Time Out unearths five fantastic new gardening trends heading London‘s way and meets the green-fingered gurus making horticulture hip

  • Avant-gardening

    Lunar plants at Kew (© RBG Kew)

  • 1 Antique seed swapping

    ‘There’s a huge trend in swapping heirloom seeds at the moment, especially among young, grow-your-own types,’ says Alys Fowler, author of forthcoming ‘The Thrifty Gardener’ (published by Kyle Cathie on Sept 25) and self-confessed garden geek. Organisations such as Seedy Sunday (www.seedysunday.org) arrange seed-exchange events where enthusiasts feverishly offer up rare and ancient varieties, trading a lumpy marrow for a knobbly tomato last seen in the 1890s.Fowler explains that saving and replanting seeds means your plants start to change according to their local environment. ‘A unique adaptation, if you like,’ she explains. It seems hybrid commercial seeds are often grown in one specific area and have none of the interesting quirks a few generations of homegrown plants might have, and with climate change, plants able to adapt could fare much better. ‘Of course, there’s a slightly snobbish side to heirloom planting, a sort of “look at my Batavian lettuce,” ’ admits Fowler. ‘My tip is to go to Lidl, which sells very, very cheap packets of seeds (29p-59p a pack) that are mostly those open-pollinated, easy to adapt varieties – otherwise the pack states “hybrid” in big letters. You can find really good heirloom varieties if you look around. The other day I bought a Chinese cucumber called Chinese slangen and a loose-leaf lettuce, foglia di quercia, for 29p each. Bargain.'

    64 CG Seeds.jpg
    © Rob Greig

    How to...

    Look online for local community seed swaps or try out rare heirloom varieties from the Real Seed Company (www.realseeds.co.uk) and the Kokopelli Institute (www.organicseedsonline.com), which donates seed packages to developing nations and can supply you with rarities such as black tomatoes and, should you want it, Batavian lettuce. Garden Organic (www.gardenorganic.org.uk) also has a heritage seed library. ‘You become a member, but then you get three seed packets for free,’ says Alys Fowler. ‘They’re all open-pollinated and often you can get varieties local to your area. Last year I grew Kenilworth potatoes – local to the Midlands – which is a really good 1950s variety that grew well in my soil. In return for your seeds you send some back to keep the library going. They offer lots of advice on how to seed-save.’ (DJ)

    2 Green gardens

    ‘This season, gardens are decidedly green,’ proclaims Beryl Hislop, owner and founder of the award-winning North One Garden Centre (www.n1gc.co.uk). This may seem obvious, but Hislop confidently refers to a breaking trend, spotted by North One’s garden style expert Paul Holt. Multi-textured layers of lush green vegetation with bright green flowers are soon to be blooming in the backyards of style-conscious gardeners across the capital. North One researches trends in much the same way as a fashion design team, working a year or more in advance, ordering plants, scouring trend forecasting mags, sniffing around trade events and taking buying trips to Holland to source garden accessories. Green-themed gardens were also spotted at last year’s Chelsea Flower Show, but Hislop has noticed a new London trend: demand for North One’s traditional rose stock hints at a return to sweetly romantic gardening.

    How to...

    ‘You don’t need lots of colour,’ explains Paul Holt. ‘You can create a really lovely effect with variegated foliage and a few white accents, like night-scented tobacco plants or white stocks.’ Walking us around North One, Beryl Hislop points out a number of varieties that were handpicked to create a greener look. Apart from the obvious bamboos and hellebores, we spot quay lime, hedychium (‘ginger lily’), choisya and a berberis, an attractive plant with ferocious spikes that deter burglars. Pick a few larger varieties to give structure but be conscious of shaded areas and layer these with tougher plants. (DJ)

    64 CG VegPlots.jpg
    Lunar planting at Kew College (© RBG Kew)

    3 Lunar plants

    Planting and pruning according to the phases of the moon seems to be the domain of aged men with sparrows in their beards. Yet it could be this New Age edge that has attracted a new wave of residential gardeners and organic farmers. ‘My annual sales more than doubled last year,’ says Nick Kollerstrom, author of ‘Planting by the Moon’. ‘I’ve been producing my lunar planting calendar yearly since 1999, so I guess there’s increasing interest.’ Planting vegetables and flowers according to the phases of the moon is nothing new. Lunar planting is linked with biodynamic farming, the Rudolf Steiner-founded holistic, spiritual and self-sufficient approach to agriculture followed by the muddy-booted movers and shakers of the farming world, including Peter Holden, director of the Soil Association. Planting as the moon is waxing could mean that soil is richer in moisture, and pruning is encouraged as the moon wanes as less sap seems to rise. Kollerstrom is also eagerly awaiting the lunar findings of Thea Pitcher, a third-year student at Kew Royal Horticultural College whose student vegetable patch was planted according to a lunar calendar.

    How to...

