A Secret Garden in Hampstead: London Underground in Bloom

Someone asked me recently: “What’s the best thing about living in London?”


After much deliberation, running through the multitude of possibilities, I narrowed it down to: “The little things that engage your senses every day and the unexpected moments.”


On Saturday I came across both of these.


I journeyed up to Hampstead to meet Carolina for the best crepes in London at La Creperie de Hampstead.


I arrived a few minutes early and perched myself against the railing outside Hampstead station.


Back in 2007, I worked in Hampstead for about a year, in a small gallery up the hill toward the Heath.


I was lost in thought, wondering if the gallery is still there, thinking about rolling Easter eggs down Parliament Hill, a recent goodbye picnic for some friends who are now in China making their way overland to Istanbul over the next three months.


I thought back to 2008 when I used to come every Wednesday night to Hampstead with a group of friends to watch open mic nights at The Flask around the corner.


Then I looked up when I heard a girl saying, “Ugh, she’s still all the way in South Kensington (my station). That’s sooo far away.”


I glanced around for Carolina and a poster caught my eye.


It said there was a garden open day.


A secret garden!


I followed the arrow to a narrow alleyway that lined the back of the station and opened into a courtyard.


It was a beautiful little oasis of green, with flowers and plants coming out of every available surface, lining the walls, snaking up the steps, on the roof of the garden shed and in TFL tea cups on small brick ledges.


There were aubergines and plums, a banana plant, tomatoes, herbs and plenty of pretty flowers.


Smiling TFL staff handed out free cupcakes and took donations for Cancer Research.


The garden was designed by a few members of staff in their free time.


It is part of the Underground in Bloom competition which is an annual event that many different tube stations participate in.


This year marks the 150th anniversary of the Tube so “150” is incorporated in various elements of the garden.


I’m not sure if they will have another open day, but it sounds like the results of the competition will be announced on September 11, so you never know.


It looks like 68 stations are participating in the competition, so yours might be too!


Hampstead won first place in the fruits and veg category last year and was highly commended in the best overall garden award category.


I climbed up to the top of a winding metal staircase and the garden next door was also stunning.


There was a cat on the roof and one running into the house as well.


There was a bit of a traffic jam going up and down the spiral staircase when a girl decided she was terrified of heights and decided to go back down to the bottom.


But it was worth the wait to get to the top.


The garden had all sorts of little nooks and crannies.


Barely any space left unplanted.


If only it were around all year, open to the public.


That goes for all of these secret garden spaces that are created temporarily.


And green space generally.


More of this London. I like it.


Jorge and I visited NYC’s High Line for the first time last month.


What a brilliant project.


It really is a little oasis from the fast pace of city life below and I’d love to see something similar built / designed in London.


A High Line in London would be pretty fabulous, don’t you think? In the meantime, I am happy to discover secret gardens!

Guest Post: Alba Villacampa Visits Hampton Court Palace Flower Show

Hi! It’s Alba here. I’m taking over the blog for a day.

The week before last was full of surprises. My husband made me pack on Sunday ready to go the next morning from Tenerife (Canary Islands) where we live, to “somewhere”… He had some fun making me queue up at the check-in desks for a few destinations until we finally got our boarding pass to London!

I’m not sure about how many times I’ve been to London but it’s always worth the visit and you can be sure to find loads of new interesting things going on.

We went out for dinner with Jorge the same evening we arrived. There we were, two friends and Spanish garden designers catching up at Nando´s in Gloucester Road. But, the unknown destination was not the only surprise that awaited for me that Monday. Jorge took a press pass for the RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show out of his pocket and my name was on it to write about and photograph the show for LLO!

I want to thank Stephanie and Jorge for the opportunity of visiting the Flower Show and as I promised, here’s my view of what was going on this year at the show.

A Cool Garden (22)Photo: A cool garden designed by Ruth Marshall

A Cool Garden (11)Photo: A cool garden designed by Ruth Marshall

A Cool GardenPhoto: A cool garden designed by Ruth Marshall

The planting scheme gives this garden by Ruth Marshall a rural aspect which is emphasised by the use of natural materials. The creative water feature and the glass panel bridge are worth highlighting.

A room with a viewPhoto: A Room with a View designed by Mike Harvey

This gold medal winner garden by Mike Harvey was built with a low budget using reclaimed materials. The array of colours of the plantings looked gorgeous.

