Gardening4Health: A GP’s Perspective

Richard Claxton is a GP from Kent who also works in garden design and curates an online national directory of therapeutic gardens. In May 2022, he delivered a talk for the London Gardens Trust as part of the Chelsea Fringe. This blog post is based on that talk. 

Richard Claxton, GP

“My path into therapeutic horticulture has been a long and winding one. Although I have childhood memories of sweet pea sowing with my grandfather, it was probably a visit in late adolescence to Sissinghurst Castle, and learning of Harold Nicholson and Vita Sackville West’s extraordinary love affair with each other and their gardens, which first properly piqued my interest in gardening…

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Behind the Scenes at St. Paul’s Woodland Gardens

St Paul’s Woodland Garden project is a nature, food growing and community project located in Camden. The project offers people, in particular, those experiencing social isolation and/or mental health issues, an opportunity to come together with others to enjoy a green space, watch the birds, grow food, cook and create a haven for wildlife.  

“I didn’t really want to go this morning, but I am glad I did. It helped me so much to feel better. There was a lot to do in the garden which kept my mind busy…” 

The project, run by Green City Projects in partnership with St Paul’s Church, is just over three years’ old. It is located on one quarter of a church plot at the top of Camden Square. The original Victorian church was bombed during WW2 and replaced by a “temporary” building which is still standing today. This back story is relevant to the garden. The top soil is less than 30 cm deep – after that your spade hits the rubble of a church laid waste by war. However, the soil that is there is rich and dark, created by layer after layer of leaves dropping each year.  

Funded by the National Lottery, the Woodland Garden project offers a safe space and a warm welcome to a number of groups including patients from the mental health recovery and rehabilitation wards at St Pancras Hospital and people living in the community with mental health issues. Participants come on a weekly basis and get involved – planting, sowing seeds, topping up the bird feeders, managing the compost and creating wildlife habitats. We also work with the London Irish Centre across the square and host an intergenerational storytelling group in the garden whose members share laughs, stories and friendship. In 2019 we were amazed and delighted to win the Church of England’s and Conservation Foundation’s National Green Health Award. The scheme acknowledged the way the project had made use of  church-owned land to support people’s mental wellbeing.  

The garden is bordered by mature plane trees along with an old lime. These trees create dry shade conditions which can be a challenge for a gardener.  When we first started, we planned to grow more food. However, after a season of getting to know the space, we realised it wasn’t ideal for food and that we were pushing it in the wrong direction. We changed tack and decided to embrace what we found and see the garden as more of a wildlife space. It is now roughly divided into 20% food growing and 80% conservation and wildlife.

For the food growing we identified the sunniest spot and installed raised beds. In the past our crops have included pumpkins, tomatoes, salads, borlotti beans and onions and surprisingly, chillies do well here too. We worked with a charity called the Orchard Project to source varieties of apples which could cope with some shade. We held a tasting harvest lunch so we could have our say in which varieties we liked best. We now officially have an orchard as we have five apple trees.  

When we first arrived we did an audit of the plants and identified 20 species such as green alkanet, cow parsley and common burdock. Over the course of our time here we have more than doubled that, introducing, for example, yellow archangel, St John’s Wort and meadowsweet as well as a mix of wild woodland grasses. We have started recording the insects we spot including a speckled wood butterfly, lots of hairy footed (and fast moving) bumble bees and marmalade hoverflies. Each year we take part in the RSPB’s Big Garden Bird Watch. 

Although gardening is our core activity we also do cooking and art. In December 2020, with the help of Camden-based charity, Friendly Hand, we installed outdoor kitchen facilities, including a covered area and an oven so that we could continue to work in the garden and stay safe during the pandemic. We ran a summer programme with the Trauma Stress Clinic at St Pancras Hospital where half the group made lunch whilst the other gardened. We would sit down together and eat and agree the following week’s menu! One participant said it was the first time in over a year that she had sat down with others to eat a meal. 

For those of you thinking of visiting St Paul’s Woodland Garden project for the Open Garden Squares Weekend, one attraction is that it is an accessible outdoor space. This was a condition of our Lottery funding and rightly so. We installed paths and an accessible composting loo. We also plan to put our culinary skills to the test and prepare a number of woodland-edge inspired dishes, from blueberry muffins to wild garlic pesto! 

