Category: Blog

Writing a garden diary each month gives me a rhythm and frame. But sometimes plants unfold and live in quite different timescales.

Gardening in the time of Coronavirus: watching changes in minute detail. As spring arrived the garden leapt into life, I cleared away last year’s dead growth, and moved to home working.

This month felt little more than a horticultural interregnum. A pause. As though the garden froze in January, awaiting a spring thaw in March.

In the mid noughties I lived for two stretches in St Albans, a commuter city nestled in the Hertfordshire green belt. The first time I lived and worked in the town centre, after leaving school. Some years later I lived there again, commuting into a job in London. It’s just 18 minutes from central London by train. Each year there are 7.5 million entries and exits through the station gates. It’s a fantastic place for commuters to live, if you can afford the exorbitant prices. It’s also a very easy place to live without a car if you are happy to walk and cycle about town. Yet nine in ten residents owns a car, half drive to work, and almost 7 in 10 trips are taken by car overall. Train journeys account for 7.5% of overall trips, just over a tenth the number made by car. The city is growing,…

Inspired by Rebecca Willis’ research, and some of the Extinction Rebellion actions I joined, I decided over Christmas to try to engage my local MP on the climate crisis. One of Willis’ findings was that, because MPs rarely hear from their constituents about the climate crisis, they don’t feel much pressure to prioritise it. So in the lull after Boxing Day I wrote to Steve Reed, MP for Croydon North. After he replied, I asked to meet him at his surgery to talk to him about this in person. What follows is my (long!) letter, what happened when I met with him, and some thoughts on what I might do next, with a plea for suggestions. My letter took me a while to write. I didn’t want to just rehearse the standard arguments, and I knew that he – in theory at least – acknowledges the issues. So I decided…

In her lovely book ‘Life in the Garden’, Penelope Lively describes gardening as “the conquest of nature, the harnessing of nature to a purpose”, and “the creation of an ordered state where nature would insist on disorder”. I find this a curious view, especially from somebody who has spent a lifetime with her fingers in the soil, and observing gardens. Admittedly many gardening fashions over the years have sought to shape nature to a pastiche of the sublime, the picturesque, or the de-natured geometric. The dominant ethos of suburban gardening until quite recently was to spray nature into submission, leaving only manicured flowers to poison unsuspecting insects. This was the “ordered state” to which gardeners aspired. But whether at the level of a petal, a plant or a whole garden, I find in nature’s design the most complex and fascinating ordered state. One that emerges of its own accord, and…

The publication of the hellish Hothouse Earth report during a global heatwave has woken many up to the stark reality of climate change. But few have woken up to the political reality we face.

Paxton and Prince Albert are well known to fellow Crystal Palace locals. Pubs, monuments and the museum remind us of their role in bringing the Crystal Palace to Hyde Park in 1851, then to Sydenham / Penge in 1854. But next to nothing is known about the firm that manufactured the glass, an incredible feat of industry and innovation. That firm was Chance Brothers, founded and run by my ancestors.