Good news - the Londonist balcony garden is thriving. The tomato plants are bullish and we've been harvesting salad leaves for a week or so now, padding out sad sandwiches with homegrown greens.
The book follows Helen's first year as an urban gardener. Ensconced in a poky north London flat she plans a growing scheme for the precious patch of flat roof accessible through her bedroom door. She visits seed swaps and obtains 'drunken woman' lettuce, is frustrated by chard but charmed by runner beans, learns to live with audacious squirrels, grows the perfect accompaniments for Pimms, discovers that gardening helps a hangover and does her best work in pyjamas. Helen effectively doubles the size of her living space making an enchanting new outdoor room in which to spend summer evenings with friends, as well as the ideal private spot for moonbathing amongst the night-blooms.
But it's not just about the glory of growing one's own things. She's on a mission to explore the wilds of London, birdwatching atop Tower 42, witnessing the sunrise over Hackney reservoir, crawling round a loop of London city farms, bat watching in Highgate, cleaning up the Thames foreshore, finding food growing projects, orchards and nature reserves. What's more, there are many and various fellow urban gardens to notice (on balconies, in laundry rooms, balanced on windowsills, hanging from baskets) and like-minded gardeners to meet.
It's an inspirational and beautiful hardback peppered with inky illustrations and written with a serious sense of wide-eyed wonder at nature's resilience in the relentlessly urban capital. Underpinning the practicalities of rooftop cultivation and bold forays into the wilderness is the gradual transformation of the author herself in parallel with her roof. By the end of the book she is a confident nurturer of all things happy to be grown in containers with big ambitions for the roof's second year. She has also become a fully fledged urban cyclist and - most importantly - quit her day job to concentrate on her passions. Hence the book, for which we are glad.
Disclaimer: we know and love Helen Babbs. But her book really is excellent.