St Paul’s Woodland Garden 

This is our second post from St. Paul’s. You can read the first post here:

Instagram @greencityprojects 


You can find out more about London Square Open Gardens Weekend 2022, and book your tickets here:

St Paul’s Woodland Garden

St Paul’s Woodland Garden, Camden, is one of the brand new gardens in London Square Open Gardens Weekend. In 2018 they were given a quadrant of the churchyard at St Paul’s that had been left to itself for 15 years in order to develop a community garden. Taking inspiration from the 19th-century plane trees that border the churchyard, they developed the space into what you may find at the edge of a canopy of woodland. The team at St Paul’s Woodland Garden have set out to enable people, some of whom are the most vulnerable in our community, to access gardening and green space and so enjoy the benefits that participation can bring. It believes that gardens and nature can have a transformational impact on people’s lives. Read below to find out what they have been up to recently…

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Mona’s Garden in North London

Between Muswell Hill and Highgate, you’ll find the ‘Best Back Garden’ in London (voted by London Gardens Society), home to the National Corokia Collection. Started by Mona in 2000, the garden will feature in London Square Open Garden Weekend as our only domestic garden. This amazing garden has been a labour of love, and we’re thrilled to be able to share it with you over the weekend. It’s a must see for anyone in North London. Below, Mona shares with us her incredible garden, the plants she’s showcasing, and how she got started.

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Great Gifts for Gardeners

If you’ve been stuck for a gift for your favourite garden lover, you’re in the right place! We’ve put together a list of our best-loved gardening books, best buys, and little somethings – with personal recommendations from the team at the London Gardens Trust. All of the gifts in this guide are from fellow charities. You can be sure that your generosity is going further by supporting the incredible work they do.

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The Benefits of our gardens

By Dr Elisabeth K. Larsen 

Around 83% of the UK’s population now live in urban areas1. This leads to a greater demand for land within cities, a decrease in the average garden size, and an increase in paved-over surfaces2. Densely populated cities often cause environmental concerns like poor air quality, higher risk of flooding, excessive temperatures during summer months, a decrease in wildlife populations and a negative effect on human health. Green infrastructure play a key role in buffering some of these adverse effects by providing ecosystem services. Ecosystem services relate to the services provided by nature, which are beneficial to society. Green infrastructure include anything that grows, from lawns and flowers, to trees and hedges. All types of green infrastructure deliver ecosystem services to some degree, and gardens generally are the largest component of urban green infrastructure in the UK3. In cities these include flood and runoff mitigation, thermal regulation, improved human health, food and habitat for wildlife, pollution capture, carbon storage, windbreaks, shelter, and many others4,5. In the context of how urban gardens can make a positive impact in cities, I will focus on five services: increased biodiversity, flood mitigation, cooling, pollution capture, and human health benefits.  

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Why I Volunteer – Planet Patrol

As part of our Volunteer series, Alice, a Community Guardian from Planet Patrol has written about her experience as a volunteer in Cornwall. Planet Patrol was set up in 2016 and exists to protect our planet and wildlife by addressing the pressing threats of litter and the single-use culture. They are a community-focused, solution-orientated, non-profit organisation: a movement of people working for a cleaner future. They organise activities such as paddle boarding to bring people together to have fun, create a community, and help care for the environment.

Who are you, a little bit about yourself and which charity do you volunteer for? 

I’m Alice and volunteer as a Community Guardian for the non-profit organisation Planet Patrol who are on a mission to clean up the planet and connect people with nature. I live on the South East Coast of Cornwall in a fishing port called Looe and I’m fortunate enough to be running my own sustainable children’s clothing brand based in a place that I have spent most of my life. 

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Hamptons in the Garden

The London Gardens Trust loves gardens, and Hamptons loves gardens which is what makes us the perfect team for London Open Gardens. Like us, the team at Hamptons can often be found pruning their roses, digging in compost, or potting on in their greenhouses. Lockdown has given lots of people the chance to rediscover their garden, and the enjoyment that it brings. Have a read for an insight into what our principle sponsors get up to in their own gardens. 

Vanessa Price, Sales Administrator at Hamptons in Painswick“I live in a small cottage in the Cotswolds and my hobby is gardening. When we moved in 15 years ago we didn’t have a garden but we managed to purchase some garden from a neighbour 8 years ago and since then my husband and I have completely transformed it from an overgrown area to a pretty cottage garden which now includes a kitchen garden, flower beds and an area for our two pet pigs, Katie and Pippa. Since lockdown we have done a makeover that includes revamping my potting shed and also adding a small summerhouse to the garden.”

