Going for gold – in North London

I didn’t manage to get tickets for the Chelsea Flower Show this year so here’s my own Chelsea garden in Stroud Green. I love the bronzes and purples of the heuchera, astrantia, cirsium and acer against the greens and whites in this border.

And here is the same border as an aerial view showing the different textures of the plants.

Astrantia
Cirsium rivulare atropurpureum

Here’s another border. Geranium Johnson’s Blue, aquilegia (I think Nora Barlow?) and self-seeded Alchemilla mollis and valerian.

Cottage garden border

Another border fringed with the ever-multiplying Alchemilla mollis! It’s so pretty with raindrops on but I couldn’t get a photo of those rare drops.

Alchemilla mollis – the little tramp!

I’m keen on geraniums, especially blue ones. Here’s the lovely Geranium Rozanne, much beloved, and deservedly so, by Carol Klein. It’s out from June till October, but this is a very early flower.

Geranium Rozanne

I’ve also just discovered a newer relation to Rozanne – Geranium azure rush which I’m told has a more compact form and is even more long-flowering.  I bought mine from Claire Austin which came in excellent condition.

Geranium azure rush

I haven’t got many roses, but who could fail to love the Rambling Rector – a cascade of unruliness, just like some unkempt Victorian vicar’s garden.

Rambling rector rose

Another rose I bought at this time from David Austin is New Dawn, which after several years has come into its own. Its a modern rose and flowers repeatedly and has the most delicate fragrance.  Worth waiting for.

New Dawn

At the end of my garden is a pond with various planting around it.  Here is a rush with some fish sculpture from Crocus floating above.

Rush with fish

And lastly a picture of my pond.  It looks tranquil but I have many newts, water snails, water boatmen and damsel and dragonflies. I even have a daily visit from a sparrow hawk sipping from the pond.  There’s been a pair nesting in the trees on the railway at the bottom of our gardens for several years now.

Wildlife pond

Cast your clouts!

Cow parsley on the Parkland Walk

A quick post today as I’m stuck at home.

I was out in my favourite place, the Parkland Walk, a few days ago. This time a couple of us were identifying the flowers that were out in May. The most profuse was the cow parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris). There it was frothing away at the sides of the path leading up to the walkway beside the bridge at Stapleton Hall Road. I don’t know why it’s called cow parsley – as far as I know the cows don’t eat it. It’s variously known as Queen’s Anne lace, wild chervil or (in Yorkshire) keks. But one of the most evocative names is mother’s dead or mother’s die, or even the less sexist deadman’s flourish, based on its similarity with hemlock, which is poisonous.

On the Stroud Green meadowland, a steep bank sloping towards Florence Road, we identified a number of ‘damned yellow composites’ (the equivalent of the ‘little brown job’ in birding terms!), those dandelion-like composite flowers of the Asteraceae family. Aside from dandelions there was a coltsfoot (Tussilaga farfara) and a cat’s ear (Hypercaeris radicata)- the latter is similar to the dandelion but has hairy basal leaves with the shape and feel of a cats’ ears. Just as we were ready to leave the meadow we came across a single yellow goat’s beard (Tragopogon pratensis), also known as meadow salsify or more intriguingly Jack-go-to-bed-at-noon on account of its tendency to open its flowers in the morning sunshine. It has rather spectacular bracts which encase the petals.

We looked at bushes and shrubs too just to see what species were emerging in the meadow. At the bottom of the slope towards the Florence Road gardens are more substantial trees and shrubs, including a mature hawthorn tree, or may, which was fully out. I’m sure you’re all familiar with the phrase, ‘Ne’er cast a clout till May be out’. There seems to be a dispute about whether this means not taking off your jacket until the may blossom is out, or until the month of May is out. Which one I do not know, but it was a rather nice day so we did consider casting our clouts.

Cow parsley
Dandelion
Coltsfoot
A photo of an original antique illustration by John Sowerby published in 1860s in The English Botany.
Goats beard or Jack-go-to-bed-at-noon
Ne’er cast a clout till May be out

Pedal Power

Janet and Louisa at the Emirates Stadium

I can’t ride a bike so when David, one of the staff at Pedal Power, offered to teach me I was somewhat sceptical. Pedal Power is a club for cyclists with learning disabilities running sessions at the Emirates Stadium and in Finsbury Park. “But my feet fall off the pedals,” I said. “Then we’ll start you off on a scooter,” he replied. So there I was scooting round the Emirates Stadium with one foot hovering above the ground in case I fell off. It was slightly scary but by the end of the circuit I was able to scoot for longer periods with both feet on the scooter.

Pedal Power was founded twelve years ago by Jo Roach. “My daughter, Suzie, who has a learning disability, has been cycling since she was four and is a good cyclist,” Jo told me. “Suzie lives independently but can only ride when she visits me. I looked for an appropriate cycling club but there was none available. So I sought advice from the London Sports Forum and they suggested I start one myself. I’d already got some starter money from running a tea party at Christmas. I love baking and my tea parties are always successful. After all, the more you cycle, the more cake you can eat,” Jo said with a twinkle in her eye.

With the cake money and some money for bikes from Waltham Forest Council, Jo set up the club at the Eastway Cycle Circuit, but when this was demolished to build the Olympic Park she looked for another venue. Fortunately she was able to find a regular slot at Finsbury Park, and later on Islington Council got in touch and commissioned her to start sessions at the Emirates.

“I see so much success,” said Jo. “It’s so rewarding seeing people riding for the first time when others say they could never do it. It’s about fun, freedom and fitness.”

The following Tuesday I attended a session at the Finsbury Park running track. It was a fine sunny day and cyclists of all ages were out in force – from four years old to 70! Jo told me that about 100 people would attend throughout the morning. She pointed out one of the cyclists, Pete (not his real name), looking very cool in his bright blue helmet. “Pete’s been coming for a year and was shaking all over when he first got on the trike but now all he needs is a bit of support to mount, and he’s off.”

The variety of bikes and trikes is amazing – who knew there were so many? I was especially impressed by the variety of trikes, some of which could be ridden independently and others with a support worker either at the side or at the back, tandem style. There’s even the Velo, a Dutch built trike, used to carry wheelchairs.

At the end of the session I met Phyllis who was riding her trike with confidence. “I’ve raised money for Race for Life through Centre 404 [a centre for people with learning disabilities and their families in North London]. That was a five kilometre race and I raised £84. This year I want to do a ten kilometre race,” she said with pride.

The club couldn’t do without the part-time workers who are qualified cycle trainers, the many volunteers – and of course the funders.

I heard about the club through a friend who told me that her colleague, John Thorne was running the Shakespeare Marathon at Stratford-upon-Avon on Sunday 7th May in aid of Pedal Power. John works for Islington Council’s Leisure Team and helps funds Pedal Power’s Emirates sessions with help from Sport England. I’ve sponsored John and hope you can donate too by getting in touch with him on john.thorne@islington.gov.uk. Donations can be taken for some time after his marathon.

Pedal Power sessions take place at Finsbury Park (10am to 1pm on Tuesdays and 12-4pm on alternate Saturdays) and the Emirates Stadium, Arsenal (10am to 2pm on Thursdays).

Jo Roach: founder of Pedal Power
Phyllis on the Finsbury Park track
Cycle trainer with one of the magnificent trikes
Cycling on the track at Finsbury Park