A valley gardenPhoto: A Valley Garden designed by Sophie Walker 

The large textures of the plants used in Sophie Walker’s garden reminded me of the subtropical gardens we have in Tenerife. I particularly loved the use of the still water surface where plants and light reflected.

Ashes to AshesPhoto: Ashes to Ashes designed by Bruce Waldock

The theme of this garden by Bruce Waldock – another gold medal winner – was the threat of Ash dieback in the UK for which the designer suggests a hopeful green and happy ending.

AthanasiaPhoto: Anthasia designed by David Sarton

One of the reasons I enjoy so much the flower shows in the UK is because of the differences between gardens back in Tenerife and the ones in the UK. It’s not only the species used but the planting schemes are so distinct. This garden by David Sarton is a good example; the relaxed and natural composition makes me want to just sit on one of those wooden cubes all afternoon.

August 1963 - I Have A Dream (2)Photo: August 1963 – I Have A Dream designed by Stephen A Ryan

A much more contemporary garden, Stephen Ryan’s design is worthy of the silver gilt medal it was awarded.

Between The Lines (1)Photo: Between The Lines designed by Maurice Butcher

Bugs in Boots (2)Photo: Bugs in Boots designed by Caspian Robertson

Here is another low cost garden with a very good result by Caspian Robertson. Love the natural appearance of the planting scheme and the detail of the “hanging basket”.

Desolation to Regeneration (1)Photo: Desolation to Regeneration designed by Catherine MacDonald

Desolation to RegenerationPhoto: Desolation to Regeneration designed by Catherine MacDonald

Catherine MacDonald’s design was rewarded not only with a gold medal, but this garden also won the Best Conceptual Garden award. It was very much a show garden, with sounds and smoke effects.

Four Corners (2)Photo: Four Corners designed by Peter Reader

Four CornersPhoto: Four Corners designed by Peter Reader

Again, Peter Reader’s garden is one that just makes me want to lay back and relax.

Home Spun (1)Photo: Home Spun designed by Kasia Howard

I have to admit I didn’t like this garden by Kasia Howard too much during the show, but now I’m looking at the photographs it has so much creativity that I feel I didn’t pay enough attention to it. It’s a bronze medal garden winner.

In At The Deep End (5)Photo: In At The Deep End designed by Peter Cowell & Monty Richardson

In At The Deep EndPhoto: In At The Deep End designed by Peter Cowell & Monty Richardson

Peter Cowell and Monty Richardson’s collaboration is another low budget garden with a spectacular result. They achieved a lovely effect with the planting space between the steps.

Layers and Links (3)Photo: Layers and Links designed by Raine Clarke-Wills

Macmillan Legacy Garden (1)Photo: Macmillan Legacy Garden designed by Rebecca Govier – Green Edge Garden Design

Mid century modern (1)Photo: Mid Century Modern designed by Adele Ford & Susan Willmott

Mid century modern (2)Photo: Mid Century Modern designed by Adele Ford & Susan Willmott

I liked the bright coloured design of Adele Ford and Susan Willmott’s garden. It is full of energy. So did the judges because this was a gold medal winner and the Best Low Cost High Impact Garden.

The Ecover Garden (1)Photo: The Ecover Garden designed by Matthew Childs

The Ecover Garden (2)Photo: The Ecover Garden designed by Matthew Childs

A gold medal and Best Show Garden were awarded to designer Matthew Childs. Sponsored by Ecover, this garden was all about sustainability.

The Garden Pad (3)Photo: The Garden Pad designed by Dan Bowyer

Dan Bowyer’s design was one of Jorge’s favourite gardens. Though I didn’t go inside it, I guess It must be lovely to sit in this hollow patio with all those plantings around creating a perfect sense of privacy while you enjoy a glass of champagne.

The Hot Stuff GardenPhoto: The Hot Stuff Garden designed by Victoria Truman & Liz Rentzsch Garden Design, Marcus Foster

The McCarthy and Stone Garden (3)Photo: The McCarthy and Stone Garden designed by Chris Beardshaw

The McCarthy and Stone GardenPhoto: The McCarthy and Stone Garden designed by Chris Beardshaw

The corten steel structure centred all the attention of this gold medal show garden by Chris Beardshaw. I’ve been to Chelsea Flower Show twice and it still amazes me how they get all the big trees and hedges to look as if they have been there for ages.