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Outdoor entertaining spaces

By our principle sponsors Hamptons

As we enter spring and restrictions start to ease, it is time to start getting excited about what’s to come. We can now move from our cosy sofas to our bright and beautiful gardens and begin to enjoy the sunshine and warm weather once again. It is important to keep our gardens looking lovely and colourful as this year our gardens will play host to relaxing picnics, tasty barbeques and fun outdoor games with our family and friends. 

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Why I Volunteer – Thrive

One of the charities that we are donating London Open Gardens 2021 tickets to, Thrive use gardening to bring about positive changes in the lives of people living with disabilities or ill health, who are isolated, disadvantaged or vulnerable. Read below to find out what makes Thrive so special, and why Katy Perceval loves volunteering for them.

Katy Perceval

Who are you, a little bit about yourself and which charity do you volunteer for? 

I’m a freelance journalist – and superfan of all things green! Work-wise, my previous career was 20+ years in communications with John Lewis and Waitrose, which was fun but I got burned out. So when I saw the chance to leave and take a career break to reset my life in 2017, I jumped right in – or should that be right out? Whatever, I was free. Top of my list was becoming a Garden Support Volunteer with Thrive London in Battersea Park.  

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Return of the light – A walk round the Olden Garden in early spring

By Catherine Miller

The Olden Garden is tucked away from the traffic of nearby Holloway Road on a small piece of land, some of it flat, most of it sloping down to a narrow rail track, on the opposite side of which is a separately-managed allotment site. This makes it part of a larger wildlife corridor, especially important given that Islington is generally short of open space.

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Is London about to be kicked out of top spot by a green Champ Elysees?

 By Tim Webb. This article originally appeared in our members monthly newsletter.

Our latest Members magazine is due out and mentions London being the world’s best city according to the online magazine

It’s the sixth year on the trot London has held the position but is now facing increasing pressure from the second and third placed contenders, New York and Paris. A number of factors are taken into account, from the economy, housing, culture and outdoor space.

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River Ravensbourne flowing freely in Cornmill Gardens

River Ravensbourne Parks in SE London

River Ravensbourne parks in SE London probably has you scratching your head! I hope you enjoyed your previous visits with me in South East London, to the Downham Estate and Deptford. So do join me again to walk along the River Ravensbourne in Lewisham. The history of the river is interesting and its parks are a joy, especially in times when we are so restricted. Let’s set off and explore the first three miles of the eleven mile river.

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Charity Christmas Gift-Guide

This year, we have been overwhelmed with support, not only from our wonderful members and supporters, but from other charities. To say thank you to them, we have put together this Christmas gift-guide to showcase some of their fantastic gifts. With pieces to suit all budgets and tastes, we’re sure you’ll find something for the garden lovers in your life – and you’ll be supporting the amazing work that these charities do throughout London.

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Nick Andrew Art

This weeks blog post has come from Nick Andrew Art. Nick is an extraordinarily talented artist, based close to the River Wylye in South Wiltshire. He has recently illustrated ‘Bloomsbury’s Squares and Gardens’ written by Susan Jellis, a showcase of the green spaces of Bloomsbury. Nick has kindly shared his experience of autumn in London, exploring St Anne and St Agnes Garden and St John Zachary Garden (The Goldsmith’s Garden). 

Concerto for clanking scaffolding and saxophone (Wednesday 3 November 2016)

Back in the heat of August 2016, while wandering this area after drawing the gardens at St Mary Aldermanbury; St Mary Staining and St Olave Silver Street, all of which lay on the grounds of churches destroyed by the Great Fire in 1666, I came across this little pair of sainted green spaces, just a street’s width apart, also created in churchyards. Extraordinary to imagine that 400 years ago, these 5 churches all stood so close to each other within an area of only about 200 x 200 metres. But I guess, in these heavily populated city streets and alleys, there would need to be enough pew space, when most people, devout or not, attended church. The chorus of ringing must have been deafening on Sunday mornings. (The bells of St Anne and St Agnes church are immortalised in a verse in the traditional nursery rhyme ‘Oranges and Lemons’: “..Kettles and pans, Say the bells at St. Annes..”)

So I return today and, as I approach the junction of Noble and Gresham Streets, trees seem to be leaning out and shaking their autumn foliage at the glass and steel of the surrounding blocks, flinging showers of leaves with every shake. Many scarfed and wrapped office workers rush by quickly to escape this easterly breeze, chill as a blade.

