Perhaps sun stroke and chocolate have made us feel a bit funny, but we’ve suddenly got the urge to join the burgeoning band of Londoners who are turning random patches of land into vegetable gardens. We’ve just got ourselves a balcony to call our own, and think it’s about time we gave urban growing a go.
Who better to guide us than Londonist writer Helen Babbs, who keeps an aerial edible gardening diary of her exploits on a Holloway rooftop, and has a book all about it, and other wild adventures, coming out in June.
My tiny flat sits atop a 1930s terraced house, on a cul-de-sac that’s sandwiched between the heaving Holloway, Camden and Seven Sisters Roads. Buffeted by a wall of bus noise and sirens, it’s a strangely idyllic spot. Admiring Mary Poppins views of town houses and chimney stacks, I allow my ears to filter out the traffic roar (and my neighbour’s terrible passion for techno) and focus on birdsong. The dawn chorus is currently providing this old insomniac with some welcome tunes.
I ran here to escape a hellish house-share and so have always indulgently allowed the flat to sport a halo, despite it dimensions. What makes my part of this paltry palace extra special is the fact my bedroom has a door in it that opens out onto a fenced-in flat roof. The balcony is three metres square and, despite having no gardening skills whatsoever, I’ve managed to grow myself green fingers and toes, and I’m pretty proud of them.
As well as crops that can bear an entirely container bound life – beans, tomatoes, squashes, potatoes, garlic, radish, strawberry, salads and herbs – I’ve sought out fragrant and night blooming flowers for my aerial, edible garden. Warm evenings on the roof, spent moon bathing or drinking with friends, are perfumed by lavender, tobacco plant, evening primrose and jasmine.
Beyond my own rooftop, I’m currently getting especially excited about two new community garden projects. Down in Southwark, the people who brought us the brilliant Union Street Urban Orchard last year are planning an Urban Physic Garden. Shaped by the hospital and planted with herbs that heal, the physic garden will bloom on a piece of neglected land in Southwark from June until August. The build begins on the 29th April and you’re invited to volunteer your brains and brawn.
Out east, the Bootstrap Company will re-open the Dalston Roof Park on the 1st May (for the Land of Kings festival), with an events calendar packed with gardening sessions, eating, drinking, films and gigs. You’ll find it on top of an old print house on Ashwin Street, next door to Cafe Oto, the Arcola Theatre and the new Dalston Curve Garden, and across the road from the quirky FARMshop. Boasting lovely London views of cranes, chimney stacks and train tracks, it will play host to roof based revels throughout the summer.
And now Londonist has got itself a balcony of its very own. Currently home to a few sad looking pots, this spring and summer the plan is to turn it into something much more beautiful. Now is the time to stock up on compost (go organic and peat free) and seek out containers. So far this week I’ve scored three large wooden salad trays from the vegetable man on Holloway Road, and found a huge and handsome basket propped by a dustbin. All will make great planters once lined with old plastic bags that have holes punched in them.
Start planting seeds inside now – try easy to grow things like runner beans (soak in water overnight before planting), tomatoes, chillies and courgettes. And go plant shopping. Columbia Road Market is obviously a must, as is seeking out your local garden centre. And there are still a few plant fairs planned at various London farmers’ markets this spring – Queen’s Park (1st May), Notting Hill (7th May), London Fields (8th May) and Walthamstow (15th May). See www.lfm.org.uk.
We’ll keep you posted about our exploits on the Londonist balcony and bring you growing tips throughout the season. Feel free to share yours!