The QEF Garden for JoyPhoto: The QEF Garden for Joy designed by Heather Appleton in association with accessiblegardens.org.uk

The QEF Garden for Joy (1)Photo: The QEF Garden for Joy designed by Heather Appleton in association with accessiblegardens.org.uk

I especially liked the cooper screen and the weaved structure around the plantings of this design by Heather Appleton, although the most important characteristic was that it was a fully accessible garden which is unfortunately not very common in my home town.

The singing tree (1)Photo: The Singing Tree designed by Clive Mollart & Clive Scott

Tip ot the IcebergPhoto: Tip of the Iceberg designed by Caroline Tait & John Esling

Willow PatternPhoto: Willow Pattern designed by Sue Thomas

Vestra Wealth's Jardin du Gourmet (1)Photo: Vestra Wealth’s Jardin du Gourmet designed by Paul Martin

Vestra Wealth's Jardin du GourmetPhoto: Vestra Wealth’s Jardin du Gourmet designed by Paul Martin

Now I’ve had the opportunity to visit three flower shows in the UK I’ve noticed I prefer show gardens where you can find inspiration for future works. This garden by Paul Martin is a good example!

To end this post, here are a few more photos from around the RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show just to show you it’s not only a garden show.





Monty Don
Oh! By the way, we spotted Monty Don at the show (above). For those of you that are not from the UK, he’s a famous television presenter and writer on horticulture.

Thanks Alba!

Find Alba on her garden design website, Facebook and Twitter.

London’s Chelsea Flower Show 2013

Like last year, I was lucky to have a sneak peek at the 2013 Chelsea Flower Show on Press Day.


It’s brilliant to be able to avoid the crowds, especially for this year’s 100 year anniversary show – sold out, of course!


I never know which way to walk first since it’s such a huge area to explore, but this year I found myself heading toward a grassy patch with intriguing small huts, which I found out were “artisan retreats” filled with artists like Cath Kidston, the London College of Fashion and more.


Drawn to bright blue colours, I headed inside the first hut, delighted to find myself face to face with paper cutout artist Rob Ryan! We had a little chat, he showed me his new kneeling chair which looks something similar to this and said he’d be happy to do an interview for LLO. Looking forward to that!


The hut next to Rob’s was Pippa Small’s artistic home for the weekend. What a bright and happy place! I felt uplifted as soon as I walked inside.


Pippa had run off, but I spent quite a while sitting on the floor chatting with her beautiful sister  decorative artist Alexandra Small Simondetti about art and travel and life. She was absolutely lovely and happened to be the one in charge of much of the interior design I was so drawn to.


Our chat was my favourite part of the whole day. She is one of those people who make you feel comfortable in their presence and has plenty of interesting stories to tell. I would have stayed all day if I could.


She decorates Pippa’s shops and was telling me about the tree at the back wall of this hut. It’s made with real leaves from different trees to represent diversity and how we all grow together, the same. She has a Magnolia tree outside of her window at home and chose to paint those flowers for the tree here. 


Anyway, she said she hasn’t been as active with her art lately as she’s been spending time with her twins, but I’m hoping to interview her as well.


I popped in to a few of the other huts. Cath Kidston has a lawnmower with flowers painted across the strip of cut grass.


The London College of Fashion had a display about natural dyeing of clothing with some examples of students’ work. There were a few others as well.


And then I carried on to see some flowers.


It’s fun to go on press day as a blogger with my new little Lumix camera and tiny pancake lens and see some of the folks from the BBC, Guardian and other big media outlets working hard with all of their equipment, lugging around cameras, lights and tripods. They get more polished shots, of course, but it looks like quite a big production!


Outdoors were all the big gardens like the East Village garden by Michael Balston and Marie-Louise Agius who I just interviewed which won a gold medal – woohoo! But there were many others as well.


I have to point out that while the bigger media outlets seem to be making a bit of a fuss over the fact that Chelsea lifted the ban on gnomes this year I only saw one or two. They were barely noticeable, unless they were hiding from me. Here’s some gnome cane tops…better than a poke in the eye – as I guess most things are.


 Some of the gardens had little treehouse buildings or small sheds.


Love these right red trees!


I took over 800 photos yesterday so it was hard to narrow it down to the ones in this entry!