This was on the northwest edge of Roman Londinium. A fort built here in AD120 housed the official guard (over 1000 men) of the Governor of Britain. Wartime bombing uncovered sections of its foundations, including a square sentry turret. From the edge of St Anne and St Agnes you can look down over a wall at the excavations and can clearly see the stone square foot of this turret and stretches of wall, topped with layers of masonry and brickwork from medieval to Victorian. These two churches were built before the 12th century, just outside the site of the fort.

St Anne and St Agnes Garden
Around the corner a scaffolding lorry is being unloaded. Temporary barriers have closed off the gardens! Steel poles and planks are encasing the church in preparation for essential restoration work; hammers clang and ring as the structure builds towards the roof. I ask one of the workmen if I can stand just inside their temporary barriers to do my drawing and he shrugs his permission.

St Anne and St Agnes – Sketchbook Page Nick Andrew

In earliest Norman records the church that stood here was confusingly referred to either as St Agnes or ‘St Anne in the Willows’.  By the 15th century, these names had been brought together in its double dedication. As with the neighbouring churches, mentioned above, this was also engulfed and destroyed by the Great Fire. Only the lower section of its tower stood above the charred rubble. But within 20 years, this had been incorporated into a new and elegant brick church, designed by Wren, based on a Greek cross plan. It was severely damaged again in an air raid in 1940. Postwar reconstruction was funded by the Lutheran church, and reopened in 1966 for use by London’s Estonian and Latvian communities. Since 2013 it’s taken on a new identity, as the Gresham Centre: the exciting home of the musical educational charity, VCM Foundation, inspiring and engaging young people through song and sound.

These third of an acre gardens were laid out on the old churchyard in the 1970s, a variety of trees planted, including maple, lime and catalpa, plane, ash and cherry. They wrap an L shape around the south and east of the church, sections of which are shrouded behind tangled and mingled branches and twigs of autumnal and evergreen foliage. I draw the complex leafy lacework in front of scaffolded walls. At the southern end a rowan is a gold yellow flame, the most intense hue in view. People stream in and out of Lloyds Bank Head Office, just up the steps. Some stop to smoke, leaning on the wall overlooking the ruins. One of the scaffolders comes over to have a look at my drawing. He shouts up to his mate: “ere Kirk! e’s drawn a picture of you up there!….. Not very flattering!” In fact I hadn’t drawn Kirk. He wouldn’t keep still long enough!

St John Zachary Garden (The Goldsmith’s Garden) 

On the opposite side of Noble Street, St John Zachary Garden is shaded by two massive plane trees, which compete in height with the sheer steel and glass Lloyds bank building which looms like a cliff over the garden. Walk under an ironwork arch with golden leopard’s heads on either side and at the apex. This garden is on two levels. Past beds of evergreen shrubs and exotic plants, some late lillies still in ragged flower, and up five wide steps into a small paved and gravelled garden, with ancient gravestones laid. Here the gnarly plane tree trunks. Simple benches sit amongst ferns and spreading shrubs and low, feathery trees around the edge. There’s no-one here but I’m on the same level as the ground floor of the adjacent Lloyds building, and have a commanding view of multifarious and hectic office activity through the grid of windows. This is on the site of the churchyard of St John Zachary (aka John the Baptist), which dates from before the 12th century.  It too was heavily damaged in the Great Fire, after which it remained as ruins until pulled down in the 1800s.

St John Zachary – Sketchbook Page Nick Andrew

A flourishing fig tree overhangs as I take the steps down to the sunken level. More golden leopard masks on guard, fixed to the walls. The Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths have owned land hereabouts, dating from 1339. After the buildings here were destroyed in the war, this little garden (less than quarter of an acre) was laid out in 1941 by firewatchers (in 1950, it won the Best Garden on a Blitzed Site). The lower garden is the site where the earliest recorded Livery Hall was built. In 1300 Edward I decreed that quality of gold and silver should be standardised across the country, assayed by the Goldsmith’s Company and marked with the leopard’s head- the first ever hallmark. Today, assaying is carried out in the current Goldsmiths Hall, a solid Victorian edifice which sternly overlooks these gardens from the other side of Gresham Street.

