As part of Balance Garden's "Third Spaces" column; where we discover, explore, and share places to unwind and recalibrate; Kate-Lois Elliott checks out options for gardening in the city.
There's something glorious that happens when you plant a seed and it grows. Being surrounded by plants has many health benefits. It’s creative, it lowers stress, it gets you outside into the sun and, of course, when you get it right you feel bloody marvellous.
Often it doesn’t do any of these things, because you get really busy and forget to water your plant. Or you overwater it, or various people water it or don’t water it over the course of a few weeks and now it’s a weird, slightly smelly bowl of mush and twigs that looks like it used to almost be a plant once.
I remember learning the story of the farmer who scatters seeds on the ground: some end up in a stream and float away, some land on the rocks and become food for birds or toddlers, and some land on the soil and grow into crops. There's definitely a certain amount of luck in getting it right, but you also can’t win if you don’t play.
I've been dabbling with the idea of bringing more green into my home for the last few years. A subtle war has played out between the amount of pots and soil readily available in my house, the amount of living and not living plants in them, sunshine, storms and my willingness to give up an afternoon to visit the garden centre. Usually most of these factors work against me. One year I bought I hydrangea, potted it very carefully into a pretty clay pot, with plant feed, water and lots of love. That very night there was a storm, and it made a right mess of my hard work. My only consolation was that I got to complain about it in the stye of the Rosemary and Thyme (ITV’s most famous detective and gardening show).
How do we learn to garden more efficiently on a budget, with minimal time at our disposal? I feel as if in some small way gardening is like parenting, or at least like owning a dog or a goldfish - so I don't want to overcomplicate my life and my plants life by being busy and messing it up.
I’ve had a look to see what’s available around London to help in my quest for the perfect life-garden balance. The first discovery I made was a few months ago. Indirect Sunlight was an installation by Glasgow based artists Laura Aldridge and James Rigler. It was a collaboration between NOW Gallery on Greenwich Peninsula, and Urban Growth Learning Gardens. You simply turn up, pick your seed, make your pot out of a very clever gardener's contraption and a bit of newspaper, and plant it. The installation has long since finished, but the premise is very much achievable on your own: it all starts with planting a seed.
'It's a great idea' said an Australian tourist who was wandering around the gallery, 'You need space to get away from it all in this mad city, don't you?'
I now have broad beans, rocket, spinach and a Swiss chard growing in my back garden. During the heatwave it was a mission to keep them hydrated, but I was determined to do right by them. I recycled old plant pots, containing skeletons of plants from two summers ago, used the soil, a bit of worm juice and a trusty outdoor tap. Three weeks later my pots were flourishing. It was satisfying, akin to the feeling you get when you clear out your room and take loads of unwanted items to the charity shop, but with an added bonus of new life, like painting an item of furniture or reorganising your bookshelf. To nurture a space, especially with new life, is very soothing for the soul.
Dare I say it but winter is coming, and after what felt like an endless summer it might be better to leave the outdoor planting until the spring. However, there is much to be gained from bringing a pot plant into to each room in your house for the winter season. I am completely converted and I don’t know if I could live in a house without plants anymore. For the many of us who have hectic lives, there are plenty of easy maintenance indoor plants that make a world of difference to your rooms. Tip: if you’re really busy, remember that plants do well in bathrooms.
Tips from the gardeners at the Greenwich Peninsula Jetty included buying worm juice (the juice secreted by worms when they turn gross, rancid stuff into food) and nurturing seeds in a Tupperware before potting them.
Urban Growth Learning Gardens are dotted around London: The Jetty in Greenwich, PopBrixton, and Brixton Orchard. They provide workshops and volunteer experiences for would be gardeners, teaching you to garden, grow food and also helping support local wildlife with your efforts. The Jetty in particular is a beautiful space to spend an afternoon by the river, with a cafe on site.
For more information visit: www.urbangrowth.london
For those who wish for a nice glass of champagne or a cocktail alongside their volunteering experience there is also the Chelsea Physic Garden, which also provides bespoke gardening courses, family workshops and evening talks for those looking for a more luxurious experience: chelseaphysicgarden.co.uk
There is also a fantastic flower arranging school in London's Flower Centre, Covent Garden: AcademyofFlowers.com
And after all that: if in doubt go to the garden centre. It’s like an afternoon out to Ikea, but for the outside bits, and everyone loves a good afternoon out to Ikea.
Kate-Lois Elliott is a lifestyle and culture writer, producer and actor. She has contributed to XYZ Magazine, VICE, Caboodle, Femini and Mouth London. Kate was the assistant editor for The Shapers Project book with The Creative Society, Jazz FM and Mishcon De Reya, has had her short fiction read out on Wandsworth Radio/Either-Author and had her work staged at Theatre 503. She regularly champions first time playwrights with her company Backbone Theatre, who run workshops and readings at London venues. http://www.kateloiselliott.com/