Monday, 7 February 2011

Green fuzzy spring thoughts

I've been hiding from this blog for a few weeks, like I've been hiding from the grey cold of January dormancy. But I'm pleased to announce that it is definitely all starting up again - in the garden at least. My first Iris reticulata has put in an appearance. All the while I've been obsessively checking the progress of my crocuses and snowdrops I'd completely forgotten about these little darlings, so I was surprised and delighted to find two seem to have emerged from nowhere.
On Saturday I headed out of town to West Dean. I drove through country lanes that had just the slightest fuzz of catkin green about them, rather like the nascent shadow of facial hair on a teenage boy's chin, only a lot more promising.
West Dean is gorgeous, even in February, with arguably the most perfect Victorian Kitchen gardens in the country. It fuels many horticultural fantasies of one day moving to a big country garden. So, usually, a visit leaves me feeling full of admiration for Jim and Sarah the head gardeners, and quite disappointed about my own back yard. But yesterday, I couldn't wait to get home. I was completely fired up about gardening in cities and the amazing potential that's just waiting to be unleashed.
I went to hear the brilliant Nigel Dunnett from Sheffield University's Landscape Department, talk about Rain Gardens. Cynics who have only just got over the fact that we might not need to plant drout gardens, might dismiss this as just another fad. But the science of why we environmentally need to green our cities (better flood drainage, cooling temperatures, and more transpiration etc), is undeniably clear, and now the aesthetics are looking incredibly exciting too. Imagine if we drove past colourful meadows instead of grass verges that require endless and pointless mowing? What if our roofs were green and living instead of brown?What if supermarket carparks had imaginative planting, cleverly irrigated by rainwater collected from the runoff. And why don't we plant our street trees above storm drains, and underplant with other shrubs and perennials so they can make use of the water.
Othe countries are leading the way, in Portland, Oregon city councils seem to be a bit further ahead in thinking about how thoughtful landscaping needs to be integrated into town planning. And in Germany developers are taxed on the basis of how much green space they include in their design: greener=less tax. Sounds simple? Here in the UK meanwhile, this thoughtful government is axing CABE, the body that tried to push public landscaping further up the agenda.
I could despair, but refuse to, and think that maybe this is a policy that literally can happen from the ground up; maybe the next phase of guerilla gardening?  I for one, will be ordering my Pictorial Meadows seeds and trying to create a few more colourful spaces and I will set up a group to do more than bulb planting in the graveyard at the end of my road, so we can apply for funding and plant more suitable plants. It's just the beginning.


  1. gorgeous iris! nothing's quite blooming in my yard, it's all still dormant except for the chives and oregano sending up new green growth. should be seeing crocuses (croci?) in the next couple weeks though.

    i love the green space planting ideas. lawns are such an ugly waste. here in boise we need to think more about xeriscaping since we have such unreliable precipitation. some places are catching on, but not enough.

    funny you should mention guerilla gardening--i was reading up on it last night because i've picked a small plot of unused land down my street to start a little public veggie garden. and i can't wait to participate in international sunflower guerilla gardening day on may 1st. so ready for springtime!

  2. Hi Emily - How exciting about your public plot! You might be able to use rain garden principles for veg growing? Look forward to reading about your progress.Cx

  3. Good grief - I was there too! It was a fantastic, inspirational day :)

    I wish many more supermarkets had the nous to put a green roof on the trolley collection points like The Constant Gardener has found.

  4. Couldn't agree more, it wouldn't take much to have green roofs as standard on all new supermarket and similar "warehouse" style buildings, thus going some way towards combating the concrete jungle effect, and why not be more environmentally concious with public planting. Government - local and national - should lead the way. I love the look of these "pictorial meadows".

  5. Hello VP - sorry I missed you at West Dean; I was too busy trying to collar Nigel and squeeze a bit more knowledge out of him!
    Hi Plantaliscious - in Jan's The Garden, I read that there is a new code of practice for building green rooves and also that London authorities are starting to make them standard features in new developments, which is great news. A step in the right direction.

  6. Amazing! I love the idea of rain gardens! I tried to get some wildflowers going on the windowsill last year without much luck. Thinking I'd like to give it another go this year but am not sure whether there's specific varieties that I should be choosing over others that might have better luck in a windowbox...

  7. Hi Amy. Try the pictorial meadows mixes and also don't use just normal compost, use a mix of soil, compost and grit, so it's a free-draining, low-nutrient environment - I'm going to try them in window boxes this year too. Lets compare notes!