Here at AnOther, we’ve got plants on the brain. With the arrival of sunshine, we’ve been walking in parks, lazing in gardens and buying up as many peonies as we can afford, but it’s not enough. Now we want to create our own fragrant havens at home. So with this in mind, and with the wonderfully green focused Port Eliot Festival just round the corner, we have called upon two of its horticultural stars, Tony Howard of From Plot to Pot and Benjamin Ranyard of Higgledy Garden, along with Nik Southern of forward thinking London florist Grace & Thorn, to offer some tips for the aspiring city gardener. From the best vegetables to grow and a kitsch use for your discarded bottles to an easy terrarium and the importance of the right seed, let our gardening experts guide you towards that urban oasis you've always dreamed of.
Nik Southern – Grace & Thorn
I was born in London and lived here until I was 14, then my family moved to Enfield where we had an 110ft garden – I was literally in heaven. Whilst my brother and sisters were out playing with their new neighbourhood friends, I’d be in the garden weeding and pruning my mum’s forsythia. I set up Grace & Thorn after moving back to London and ditching my job in IT recruitment. We do movement, variety, texture – avoiding over-manipulation of flowers. Our recent projects include a terrarium, cactus and succulent tablescape for the launch of Whistles menswear and five, three metre jungle men with Gary Card for Hugh Boss.
There is something so comforting and satisfying about seeing something natural grow in your care. Jasmine is a favourite of mine – it can grow very easily and the smell is absolutely intoxicating. I recently created a small container plot in my own garden, full of a variety of succulents in terracotta pots. Succulents are great because they are low-maintenance, they come in all sizes and colours, and they can live in anything – teacups, egg cups, corks, old bottles, pickle jars; you can even make a vertical succulent garden out of an old picture frame and some chicken wire. Bring them inside in the winter though. Terrariums are a brilliant way to connect with nature indoors. Fill a cloche, bell jar or mason jar with appropriate plants, mosses, gravel and bark – the combinations are endless to create your own living world.
Tips for the urban gardener:
1) Vertical gardening is an excellent way to utilise the most of your outside space. Living walls can be perfectly combined with planted pots to create a lush environment. Ferns, bromeliads, succulents, herbs and even vegetables like tomatoes work in vertical gardens.
2) Be clever about your outside space making use of any opportunity. Overhead you could hang bottles with plants in them or even macramé hangers. Using old pallets for planting is also a good way to utilise space as you can simply lean them against your walls.
3) Sometimes, the only space to garden is indoors. Even in a tiny flat, plants will be happy to grow. All you need is some light and the right plants, and you can have a living room jungle or a kitchen window sill garden.
Tony Howard – From Plot to Pot
I grew up in a coal-mining village in the north east of England. The front gardens in the terrace houses were always flowers, the back garden vegetables. Every year, each back garden would grow a family type of vegetable, and the great thing was how we would swap our potatoes with the neighbour who grew onions and so on, and then the next year we all would grow the next in the rotation. Plot to Pot came about with my experience when I was head gardener at Fairlight Hall in East Sussex. My experiences there taught me about eating seasonally and got me involved in working with local schools and the slow food organisation. I'm developing Plot to Pot to show and teach clients who want to grow as well as raise some of their own food in the space they have, create rotation plans on what the client eats and if they want to say "have chickens or livestock", advise and create a way of doing this, preferably organically.
Cities are great for growing vegetables as you normally get a slightly higher temperature so are able to garden a bit earlier. I would grow loads of salad, herbs and tomatoes in the summer. In the winter months I would grow Chinese leaves like pak choi, also corn salad and the winter black Spanish radish which I love. Some of the more exotic fruit and veg like turmeric, lemon grass, sweet potatoes and ginger are really easy if you have a bit of space. It doesn't matter how small a space you have, you will always have walls; create a living wall and grow vertically using whatever you can plant in.
Tips for the urban gardener:
1) Know what you like to eat and grow it if possible.
2) Look around you and see what grows well in your area. Pick the plants you like and grow them to start – you can experiment later.
3) Plan and ask questions to anybody who grows, I do this every chance I get and I'm always learning something new.
Benjamin Ranyard – Higgledy Garden
I have never gardened in the traditional sense. It's never appealed to me and shrubs freak me out. About ten years ago I grew a hundred sunflowers in pots for a friend's fete style wedding – it was such a wonderful thing to watch them grow from seeds into beautiful towering floriferous plants. I then started Higgledy Garden, a small company growing for shops and pubs in my local community, but I noticed that more and more people were visiting my website not looking to buy flowers but looking for information as to how to grow their own. I started providing this information in the form of hundreds of articles and growing guides and then people started visiting in their thousands. So now I concentrate only on the seedy side of the business.
I love growing annual flowers. They are the rock stars of the flower world. Cornflowers, Calendula, California Poppies, Rudbeckia, Zinnia – they live fast and die young, blazing a beautiful trail of colour and form and glory. In the city, you can grow most annual flowers in containers as their roots are generally only about six inches deep – just keep your pots watered and all will be well with the world. So even if you don't have ground to cultivate then a balcony is fine. Guerilla gardening is also a possibility is you like a little spice. Seeds are as cheap as chips, so it can be worth just sprinkling some in some waste ground and just seeing what happens.
Tips for the urban gardener:
1) Patience – growing flowers is not an instant gratification thing. It's a cyclical trip from seed to flower, from flower to seed. I myself get more pleasure from preparing ground in the spring and sowing up my beds than I do harvesting flowers.
2) Seeds – you need to find the best seed stock you can. Budget seeds are a false economy – they may have been bought as old stock and will therefore be less virile. For the price of a pint you could have several square metres of a flower garden.
3) A good hat.
Port Eliot Festival runs between 24-27 July. Tony Howard has created a special Hawaiian border for the occasion and both he and Benjamin Ranyard will be taking part in a gardening panel discussion during the festival.
Text by Tish Wrigley