Down here, a simple path around the edge, a square, well-tended lawn with pedestal fountain in the centre, a few small trees and shrubs around the edge and climbers up the brickwork. In the far corner, a sculpture by Wilfred Dudeney of three printers, showing the whole newspaper process from editor to printer to newsboy (originally commissioned in 1957 for New Street Square, but moved here when it was being redeveloped). I look for a suitable spot to draw and set up on the lower path close to the Lloyds building, where warm air is wafting from a heating vent. A laurel in the foreground and a red- leaved Japanese Maple (I think) spreads out from the upper beds. Not many people in the garden; a businessman with his coat collar pulled up, gripping a steaming cup and murmuring into his phone. A young couple come down the steps hand in hand and sit on a bench close to the view I’m drawing, hold each other closely and kiss. I look up from my sketchbook and we accidentally make eye contact a few times. A bit awkward.

Calls of crows echo loudly between the buildings: the song of the fast approaching autumnal gloam. And, to add to the effect, for a few minutes there’s the halting howl of a saxophone from the direction of St Anne and St Agnes Gardens.   

You can view the original post on Nick’s Blog here, other posts from his ‘Sticks in the Smoke’ series here, and more of his incredibly beautiful illustrations on his instagram page.

Copies of Bloomsbury Square Gardens, illustrated by Nick Andrew, can be purchased from and are £8.99. All proceeds go to support the work of The Association of Bloomsbury Squares and Gardens that of the Friends groups.

Discovering the Great North Wood

During lockdown, Catherine, like many of us, suddenly found herself spending a lot more time at home, and in need of something to do to break up the zoom call schedule (I think we can all relate to the zoom fatigue!). What better way to do this than getting outside, exploring the local area, and getting involved with a charity? Catherine has kindly written about her lockdown experience, and how it inspired her to become an outdoors person.

“Like many people, I learnt a lot about both myself and my neighbourhood during Lockdown. One of the most significant things was discovering that just 10 minutes’ walk from the flat I have lived in for 16 years is a lovely little wood. That wood became one of my Lockdown happy places.  

Let me rewind. It was the morning of 23rd April and I was heading to the park at the end of my road for a quick breath of fresh air before a day full of Zoom workshops. I bumped into one of my neighbours and her kids coming out of their house: ‘We’re off to pick wild garlic in the woods’, she said. ‘Which woods?’ I replied. ‘That makes me feel so much better,’ she exclaimed, ‘I felt so guilty when I discovered them last week. I have lived on this street six years!’ I have lived on this street for 16 years this week.  

The following day (when I was blissfully free of Zoom calls!) I followed her instructions to go through the gateposts on the corner of Beulah Hill and Spa Hill: ‘The ones that look like you’re going to go into someone’s garden.’ Twenty metres or so on a beautiful tranquil path opened up in front of me and within seconds I was plunged into a green oasis that smelt of wild garlic and was noisy with bird song. I spent the next hour or so wandering around the woods, discovering the fairy houses and wooden carvings that have been the hard work of The Friends of Spa Wood

Since then I have gone walking in those woods more times than I can remember. I soon realised that it provided a handy short cut to my partner’s house so I would cut through it on the way for garden gate chats and cake deliveries. I saw numerous dog walkers and runners and even spotted one person sat on a fallen tree working on their laptop.

I happened across temporary street art that just looked so amazing strung between two trees. One day I said to my oldest friends in our WhatsApp group: ‘I am off to the woods to listen to the birdsong,’ to which one of them quipped: ‘Is this your emergency message? Have you been kidnapped?’ I very much was not the kind of person who would go listening to birdsong, but listen to this – in the silent days of Lockdown the birds were magnificent. 

At some point I took to Google to find out more about Spa Wood. I had heard of the Great North Wood and knew that my area of Upper Norwood (better known as Crystal Palace) and the neighbouring West Norwood and South Norwood carried its name. My Googling quickly led me to the London Wildlife Trust and their conservation work on 13 remaining patches of the ancient wood. Their Go Jauntly App showed me walking routes to visit these sites. I decided that one of my Lockdown projects would be to visit all the sites in the London Wildlife Trust project. On the 12th of July I ticked off the last on the list with a trip to One Tree Hill.

