, I was using Flickr to photoblog, making little notes here and there for future reference, and searching around on Flickr to see if anyone else was growing what I was growing so I could compare. I then thought how cool it would be if there was a site that could link people together by what they grow and where they are growing it so we could all help each other out and learn from everyone's experiences rather than going it alone. So, with my partner Nath, we started building the site in late June and soon after invited some friends from Flickr to give us some feedback on it - a year later we have 4,000 members from lots of different countries and are still busy building more features for the site based on everyone's suggestions.
What's the best thing about being a part of it?
The site is pretty unique in that you can quickly see if anyone is growing the same things that you are - so if you are having trouble figuring out when your tomatoes are ready for harvest, or why your plant seems to be sick and you don't know why, you can ask people who have grown the same thing for advice - or check out their past journals for tips. Lots of people have said that the site has made them a more organised and effectual gardener - so they are getting much more out of their gardening as a result, and the support network helps when things go wrong.
What are the easiest things to get growing on a window sill?
Definitely salad leaves - it takes almost zero effort to sprinkle some seeds in a pot and a couple of weeks later you have leaves you can eat. Beats spending £2 pounds on a bag at the supermarket any day.
What's the most extraordinary thing you've grown?
I've just only recently harvested some Early Wight garlic which I had been growing since late last year on my bedroom windowsill ledge. They were a little bit smaller than the ones you find in the supermarket, but that was more due to inadequately fertilising during spring rather than the space they were in. I'm definitely going to give it another go later on this year as fresh out-of-the-ground garlic is amazingly tasty. In September I'm going to get some potatoes going for Christmas in a big plastic bin, and I'm currently contemplating growing some corn on the terrace next year - could be a interesting challenge!
How do London gardeners contrast with those in other cities/nations?
What has been most interesting is the how the gardening trends in each country differ - our UK gardeners are very much into allotments and finding ways to grow things in small spaces, US gardeners are really big on Square Foot Gardens and growing food as a way to save money in the current economic environment whilst the Australians on our site are currently concerned with ways of saving water using mulching and xeriscaping techniques. Londoners in particular are becoming aware that any space, no matter how small, can be cultivated - we have gardeners using windowsills, front yard spaces, communal hallways, balconies and reclaiming concreted-over spaces. There are also quite a lot of first time allotmenteers looking for advice - it's often quite a daunting thing taking over a plot of dirt and figuring out where to start and what to grow when.
If, like many Londoners, you live in an apartment without so much as a windowbox, how can you get planting and pottering?
With allotment waiting lists stretching into years at the moment, many people are looking for alternative spaces to garden in, so I think it's all about assessing what space is around you and giving it a go. Stairwells, steps and front yard areas can quite easily be turned into growing spaces using pots and hanging baskets. Saying that, by law it requires only 6 residents to petition their local council for new allotment areas to be created - so for people without any outside space, it's a great idea to band together with others in your area and get in contact with your council. It's something that we are really keen to support and help out with on Folia.
What's your favourite green space in London?
I'd have to say Regents Park - as I mainly grow edibles, it's lovely to wander around the flower gardens and admire all the hard work that someone else has done! However, it would be great to start seeing some of the parks in London start to dedicate areas to edible gardens as a way of educating people about how easy it is to start growing your own food. The Dig for Victory Garden in St James' Park is fantastically well done and I'm sure has opened up many people's minds to the idea of edible gardening in the city.
What's your best tip for keeping away slugs and squirrels?
Gardening on windowsills means that you don't get a whole lot of the usual pests and bugs as if you were growing directly in the ground, however I'm always battling aphids and other flying creatures during the summer months. Due to the fact that I am growing plants in very close proximity to the inside of my house, I've been trying to find more natural options for dealing with pests - a good way to get rid of aphids is to brew up a mix of minced garlic and detergent and leave it for a couple of days, then spray liberally. Another (less smelly) good tip is to try and encourage ladybugs to live around your plants - they love to snack on aphids.
Rooftop vs windowsill - what has the edge?
Windowsill gardening gives you nice little defined spaces that you can manage quite easily using container boxes and you get hardly any pests and bugs. Disadvantages are that you have to choose your plants wisely - last year I accidentally planted what I thought were bush type tomatoes, they turned out to be vine tomatoes. I had to stake them, and they looked pretty strange growing from a third floor window. Rooftop gardening is a whole new experience for me - I've now got much more space and freedom to grow sprawling plants, but I'm now contending with new pests like crows and squirrels digging up my plants!
Hope this rain is doing your garden good!
Yeah, but I do wish there was a little more sun than rain at the moment though - I'm getting impatient for my tomatoes to ripen up!