One of the most fascinating things about going to Chelsea Flower Show is the people. I spotted a few like Joanna Lumley, who turned heads for obvious reasons, but it’s a great place to people watch generally.


I thought it might be fun to compile a little list of things I overhead while walking around. I will quote them between photos. Read with a posh accent. (Note, they are random and don’t correlate with the people in the images!)


“Lydia dear, my what a lovely dress! Simply gorgeous.”

P1010579_2A flower hat and dress made with seeds, Lucy Ellis’ outfit is inspired by Van Gogh

“Darling, we must find one of these for Charlotte’s birthday dinner.”


“I was going to wear my orchid earrings but they didn’t quite go with these shoes.”


“You like white flowers, don’t you dear?” “Oh yes, but I’ve worked in hospitals too many year to know never to put red and white together. That means death.”


“I do hope we win a blasted gold medal this year.”


“Yes, yes, everything here is gorgeous and interesting and wonderful. That goes without saying.”


“Oh no, no. This combination is simply dreadful, don’t you agree?”


“Hyacinths smell a bit like, well, sick, don’t they dear?” “I disagree. I find them pleasant. I quite enjoy their scent.”


“Look out Dad! I’m having a photo taken of my shoes!”


“It was appalling the way they judged her last year. She clearly deserved gold.”


“Excuse me. Would you mind taking your dirty boots off of this grass, Sir?”


“The successful people in banking often attend our afternoon gala.”


“If it’s bad news, you let your agent do the dirty work, right?”


Okay, back to the flower displays!


At some point, I wandered into the main tent which hits you with its sweet smell mixed with various types of potting soil and fertiliser.


Many of the displays had themes. Like tea.


And apparently teapots used to be given as prizes for major flower shows! The sign in the display below says, “A hundred years ago, a copper kettle would have traditionally been awarded to the winning auriculas at all major shows. These antique kettles are the type that would have been won by a happy exhibitor.”


The whole place was a mass of bright colour.


I found some more pretty red trees.


Some interestingly phallic carnivorous plants.


And more.


Beautiful bright orange tulips.


Some dreamy colour combinations.


An exhibition booth showing the more scientific side of garden design.


Lots of bright, exotic tropical plants.


Others that we have in our kitchen window at home.


Even some hanging from the ceiling.


Wandering around, I started to daydream about those adult things like houses with gardens that I’ll probably never have while I’m still in London.


But it’s nice to pretend.


Even the simple green leafy plants were looking beautiful and lush.


And there were strawberries growing from boots while reminded me of childhood Summers in New York when we picked them from our garden.


Can’t you just taste these? How tempting was it to snitch one from the plate… but I behaved.


The strawberries definitely made me wish for sun and picnics and garden parties and sundresses.


There was a book garden.


A pretty English rose garden with arched stone windows.


One with 50,000 (!) imported orchids from Thailand.


There was a garden that focused on recycling, planting in old oil containers and using whiskey crates to carry veggies.


There was a bike parked outside.


Here’s that blue again, like Rob Ryan’s hut!


And the contrast of simple while flowers.


More of that vibrant orange hue.


A popular colour, much like Spring/Summer fashion this year.


Spotted a bunch of bright orange bags being carried around as well, with mysterious contents. Mysterious only because I didn’t have one…


There were lovely bright pinks too. 


The size of some of the flowers alone was incredible.


Alongside all of this colour, there was a big focus on green space too.


There were sculptures and garden art galore.


Some of the art was made with nature itself.


Wouldn’t it be nice to lounge on a nice slice of perfect grass under a bright sun with a good book?


Or sit in a green haven with a cup of steaming tea?


Of course, along with all of this garden design and nod to nature, there is shopping. The essentials. Seeds.






Carousel rocking horses? (I like these as I come from North Tonawanda – the “Home of the Carousel“!”


And, last but certainly not least, what is all this British gardening without the Hunter wellies!?


I have about 750 more photos but I figured your scrolling finger would be tired by now.

So who’s going to Chelsea? Who’s been already? What did you think? Did you see any of those pesky gnomes wandering about? 

London Houseboat Living


Read any article about houseboat living and you’re sure to stumble upon words like “idyllic lifestyle” and “romantic abode”.


I’ve never been inside of one, but I love to walk past the narrowboats in London, lining the Regents Canal.


Jorge and I took a little walk down the canal path last weekend after our sunny, flower-filled walk through Regents Park.