Well, I say the last. Actually I couldn’t visit the New Cross Gate Cutting site because it is restricted access, but hopefully before too long I will get there. That’s because after my visit to One Tree Hill I came home, signed up to be a member of London Wildlife Trust and am now a volunteer on the Great North Wood project. I run my own business, a storytelling agency called Mile 91, so I am lucky enough to be have the flexibility to be able to take time out to volunteer during the week. My first session was at Spa Woods and I will be there again next Friday. They’re easy sessions to get to as I only need to leave my desk 15 minutes before the start time. When work allows I hope to volunteer at some of the sites further afield and I’ll make getting to the New Cross Gate Cutting a priority.

At the start of 2020, if someone had told me I would spend a large chunk of my year walking around woods in South London and by the time September came I’d be a volunteer for a conservation charity I would never have believed them. But would anyone have believed what was to come at the start of the year? Discovering the woodland areas near me as been one of the great joys of this unbelievable year though and I am really happy to now be doing my small bit to keep them healthy for others to enjoy.”

Catherine Raynor is a founding director of Mile 91, a storytelling agency for people who do good things. She can be found on Twitter and Instagram at @catherineraynor. All images courtesy of Catherine Raynor.

Vestry House Garden

Nathan, one of our Trustees, has been visiting some of our gardens, learning more about their history and the people behind them. This week he chatted to Marion, a professional gardener and florist, a City of London Tour guide specialising in green spaces, a member of Friends of City Gardens, an accredited guide for Smithfield market & The Temple, and one of our area coordinators. Marion also works at Vestry House, maintaining the garden. She spoke to Nathan about the history of the garden and how she became involved with Vestry House (unfortunately, she doesn’t share how she manages to fit all of that in!) You can listen to Marion’s interview on our website.

Vestry House Garden is one of a pair of award-winning gardens, which are privately owned. The garden was originally created on the site of the 12th Century Churchyard of St Laurence Pountney and the College of Corpus Christi. Corpus Christi College was founded by Sir John Poultney who was Lord Mayor in 1330, 1331, 1333 and 1336, in the parish of St. Lawrence. His name was also given to the church. Both the church and the college were destroyed during the Great Fire of 1666 and were not rebuilt. Sir John Poultney’s house had been on the west of Laurence Pountney Hill. A number of fine late C17th and early C18th houses survive in this area.

This former graveyard consists of two raised garden areas, which are divided by a sunken pedestrian passageway to Martin Lane. The area to the north is believed to be the site of the church of St Laurence Pountney. Both gardens are planted with trees and shrubs and are contained by railings which date from c.1780. Restoration works were undertaken in the south ground in 2003 as a private residential garden of adjoining property.

The gardens combine traditional parterre planting with a more contemporary design which works its way around tombs and headstones. There is a secluded planted area, naturalistic in style, and containing nectar-rich flowers to encourage wildlife. A wisteria walkway and espalier fruit trees provide formality, while the textural hard landscaping contrasts with the perfect grass lawn. The garden focuses on increasing biodiversity within The City. 

While the gardens are now private and residential, in 1370 the churchyard was used as a meeting place of Flemish weavers for the purpose of hiring. Weaves of Brabant gathered in the churchyard of St Mary Somerset. This separation was due to a disagreement between the weavers. We’re pleased to say that hiring practices have moved on since the 1300’s and we much prefer the ‘c.v via email’ route! 

You can read more about the St Laurence Pountney Graveyards on our inventory

Guest blog from The Growing Kitchen & Wenlock Orchard

The Growing Kitchen and Wenlock Orchard are resident led, community food growing spaces on The Wenlock Barn Estate in Hackney. Volunteers have transformed three spaces on the estate from mown grass to thriving, organic, productive sites for people and nature. Residents have individual micro allotments in The Growing Kitchen and jointly care for a shared foraging area with soft fruits, rhubarb and the orchard. Both sites have become havens for wildlife and we have a healthy population of breeding smooth newts and common toads, along with an amazing variety of moths, butterflies and bees. The spaces offer the community tranquil, natural spaces to spend time in, grow their own food and meet their neighbours.

During lockdown…

There is something very reassuring in the fact that nature’s processes continue without our intervention. The toads and newts spawned in the pond and the little toad tadpoles now have their back legs. It’s such a delight to be able to see them progressing through their life cycle and never fails to evoke feelings of true awe and wonder.

Meanwhile the berries are ripening on the fruit bushes, a mixture of strawberries, raspberries, black and red currants, gooseberries and one of my favourites, the jostaberry, a delicious blackcurrant, gooseberry hybrid, which is sweet enough to just eat straight from the plant. The first cherries were ready in May this year!