    Using a lunar calendar such as Kollerstrom’s (www.plantingbythemoon.co.uk) or German lunar planting expert Maria Thun’s Biodynamic Sowing and Planting Calendar 2008 (www.florisbooks.co.uk), try following the zodiac-based planting system that claims to increase yield in vegetables and flowers. Although lunar and biodynamic gardening falls a little short of scientific endorsement, Kollerstrom assures us it works. (DJ)

    64 CG Bishops Sq_crop.jpg
    Legal firm Allen & Overy's living roof at Bishop's Square, Spitalfields (© Nigel Young, Foster & Partners)

    4 Living roofs

    Stop press! Ken Livingstone loves grass. The Mayor of London’s Architecture and Urbanism unit now expects new developments to grow it on the roofs, balconies and terraces of the capital. Although it seems to be an initiative focused on visually improving the quality of life in London, grassy roofs are a serious business. Installed and maintained correctly, they can keep homes cool in summer and warm in winter, provide a habitat for wildlife and protect against flash floods and leaky roofs. Living roof expert Dusty Gedge set up www.livingroofs.org in 2004 in an effort to kick-start a green renaissance, and it looks like he’s achieving it. Dispensing advice and encouragement, he’s pledged to enlist three central London institutions to retro-fit green roofs on to their building and he’s even organised the World Green Roof Congress to meet in London this September for two days of talks for architects and planners and a London-wide roof safari. ‘I think it’s everyone’s responsibility,’ says Gedge, who feels the benefits of green roofs are obvious. ‘We’ve got too much grey space in London and making the city greener makes it cooler.’ Allen & Overy, a forward-thinking law firm, commissioned architects Foster & Partners to design their new Spitalfields offices and the firm now boasts a living rooftop. The grass and flower garden offers views across the East End, though the sea of flat roofs beyond have yet to be fringed with green.

    How to...

    A living roof can be assembled just about anywhere, although you should ask a structural engineer if your roof can take the load. Gedge recommends a a root membrane barrier, a drainage layer, woolly fleece and filter sheet. Livingroofs.org is an excellent resource and forum for residential green roof projects and Gedge will publish an online DIY guide for small-scale gardens in the next month. (DJ)

    64 CG Halles.jpg
    Patrick Blanc's Marché des Halles, Avignon, France (© verticalgardenpatrickblanc.com)

    5 Vertical gardening

    Gardening doesn’t get much more avant-garde than Patrick Blanc’s huge expanses of subtropical foliage, which colonise the walls of some of the most prestigious buildings in Paris. For these are not only hydroponic gardens (grown without soil – the plants are fed with dissolved nutrients) but they are inspired by the way plants grow in multi-level rainforest canopies or clinging to rocks around tropical waterfalls.‘For many species, growing vertically is closer to their natural habitat than growing in a pot or on the man-made horizontal plane,’ says Blanc, who insists that he is a botanist and scientist, not a landscape gardener. He earned a doctorate studying the adaptive strategies of how plants survive in the shade beneath a tropical forest canopy, and has applied that knowledge to create more than 150 mur végétal plant walls over the past 15 years. Most notably these include the stunning vertical gardens he has designed for the architect Jean Nouvel at the Musée du Quai Branly and the Fondation Cartier pour l’Art Contemporain, both in Paris, as well as interior projects including the courtyard of the swanky Pershing Hall hotel in Paris or the Girbaud boutique in SoHo, New York, among many others.Until now there has been very little vertical planting in London, but Blanc has been commissioned by nightclub owner Billy Reilly to design the vertical planting around the new Pacha Terrace in King’s Cross (a pub formerly known as The Driver, at the southern end of Caledonian Road) and is also working on a housing project on the Lea peninsula, east of Docklands. ‘The plant wall is not a criticism of the city, says Blanc, ‘I’m only trying to reconcile it with nature.’ It’s easy to see how it could transform urban sites; there are plenty more vertical planes in London that would benefit from creative planting.

    How to...

    Indoors or out, the patented system Blanc has pioneered is the same, with plants placed into a thick artificial moss layer attached to a steel frame. A layer of PVC prevents water damage to the wall itself. And then you just add water, suitably enriched with appropriate nutrients by irrigation. It’s a complex and expensive technique (think £400 per square metre), but look at Blanc’s website (www.verticalgardenpatrickblanc.com), ‘Vertical Gardens: Bringing the City to Life’ by Anna Lambertini (Thames & Hudson, £39.95) or ‘Avant Gardeners’ by Tim Richardson (Thames & Hudson, £24.95) for inspiration, and check out Tony Heywood’s Helter Skelter project at the corner of Edgware Road and Sussex Gardens in W2 (www.conceptualgardens.co.uk). If you want to brighten up a wall or courtyard, buy some trellis and grow climbers such as the fast-growing Boston ivy or, if you have full sun, vines like wisteria. (DS)

  • Add your comment to this feature