Council estate gardens



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You don't need pots of cash and Habitat decking to create and urban oasis. Some of London's most inspired gardens can be found on its many council estate. Time Out meets the residents with the greenest fingers

  • Council estate gardens

    Pat and Bill McDonough, Kipling estate, SE1

  • Pat and Bill McDonough

    Kipling estate, SE1

    Pat and Bill McDonough have devoted much of the past 38 years to tending their garden. It’s a joint effort, which hasn’t gone unnoticed – in 2004 and 2005 they received Southwark in Bloom awards from the borough’s mayor. ‘I dig the holes and cut the grass,’ says Bill, a cabbie for more than 40 years. ‘And I’ve got the green fingers I suppose,’ says wife Pat, who comes out daily with her trowel to attend to her glorious peonies, beloved velvet roses and abundant scrubs. There are resident blue tits, robins and sparrows. ‘We get the Bermondsey squirrels too,’ says Pat. ‘They are vandals!’ They also buy plants at East Street Market and ornaments from Asda. And what’s with those England flags? ‘We’ve been asked to take them down in the past because apparently they are not very PC,’ says Bill. ‘But I love the rugby and St George’s Day is my birthday – same as Shakespeare.’Tip Buy cow dung fertiliser from B&Q.

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    Sheila Whitemore, south Hackney, E9

    Sheila Whitemore

    South Hackney, E9

    Walking towards Victoria Park from south Hackney, it’s difficult to miss Sheila Whitemore’s eye-poppingly decorative front garden, immaculately lined with plaster figurines, a pair of stone boots and a robotic parrot in a cage (created from a broken toy belonging to her great-grandson). Whitemore has been adding to the garden since she moved in ten years ago. ‘It’s nice because the local children check to see if I’ve got something new. I did have 43 gnomes at one point but things get nicked. My daughter saw some people trying to steal the water mill one day and it’s really heavy.’ Despite these assaults she continually picks up more items, such as a set of ornamental characters including a traffic warden and a cook. It all has an infectiously positive vibe; her colourful hanging baskets are blooming even on a dreary March morning. Her secret? ‘They’re fake!’ Tip Trawl car boot sales for ornaments.

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    Christine Blower, Somers Town estate, NW1

    Christine Blower

    Somers Town estate, NW1

    In a tiny patch of bricked garden barely one metre by three, Christine Blower has worked a quirky aesthetic giving her garden landmark status among its neighbours. Originally from Lancashire, Blower has lived on London council estates for the past 30 years, and moved to her compact NW1 flat behind Euston station just 18 months ago. ‘This is the first garden I’ve had,’ she reveals. ‘When I got here there was absolutely nothing. I’m proud because I’ve done it all myself. Friends are impressed when they come around.’ So, what next? ‘I’m planning to get a trellis arch over the gate.’Tip ‘Other people buy plants from the garden centre, but I plant mine from seed. I get them from the pound shop. I get gnomes there too.’

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    Jerome Morrison, Waxham estate, NW3

    Jerome Morrison

    Waxham estate, NW3

    In a low-rise council block in Gospel Oak, Jerome Morrison’s enormous yucca tree cuts a striking silhouette on the pale grey bricks and angular lines of the compact flat he has lived in for the past 25 years. Morrison, a former train driver, sources most of his plants – including luscious palms, vibrant cordylines, ivy, ferns and heather from ‘Donna’s stall in Queen’s Crescent’. It all began when he planted a ten-inch yucca plant not long after he moved in 25 years ago; it just kept growing and now almost entirely shields the lower half of his flat. His immaculate garden features a slate border (from Homebase) and gnomes, stone hedgehogs and mini scarecrows. It all looks like it requires a huge amount of upkeep but ‘it’s no effort at all’ says Morrison. ‘You haven’t got to spend a lot of time and money if you know what you’re doing.’ Tip Buy terracotta pots at Poundstretcher (two for £6).

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