We’ve been feeding the fruits with homemade comfrey and nettle tea which works as an excellent feed rich in nitrogen and potassium, essential for fruit growth. Pretty stinky but when you know it’s doing the plants good, it’s bearable!

Watering has been a real challenge in the sunniest April on record, combined with those winds that further dried the soil. Mulching with wood chip and a good soaking with watering cans so you know how much each plant or tree is getting works better in lots of ways than the hose. We’ve had a watering rota but it’s been hard to keep up and the newer apricot trees in the orchard have suffered a little. Looking forward to some more rain! Can’t wait to taste the plums that are ripening in the orchard and watch the toadlets take their first steps out of the pond.

Guest blog from Emery Walker’s House Garden

Emery Walker House is one of a terrace of mid-eighteenth century town houses on the bank of the river Thames at Hammersmith.  Originally, access to the house was probablyvia the river and through the garden, but by the late nineteenth century the entrance from the terrace had become the main one. Thus we now have a garden which goes right down to the water’s edge.

We know that T J Cobden-Sanderson, bookbinder and co-founder with Emery Walker of the Doves Press, lived in the house until 1903. It was probably he who added the conservatory to the house and laid out the garden paths (we understand so his son could run his toy train round them).  These are still in place today but the planting layoutoriginated with the next occupants of the house, Emery, and his daughter Dorothy Walker.  Their plans were faithfully maintained by Dorothy’s companion, Elizabeth de Haas, who inherited the house and was its last occupant.

Dorothy kept a diary and copious notes as to what she planted in the garden which the Trustees of the house use to keep the planting as much to her choices of plants as possible.

Recently, Trustees and volunteers have been doing a lot of work on the garden as it had become quite overgrown.  Thisled to the unearthing of a rockery (very fashionable in the 1930s) and renewing of some of the planting based on the diaries. Among the flowers Dorothy chose are white campanula, violas, Sweet Williams, delphiniums, asters and lupins, together with  lavender and roses, the latter underplanted with cyclamens, now thick on the ground in spring. One of our volunteers was able to source an unusualdahlia which Dorothy loved called Baby Royal, which flowers prolifically in late summer.

At the same time one of the beds was almost completely cleared and we thought it would be appropriate to devote that to plants with an association with May Morris, William Morris’s daughter, who was a neighbour and a good friend  of the Walkers, living next door at no.8 for many years. She  was a greatly accomplished embroiderer and designer and gave theWalker family two embroideries now displayed in the house.  Like her father, she drew on both cultivated and wild plants for inspiration and some of these are included in the west bed: honeysuckle and horn poppy recall the two wallpapers she designed for her father’s firm Morris & Co.; roses and lilies are accompanied by pinks and peonies, alongside common daisies and ragged robin. In the spring the bed is full of narcissi, violets and forget-me-nots, accompanied by more exotic parrot tulips.

In early summer a magnificent wisteria covers the back of the house and extends along the garden to the pergola beside the river. And inside, coming in through a hole in the wall of the conservatory is a very fine vine, believed to be grown from a cutting from Hogarth’s garden in nearby Chiswick.

Thus a small suburban garden is packed with choices and memories of a family which had close associations with the Morris family, who lived a ten-minute walk along the river at Kelmscott House.

Guest blog from the Alara Permaculture Forest Garden

Lockdown has eased slightly, but we’ve never been more relieved to have an open space to escape to in the middle of London.

The Alara Permaculture Forest Garden was started by Alex Smith, the Alara founding director, to create a sort of Garden of Eden amidst the hustle and bustle of King’s Cross, and it has truly become a safe haven.

The garden is often used as a peaceful place for employees to enjoy their lunch away from the endlessly busy world of our cereal manufacturing factory. As they are considered essential workers, this sort of solace is really welcomed. Luckily, they do not have to go very far, as the factory is encircled by the garden and a yacon tuber plantation.

The garden was meant to be featured in the upcoming Open Garden Squares Weekend in early June. However, due to the current Covid-19 situation, the event has been postponed and we hope one day we will all be safe to mingle in the leafy oasis without fears of getting ill. It remains a lovely place for the public to find serenity in the current climate. If you wish to visit, simply call the Alara office (020 7387 9303) and inform a staff member so that proper social distancing measures can be guaranteed.


