Peak bloom at Thames Barrier Park

Thames Barrier Park, LondonThames Barrier Park is one of those slightly random places in London that I tend to read about and never visit.

Built in 2001, next to, you guessed it, the Thames Barrier, it’s a really cutting edge bit of garden design and I’ve seen photos of it in magazines, online, and, frequently, in lectures at my garden design course.

Thames barriers

And yet, it always seemed so far away and hard to reach that I’d never had quite enough impetus to go and visit. And that’s coming from someone who already lives in London.

But at the end of July, we had a scheduled visit on my course, so I hit the jubilee line and then the DLR and set off for Pontoon Dock, the station beside the park. (Side note: Pontoon Dock! What a fabulous name!)

My reservations about travelling so far must be shared by others. It was a gloriously sunny day, but the park was all but deserted, apart from my gaggle of eager garden designers to be.

The park is surrounded by a huge amount of new buildings and new building work, bordered at one edge by the river and the barriers, and at the other by the DLR line, and directly under the flight path of City Airport, with planes taking off and landing every few minutes. Yet, despite the noise and the bustle, it’s a surprisingly relaxing place to be.

Thames Barrier Park

At the centre of the design is the sunken garden: the one you’ll probably already recognise from photos. Clipped hedges of yew are shaped into huge rows of undulating waves, the long lines leading your eye all the way down the barriers. Interspersed with the green yew is a range of colourful perennials and grasses which, when we visited, were at peak bloom.

Rolling waves of yew hedging
Thames Barrier Park in July

Thames Barrier ParkIt’s an impressive and innovative spectacle, no doubt, but maintenance issues were apparent when we visited (and, I think, all the time) as the clipped forms need constant care and were growing straggly in places and had even died off completely in others.

You can walk down into the garden and wander along the lines of plants, but it’s really designed to be viewed from one of the bridges that cross over its width.

Hydrangea
That instagram fave, the hydrangea, was in full flower when we visited

Around the main area, is a swathe of wildflower meadows, interspersed with a grid of birch trees and, I have to confess, I found this a more enjoyable place to sit and spend time. The semi-natural environment provided more of a relief from all the construction and hard lines around, and it was lovely to watch the grasses waft in the wind and the bees landing on the flowers.

wild flower meadow wild flowers

I would say it’s well worth a visit if you’re already in the area, but that begs the question who would be in the area and why? I wondered exactly why such a contemporary garden had been built here and whether the original intention was to draw people to this rather neglected part of the docklands simply to come and see it? If so, I’m not sure it’s been successful, but I’d love to hear your thoughts if you’ve visited…

I am delighted to say I am joining in with Annie Spratt’s wonderful How does your garden grow once again. Annie’s has long been one of my fave blogs to visit and I was really sad when Annie announced her decision to stop blogging recently, and over the moon when she decided to resurrect HDYGG again. Do go over and visit everyone else’s posts, there’s always some great inspiration to be found…

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In the garden: March

So, after 3.5 years living here, we’ve finally – finally – landscaped and planted the garden. Hurrah! I’ll show you proper photos next month as it’s still all looking a bit bare and unimpressive while the plants establish, but in the meantime, here’s a little look at some of the recent additions to our little patch of turf.

On a sunny Friday at the end of Feb, we hired a van and drove to a plant nursery in Surrey. I’m still beside myself with excitement about the brilliant trade prices I’m now eligible for as a trainee garden designer, and wandering round a nursery stuffed full of plants, feeling the first of the Spring sunshine on my face, was pretty much my idea of heaven.

Lots of what I bought is nothing more than a small mound of leaves at the moment, but these are the ones with something to show right now…

corkscrew hazelcatkin

I’ve been obsessed with corkscrew hazels (Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’) for a good few years now and couldn’t pass up the chance to have one in my own garden. The twisting stems look rather Tim Burton-esque to me (in a good way) and then there’s the delights of all the catkins in Spring and hazelnuts in Autumn.

Euphorbia myrsinitesEuphorbia myrsinitesEuphorbia myrsinitesEuphorbia myrsinites

Also a huge obsession, though a more recent one, since my visit to Beth Chatto’s garden last year, is this incredible Euphorbia myrsinites. Those grey spiky leaves, lime green flowers and flowing stems are just quite spectacular as far as I’m concerned. I’ve planted a couple of other euphorbias, too, which will hopefully be in full flower by next month.

Chionodoxa forbesii

The famous wallflower is still going strong (no photos this month, since I’ve shared them a gazillion times) and clustered around its base, a flurry of bright blue bulbs have come up: Chionodoxa forbesii, that I planted last year and I had completely forgotten about. There is something magical about bulbs, the way they pop up and down, year after year, and you can never quite remember what is going to come up where. (Or is that just me?!) These blue beauties are a welcome sight, though I think the slugs and snails agree with me, since their leaves (as you can see) are almost always bitten off, and I often find whole flowers disappear overnight.

ipheion alberto castillo ipheion alberto castillo

I’m hoping these new ipheion (‘Alberto Castillo’) will do just as well. I grabbed them from the nursery on an impulse as they were looking so stunning, and I was pleased to then find them recommended by Dan Pearson as one of his all time top plants in Gardens Illustrated later in the month. They’re very beautiful, with their long stems and white star-shaped flowers, striped down the middle with a faint line.

