Open Garden Squares Weekend is the annual chance to see 190 gardens that are rarely open to the public. Given the popularity of allotment gardens, we took the opportunity to visit a very famous one: the allotment worked on by staff at the Observer and Guardian newspaper. This has to be one of the few allotments that is run by a newspaper. Having seen so many photos and read about it so often, we had to see the real thing.
We weren't disappointed; it is a delight, packed to the edges with vegetables, herbs, red stemmed swiss chard, potatoes, a useless owl to keep away the birds and some flowers too. As an extra plus, sitting in regal splendour was the Editor of the Observer Magazine, Alan Jenkins, who was having a drink and holding forth on the joys of allotments and the politics of keeping them going.
There are 40 plots nestled in amongst one of the most exclusive residential areas of North London. The gardeners are a mix of writers, intellectuals and other locals. There is no longer any problem of people not keeping up their allotment responsibilities because the waiting list is forever. One site that seemed to be wild and ignored in fact was the communal comfrey patch for the use of all the members.
The Phoenix Garden is an oasis hidden away behind the hubbub of Leicester Square. It is private, run by trustees, with volunteers and a hired gardener. Once a car park, it was turned into an award winning ecological garden over the last five years. Because the level of soil is so thin everything in the garden has to be able to survive dry conditions.
The planting is a stylish and interesting mix of ornamental planting and wild habitats for frogs and bugs and birds. There is a lovely pond with Golden Fat Head Minnows which breed under the lily pads.
The garden is sheltered, as it is surrounded by 3 storey buildings on all sides, so exotic plants can grow here, including bananas. It isn't edible but is very drought tolerant. This one is only 3 years old, having grown from an 8 inch small plant--only in England.
Image from the British Museum
Not strictly environmental, but stunning nonetheless, is the Indian-inspired garden at the British Museum, Installed as a complement to the show Garden and Cosmos: The Royal Paintings of Jodhpur, an exhibit of Indian garden miniature paintings. The garden includes examples of many of the plants, flowers and vegetables which are depicted in the exhibition. So banyans, betel nuts, bamboo, basil and marigolds all crop up in the temporary garden. It was planted to reflect the different climates and areas of India. There is a even a small pond with water lilies which pop up as a theme in many of the Indian miniatures inside. : Open Garden Squares Weekend
More on Allotment Gardens and other Open Gardens
Observer has an Allotment Garden
Open Garden Squares Weekend is Bliss for Garden Voyeurs
Gardens on Barges for the Nautically Minded