Alex will be planting an array of produce in the upcoming weeks, taking full advantage of the glorious weather we’ve been promised. This will include potatoes, pumpkins, chard, tomatoes, kale, chillies, courgettes and yacon. If you have limited space at home or have to make do with using pots and planters, chillies and baby tomatoes are great plants to tend in this sort of environment. They are both aesthetically colourful and you can pot them with the knowledge that you’ll also be able to enjoy your own produce once they’re ripe. Any herbs could also be a great option if space is a problem.
Our garden usually sees a great amount of apricots and loquats, but for some reason, we don’t seem to be in luck this here. In contrast, our fig trees are full of fruit that are already large and they should be ripe and ready by early July. We can’t wait!

We feel that our permaculture garden provides place of calm and continuity in an incredibly disorderly tumultuous time and we are endlessly thankful to have access to it.

Guest blog from the Core Landscapes Community Garden

A Core Arts Project

At Core Landscapes, we transform temporary sites into green havens to promote positive mental health for all. During Lockdown we have a skeleton staff and volunteer rota maintain our roof and street gardens and have shifted all learning engagement online. When the lock down began we worked quickly to create a series of  “how to” films on all aspects of horticulture films, spotlights on wild plants and seasonal garden updates. We are supporting our beneficiaries with calls, texts and whatsapp groups to share gardening information and to keep in touch with everyone and aim to deliver plant + compost packs to them in the near future. The films are fully accessible via our website link

Core Landscapes began in 2009 and has moved 4 times across 3 East London Boroughs since then. We’re currently situated on a roof in Hackney next to Core Arts’ award-winning mental health charity after relocating from Whitechapel last year. 

We work with people who have been referred to the project via health and social care professionals and also with community, support and corporate volunteers as well as the wider community and general public. We also support other community green projects with advice, support and training.

Whereever we are situated the project always has an orchard, teaching space, medicinal plants, pond, food growing area as well as a wide range of flowers, shrubs and other trees – all movable and container grown showcasing that the sky’s the limit with container growing. We demonstrate that just because you may not have much space or actual ground to grow into, you can still garden and create gardens to promote your mental health and wellbeing through gardening.

For more information – follow Core Landscapes at and or join our instagram @CoreLandscapesLondon or facebook group @communitymeanwhilegarden

Guest blog from the Hammersmith Community Gardens Association

Phoenix Farm in White City
We hope you all had a lovely Easter from all of us at Hammersmith Community Gardens Association.

One member of our team is still caring for the plants and animals at Phoenix Farm in White City, while our volunteer gardening sessions are postponed, to keep everyone safe. One of our amazing volunteers, Lydia, made a short film of Phoenix Farm over the Easter weekend. We hope you enjoy this 90 second video of peacefulness and calm as much as we did! Here is the link to the video:

This month, our head gardener, Cath, has had a lot to do in the garden! She has been busy sowing a huge variety of seeds in the greenhouse, such as: tomatoes, courgettes, pumpkins, French beans, coriander, basil and outside she has been sowing broad beans, sunflowers, peas, carrots, lettuce, rocket and spinach! If you are looking for some fun, food growing and nature craft ideas you can check out our website or sign up to the HCGA newsletter:​

Over the last week, we have given away over one hundred free ‘growing kits’ at Ravenscourt Park (outside the cafe) and on the White City Estate! Next week, we will be giving away more growing kits in Queen’s Park Gardens.

Keep an eye on our Twitter page for updates: @HCGAGardens. Inside the growing kit you will find sunflower seeds and other vegetable seeds, instructions on how to sow and plant them, small pots, compost and ideas for things you can grow at home from your store cupboard or from your food waste. Happy growing!

We have also launched our annual sunflower growing competition so if you would like to enter, sow some sunflower seeds now! You don’t need a garden, why not grow them in pots on your windowsill?! Follow the instructions below to help

The Great North Wood

Once upon a time a great forest of oak trees covered a ridge of hills from near the Thames down into Kent. The oaks and hornbeams grew thickly down the slopes and into the valleys below, standing tall and proud, some for perhaps six hundred years. This was the Great North Wood. 

Aha, you might think, a story of myths and legends. But, the forest was on a ridge of hills only 4 kms south of what has become a sprawling capital city. London has always been an important city and expansion was inevitable, expedited by various factors: an increasing population, improvement in roads, enclosure of common land, development of the railways and a changing demographic. And therein lay the challenge – the relationship between people and their natural surroundings. And in this relationship lay other factors perhaps, such as overriding greed and carelessness about the consequences of our actions. So what kind of story is this?

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