Stachys byzantina

I’m sure I’ve mentioned before that I can’t resist plants with fluffy leaves. So it is, the garden is heaving with Salvia argentea (which is a bit ratty looking to show you at the moment) and the lamb’s ear above (Stachys byzantina), which looks especially fantastic when it catches dew in the morning.

Stipa tenuissimaMiscanthus sinensis

I’ve also added a few grasses. The beautiful Mexican feather grass (Stipa tenuissima), above top, which glows in the sunlight and waves around in the wind in a most fantastic way. I might have to try and take a video sometime. And some brilliant miscanthus, to provide huge seed heads throughout the winter.

Blossom

Finally, a blossom shot, hooray! Not, actually, a tree in my garden, but from my neighbour’s. Spring is so very, very nearly here.

Joining in, as ever, with Annie and How does your garden grow.

In the garden: February

Magnolia stellata | Wolves in LondonSlipping in, just in time, on this fabulous extra day of the year to share some photos of the February garden, taken throughout this month.

If you were to look at a year in gardening, February would be the month of planning. Reading the seed catalogues, choosing the fruit and veg for the year ahead, deciding about changes to make in the garden and – above all – checking the air for signs of imminent Spring.

In the garden itself, not much is new in February. And this is especially true this year with the unseasonably warm Winter meaning that all my Spring plants put their heads above soil last month in January. But everything is looking that little bit more wonderful.

magnolia flower

The magnolia flowers are almost all fully unfurled, their petals luxuriating in the odd day of sunshine. The daffodils are bobbing about in the windowboxes, shaking off early morning raindrops and enjoying the lighter evenings.

Daffodil bud daffodil flower water on daffodil water sroplet

Buds are everywhere: on the cherry tree in the front garden and the apple and pear in the back. The acer is showing signs of bursting into leaf any time soon. And the catkins from next door are drooping over the fence…

Catkins

Spring, we’re ready and waiting for you.

In the garden: January

What a weird weather January it’s been so far.

I have to admit, I was not one of those welcoming the cold snap a few weeks back with open arms. Nope, my arms were huddled inside three trillion layers of clothes, wearing gloves, sitting under a blanket, clutching a cup of hot chocolate in front of the fire.

I really hate being cold.

Magnolia flower bud

I was concerned that the garden might find it similarly hard to adjust after such an incredibly warm winter so far. Magnolia buds had appeared unseasonably early and started to unfurl a few weeks ago. I was sure they’d get frosted and drop off last week, but — lo and behold — they seem utterly nonplussed by the minus temperatures and instead the first flowers have come out. In January!

(A few years back I was seeing the magnolia tree come into flower in May, so this is five whole months in advance. A most bizarre winter…)

CrocusSnowdrop | Wolves in London

In the back garden, all of the Winter and Spring bulbs have put their heads above ground at once. A host of purple crocuses had appeared to greet me on my return from a weekend away.  (We were house-hunting in Wiltshire, about which I had a huge chat and lots of brilliant advice over on this instagram photo…) Crocuses normally appear significantly after the snowdrops, but both are out right now, as are my first Tete-a-tete daffodils, which are cheering up the window boxes in front of the house.

DaffodilsDaffodil window box

What will happen once March actually arrives, I’m not quite sure.

The alstromerias are seriously confused by the weather as well. They should be in flower in summer and autumn, yet buds have been appearing already. Are these late bloomers from last year or early bloomers from this year? I suspect they don’t know either.

Alstromeria | Wolves in London

Finally, I’m almost embarrassed to put in this photo but, yes, my wallflower (Erysimum ‘Bowles Mauve’) is, as ever, in flower… When I first bought this I wondered if it was going to live up to its RHS AGM (which stands for general merit award or some such, and not annual general meeting) but a plant that flowers pretty much non-stop the entire year has to be good in anyone’s books.

Wallflower | Wolves in London

Generally, though, there’s not a huge amount to show you this month, as the garden is mostly mud, mud, glorious (and sometimes frozen) mud, after we pulled the greenhouse down, and started to mark out new flower beds.

I’m getting properly excited about planting it all up next month or the month after. I keep vacillating on the colour palette I’m going to choose, veering between whites, pinks, blues and greys (basically, a bit restrained but good for making a smallish garden look bigger) or some amazing lime greens and deep reds, taking inspiration from the colours of the stunning Euphorbia martini in the photo below.

