Visiting Camden in Bloom awards entries growing in public spaces

Marchmont Community Garden

Marchmont Community Garden - Credit: Nigel Sutton

Ruth Pavey visits a community garden in a gap between buildings in WC1, a pub in Kentish Town wreathed in hanging baskets and window boxes, and a verdant hidden courtyard off Highgate Road, all entries in this year’s Camden in Bloom awards.

Ricci de Freitas and Ian Drummond at Marchmont Community Garden

Ricci de Freitas and Ian Drummond at Marchmont Community Garden - Credit: Nigel Sutton

Ian Drummond, creative director of the Highgate firm, Indoor Garden Design, was one of this year’s award judges. He and Ricci de Freitas, chairman of the Marchmont Community Association, met us at the community garden.

It is a passageway at the northern end of the Brunswick Centre which, until five years ago, was closed off and neglected. But now, as Ian remarks, “it’s a really pleasant surprise”.

The walkway curves between flowerbeds and benches, with native hedging on one side and a high creeper-clad wall on the other.

The beds are filled with a good mix of plants, with such things as hollyhocks, Tithonia (Mexican sunflower), Nicotiana sylvestris, Echinops ritro and various echinacea noticeable at the moment.

A volunteer gardener happened to walk by, stopping to comment that she became involved when she saw people planting bulbs. It looked simple enough for a non-gardener, and that was her way in. The volunteer group, says Ricci, is a nice mix of people who work well together, with at least one who really knows about plants.

The George IV pub occupies the corner made by Holmes Road and Willes Road in Kentish Town, with the attractive Inkerman Community Garden just across the way.

Marchmont Community Garden

Marchmont Community Garden - Credit: Nigel Sutton

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Counting both frontages, there are ten tall framing arches of ivy, setting off a great effusion of flowers, including red, pink and white petunias, red and pink busy lizzies, fuchsias, geraniums, lobelia and, to the owner Robin Tomlinson’s chagrin, yellow bidens.

“I don’t think that yellow looks right,” he exclaims down the phone, “not with that dark pink”.

Actually I thought the whole thing looked fine, thanks to the dark living background of the ivy. Peering through it at the top of each window is Neptune, in the form of a series of plaster reliefs. The Neptunes could easily be lost under the ivy, but frequent cutting back keeps them visible.

The barman says that people who sit at the outside tables mostly choose the Holmes Road frontage because then they not only have the pub flowers but can look out at the Inkerman Community Garden as well.

This liking for greenery in the city is hardly news, but there is mounting evidence about how therapeutic it is to live alongside plants and to work with them.

At the Highgate Day Centre, which supports people living with mental health difficulties, the members of the Garden Group I met were in no doubt about the importance of the garden to them.

Marchmont Community Garden

Marchmont Community Garden - Credit: Nigel Sutton

Supported by community gardener, Ben Ledden, they have restored what had already been a garden but had become derelict. Now it is a beautifully kept, sunny courtyard full of plants, mostly growing in pots, with an emphasis on edibility – herbs, tomatoes and raspberries are all growing when I visit.

A high white-painted wall supports jasmine (and birds’ nests) and Virginia creeper and there are chairs and a table in the shade of a sumac tree.

It is unclear how long the Day Centre will remain where it is so having a portable garden makes sense but Ben says that meanwhile they will just carry on with their plans to restore the overgrown passageway to the street, which will free up the forgotten, shadowy pond.

This is a private garden but members of the public were invited in on Open Garden Squares Weekend at the end of June – so successfully that the hope is to have more open days in future.

The Camden in Bloom Awards ceremony on September 22 will reveal who has won what.

A Generic Photo of lavender. See PA Feature GARDENING Gardening Column. Picture credit should read:

A Generic Photo of lavender. See PA Feature GARDENING Gardening Column. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/Thinkstockphotos. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature GARDENING Gardening Column. - Credit: PA

Things to do

?- Cutting back lavender

Most advice says you should have cut the flowering stems by now, but bees are still visiting the flowers and the plants seem fine waiting till later. Not cutting at all isn’t good, the plants do need trimming.

?- Figs

You should pick them when they’re just right; they’re unwilling to ripen off the tree, but the wasps love them once they’re soft.

- Garden visit


Figs - Credit: PA Archive/Press Association Images

?Nearly the last north London garden open this year through the National Gardens Scheme, interesting sounding, small, with lots of different asters in flower.

Sunday, October 2, 12.30 – 4.30pm, 23 Imperial Road, N22 8DE.

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