Among the asphalt, tower blocks and terraces of our Capital, London’s gardeners are busy greening up the grey. We offer some pointers for creating an urban garden to be proud of.
Digging is great exercise. The more elbow grease you put in early on, the better to ensure your soil is in tip top condition. Dig over the area you’re going to plant into at least 40cm and remove stones and any weeds. Mix in some good quality compost or rotted manure to maximise the soil’s potential, especially if it’s on the sandy side.
Use every inch of space
If you have a shed consider creating a green roof of sedums or wildflowers. Shed of the Year 2014 winner Joel Bird went one step further and built a vegetable garden on his shed roof in Tottenham: ‘I knew it had to support soil and grass, so I made the joists tight to take a lot of weight, and put the roof on a gradient so that water could run off. It’s worked better than I ever imagined.’
Don’t limit your horticultural ambitions to herbs in pots. Investigate what other edibles might work – blueberries, tomatoes and fig and olive trees can all be grown in containers. Be imaginative too – wooden pallets, crates, jam jars, and catering sized tins can all be used as planters and add lots of character to your space. Canes and trellises are essential on a balcony or patio to allow your plants to grow upwards.
Trial and error
Don’t be daunted by the possibilities of vegetable cultivation. Rather, dive in and start growing in order to find out what crops thrive best in your garden’s soil. Take note of how much sun your garden, balcony or patio gets – most vegetables tend to grow best in spots where they will get five or more hours of sunshine a day.
The birds and the bees
Urban gardener Thierry Suzanne won a Wildlife Trusts award for his garden in Forest Gate, E7, by designing a cunning layout incorporating different habitats for wildlife: small flowering trees, a native hedge, a green roof, bird feeders and boxes, a log pile and a pond. Single flowered plants are valuable to bees and other pollinators while climbers like honeysuckle and jasmine will provide food and shelter.
Create a community
Link up with other green fingered types in your neighbourhood. Swap advice and cuttings, and help each other out with equipment and watering cover during holidays. In Finsbury Park, gardener and author of the blog Out of My Shed Naomi Schillinger, has enlisted over 100 households in a street growing project with spectacular results.
Find Capital Growth, London’s food growing network providing support to community groups, at capitalgrowth.org