Euphorbia x martini
© Crocus

I suspect safe and boring will win out, especially as we might be looking to try and sell our house fairly soon anyway. Ah well, if we do buy somewhere with a big garden, I can test out exciting colour combos to my heart’s content!

Joining in with the ever lovely Annie of Fable & Folk and How Does Your Garden Grow. Incidentally, my plan for 2016 is to share a garden post with you every month and, hopefully, by the end of the year I’ll have a glorious garden worth photographing in full, rather than just these endless plant close-ups…

Frosty mornings and blue skies

Plane on a winters day | Wolves in London

I do love an overnight frost and sun the next day. If only for the amazing ice shapes you can get out in the garden.

Cracked ice | Wolves in London

Frozen leaf | Wolves in LondonFrozen bubbles | Wolves in London

I snapped a few last weekend, delirious with excitement to see the sunshine. (While the poor old hubby was working away on the pond removal job…)

A few apples failed to fall off the trees and are just hanging on and rotting away. They’re irresistible to the parakeets from the park, who swing by, shrieking away, and grab a few bites, before retiring to a neighbour’s birch tree, which is their preferred resting place. We should probably count ourselves lucky they don’t like to perch here.

Rotting apples | Wolves in London rotting apple rotting applesIn the beds, my hardy old wallflower (Erysimum ‘Bowles Mauve’) is still putting out new flowers, even now in December. The Mexican daisies (Erigeron karvinskianus) are hanging on strong too; they’ve increased hugely over the last year and are dripping over the low stone wall looking as wonderful as I had imagined they would.

Wallflower | Wolves in London Mexican fleabane | Wolves in London

We’re taking the opportunity of the pond removal to get rid of an old, brown, shaggy, overgrown conifer that was planted behind it, and the great streams of ivy that were growing up it. We’ve battled ivy before, and I know now that the only possible answer is glysophate on the stump, but I really hate to use chemicals in the garden. Still, it’s either that or spend the rest of our weekends endlessly cutting it back in the hope it finally gives up.

It’s great for the birds, of course, and I love the look of the amazing seedheads, but it soon gets a stranglehold and kills off all its neighbours.

Ivy berries | Wolves in London

The magnolia in the front garden already has those adorable fluffy buds, and it reminds me that soon enough Spring will be here once again. I’m not really a fan of winter, I realise as I get older. I love the clear, crisp, blue sky days, of course, and the rare moment of snow, but the lack of sunshine really gets me down and I feel increasingly lethargic and sluggish as weeks pass by with only grey skies and rain. I’m sure it’s something to do with age, I don’t remember giving two shits about lack of sunshine in my 20s. I was probably too busy going out drinking in trendy clubs and sleeping in late. Sigh.

Magnolia buds | Wolves in London

An impatient gardener

Last Autumn we spent a weekend laying new turf in our garden and re-shaping the flower beds.

In the beds, we dug out all the bulbs and plants (regular readers won’t be surprised to hear that 80 per cent of the plants were rhododendrons) with the plan that the following weekend, once the soil had settled, we would re-plant everything we liked in a more pleasing arrangement.

Except, the following day the builder we had waited nine months for to start work on our house, told us he was free to start in a week. So, instead of gardening, we packed all our possessions into boxes and moved out.

When we came back again this February, six weeks later than planned, we’d spent all our renovation budget and hadn’t finished decorating (we still haven’t). With a wish list of plants as long as my arm, I decided I had better grow everything from seed to save money.

I had plans of creating amazing borders this summer, entirely with plants I had lovingly cultivated myself in our gigantic greenhouse.

Three months later, this is how my seeds are looking.

 

Seedlings | Wolves in London
Not looking too big and flowery as yet

Glorious, no?

And the beds are mostly just a great big layer of mud and weeds…

Finally accepting my limitations as a speed propagator, we headed to a garden centre on Bank Holiday Monday to stock up a little.

(We went to Croxted Road garden centre, a little gem I’d not visited before in Herne Hill. Highly recommended for any SE Londoners reading this…)

This is what I got:

Scabious | Wolves in London

A beautiful Scabious, aka the pincushion flower. I have grown some seedlings of these too, but they are yet to look anything as wonderful as that…

Daisy | Wolves in London

Some cheerful daisies, which always make you feel summery.

Erysimum | Wolves in London

This delicate erysimum (wallflower) called ‘Bowles mauve’ — I had seen this variety spoken of in lots of gardening magazines, so was excited to see it in the shop. I hope for great things!

Salvia | Wolves in London

Stunning bright blue salvias (again, I have some seedlings just waiting to turn into something as wondrous as this).

Lupin leaves | Wolves in London

These lupins will at some point boast huge spires of flowers, but at the moment the leaves are rather attractive and perfect for collecting little rain drops…

Some colour at least, for this summer.

And next year! Next year, I tell you, my borders will be overflowing with glorious plants I have grown from seed and with cuttings I plan to take from this original stock too. Dream big, I say…

Joining in with Mammasaurus and How does your garden grow?