Open Garden Squares Weekend 2010

Gardens All A-buzz North and South of the River

by CATHERINE MILLER

(Click on a garden name for further information. Click on a photo to enlarge.)

Naturewise Open Gardens Squares Weekend 2010 started for me on Saturday at Naturewise Forest Garden in Hornsey. Next to a school, this is not normally open to the public. It is a wonderful space for children as it has plenty of den-making potential, as well as fruit and nut trees to enjoy. Under a sweet chestnut tree are strawberries and perennial broccoli, managed under a no-dig system. The garden is south facing and everything seems to grow abundantly.
The Estorick Garden Cycling down past Arsenal Football Club's Emirates stadium, I popped into the Estorick Garden, a small, well laid-out courtyard planted with grasses and shrubs around a mirrored sculpture. The café makes this garden a pleasant pit stop.
Geffrye Museum To the Geffrye Museum Garden, where there is a wonderful herb garden - a classic beauty with foxgloves, old roses and medicinal herbs. There is also a series of historic gardens which are restful and full of period detail. The plant enthusiast can rejoice in martagon lilies and dictamnus, and the modernist can admire the  brand new Hoxton station which is right next to the garden.
St Mary's Secret Garden Just around the corner is St Mary's Secret Garden, which is not normally open on Saturdays. This is a hive of activity, quite literally, as a group of young people in full beekeeping gear were learning about bees in the woodland area of the garden. Elsewhere people were admiring the vegetables and fruit (just as beautiful as flowers) in raised beds, or basking in the sunshine in the herbaceous borders. They reported more visitors from OGSW than last year. It is a good place to buy plants, as this supports the charity that runs the garden.
Sir John Cass Next to Sir John Cass, a city school garden on a roof, with a great view of the Gherkin. Small raised beds are laid out, and a group of sacks were full of growing potatoes. Spreading honeysuckle is allowed to grow over the fence, scenting the air. There is even a tiny pond planted around with epimediums, dwarf daylilies and iris sibirica. After the success of the garden so far, they are now planning to get a beehive!
Roman Wall - Noble Street

Fann Street

I cycled past the atmospheric remains of London's Roman Wall, surrounded by wild flowers, to the Fann Street
Garden. Cycling in the City is very pleasant at weekends, when traffic is light. 

Fann Street is a new wildlife garden, surrounded by tall blocks of flats. This is a welcome city refuge, with a wildflower meadow, a cottage garden area and an insect hotel. I learned that this garden is also looking to keep bees. This is an unexpectedly popular idea at present, fortunately for the bee population, which has fallen in the UK.

The Athenaeum On Sunday I saw the most amazing vertical tapestry of plants on the corner of the Athenaeum Hotel, before dusting off my passport (I'm a north Londoner) and heading south of the river by tube and bus.
Nightingale Square My first stop was Nightingale Square, a pleasant neighbourhood garden in Balham, where there was a bookstall staffed by helpful children.
The Share Garden Then a bus journey and a walk took me through a large hospital site to the SHARE garden in Tooting. Here there are lots of plants for sale, grown by people with learning disabilities and people on work experience, in large polytunnels. Cornflowers and sweet peas are grown for cut flowers. This is a peaceful place with a wild area and composting area.
South London Botanic Institute I continued by bus and train to the South London Botanic Institute in Herne Hill, a wonderfully eccentric place off a busy road. It is a large house devoted to sharing understanding about plants, with a programme of talks and courses. People here were very welcoming to visitors, and tea and cakes went down well too. The back garden is a lovely space full of textures, colours and shapes. There is a weed garden which is nicer than it sounds, with mullein and foxgloves, and areas of plants from particular parts of the world, native plants and medicinal plants.
Brockwell Park Community Greenhouses From here, a walk through Brockwell Park brought me to Brockwell Park Community Greenhouses, where a former council facility has been taken over by a group of volunteers, who are using the site as an educational resource. There is a lot of work in progress here. Seeds and plants are sold and there are orchard and vegetable areas, beehives (again!) a walled herb garden and a pond.

Across London, all sorts of gardens are being used to teach the current and the next generations about the pleasures of nature. The Open Garden Squares Weekend shows just how diverse and attractive are the range of gardens on offer in London.

Catherine Miller works for the Federation of City Farms and Community Gardens in London (www.farmgarden.org.uk).
An updated free map of London's city farms and community gardens is available. For a copy, please send an SAE to FCFCG, PO Box 25359, 1 Cressfield Close, London NW5 4ZN.