Cutting off from the park near the London Mosque, we headed down the canal all the way to Little Venice.


The decor on some of the houseboats is brilliant – rusty old watering cans, tacky pink flamingos, hand carved fish and old ratty boots filled with dirt and pretty plants.


The boats are set up into little communities and I’m sure they probably have that vibe for those who live there as well.


They’re quite quirky with fun names painted across the sides, smoke stacks or rooftop gardens, some with tiny grassy patches across the pathway and the creativity that is essential for living in tiny spaces.


Some also show a good sense of humour.


There’s often a cat hanging out by the entrance.


Many times residents and their friends are sitting on the deck around a table, living the life, chatting, drinking glasses of wine or eating sandwiches, sunglasses on, floating gently, relaxing.


Other times, you see people washing their boats or doing some sort of maintenance.


Though some of the communities of houseboats are pretty private, I’m not sure I’d like to live on one that touches a busy pathway like those near Broadway Market in Hackney.


There are quite a few houseboat mooring areas in the city on the canal and the Thames from Chelsea to Canary Wharf, Hammersmith to Ladbroke Grove, Hackney to Little Venice.


There was a festival of canal boats on at Little Venice the day we walked by – the Canal Cavalcade – so I took many of these photos there.


There was silly bunting everywhere to give it a sense of festivity and most of the doors were open so it was possible to sneak a glance inside.


They are very decorative and intricate structures in most cases, full of little details and personal touches.


The residents must have a nice sense of freedom as they can just drift off down the canal whenever they like and not even leave home.


The Canal Cavalcade is an annual gathering that kicked off about 30 years ago and now attracts about 130 houseboats, morris dancers and artisans.


Though they may look similar from a distance, each of the boats has its own character.


It’s worth stopping for a little wander if you’re passing through next year.


Seeing so many houseboats up close just asking to be photographed was a treat!


But they’re just as lovely, and maybe even lovelier in their natural conditions without the celebratory atmosphere. They may not be as shiny in day to day life but they seem more authentic.


A lot of the boat owners/renters we’ve passed along the canal also seem to have bikes, or maybe it’s just more noticeable as they are attached to the outside!


It seems to me quite an eccentric lifestyle, an embrace of minimalism and a sideways step away from the expectations of the rat race society.


It must be pretty amazing to wake up to swans or ducks swimming past your window or seeing a nest being built from your bed.


I would imaging the maintenance isn’t much fun though, and with a tight living space you have to be extra tidy and organised.


I think the best part about it would be the deck, taking a cup of tea out there in the morning with a good travel magazine and waking up on the water.


I’m off to Amsterdam tomorrow night for a weekend with the girls so if it’s anything like my last few trips there, I’ll come back with plenty of houseboat photos!


They even have a houseboat museum…


Would you ever live on a houseboat? Do you? Or do you know someone who does? I’d love to do an interview with someone who has made a boat a home. Put me in touch if you know someone!

Street Style at London Fashion Week AW 2013

Following yesterday’s post, photographer Frederique Rapier has kindly offered to let me share some of her street style images from this last week’s A/W 13 London Fashion Week. All of the photos in this entry, along with caption, are hers. Here we go!

Street Style at London Fashion Week A/W 2013
Photo: Green light, red light – Somerset House

Street Style at London Fashion Week A/W 2013
Photo: Bold colours against dark skin – a delight. – Somerset House

Street Style at London Fashion Week A/W 2013
Photo: Oh the luxury – Somerset House

Street Style at London Fashion Week A/W 2013
Photo: Clean and classic – Somerset House

Street Style at London Fashion Week A/W 2013
Photo: Vintage and granny chic – Somerset House

Street Style at London Fashion Week A/W 2013
Photo: In a league of its own – Somerset House

Street Style at London Fashion Week A/W 2013
Photo: There were some glorious beards and finely dressed gentlemen on display at Somerset House

Street Style at London Fashion Week A/W 2013
Photo: Pops of colours and textures to brighten up the winter at Somerset House

Street Style at London Fashion Week A/W 2013
Photo: Geek chic and fab hair – Somerset House

Street Style at London Fashion Week A/W 2013
Photo: Glamour and opulence is to be expected – Somerset House

Fantastic, aren’t they? Such a great time of year for people watching in London!

See more photos from Frederique on her website.