Community Food Health Nutrition Urban

Parkway Greens

I love to visit this shop. It’s the best fruit and vegetable shop I know in London. Looking at it from across the road today, I thought to myself, “This shop isn’t ALWAYS going to be there…” So I reasoned I had better take some photos of it. Just like I used to chronicle record shops back in the day.

This evening, reflecting further on that transience, I remembered Compendium Books by Camden Lock, just around the corner from Parkway Greens, a remarkable store and something of a cultural hub for the many years it was there.

We don’t think of green grocers in quite the same affectionate way as bookshops, but of course we should. The owner here is a particularly lovely chap. Long may he prosper.

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Fooling around with 20m2 on a roof terrace in the centre of London, there are distinct limitations to one what can achieve in a garden. I could, as the genius Mark Ridsdill Smith does, grow a lot more vegetables. However, my own view is that whatever vegetables I grow to eat – and this year it’s been spinach, leeks, rocket, red cabbage, yacon, potatoes, runner beans, broad beans, beetroot, and tomatoes – is only ever going to be a token, for giggles…

For whatever reason, after growing cavalo nero, lettuces, and spinach erbette, I’ve cooled on growing leaves. I’ll grow spinach again over the winter but, although they are touted as the best things to grow in the city (because they are fast to grow and expensive to buy), I find leaves somehow boring.

Equally I find most ornamentals, often highly cultivated plants you couldn’t imagine happening in nature, almost products of a laboratory, a very tedious thing to grow. The flowers I’m growing, borage, phacelia, limanthes, marigolds, sunflowers, dandelions, nasturtiums are found at vegetable-growing seed suppliers as varieties that are good for insect life. Even my most ornamental flowers honeysuckle, poppies, zinnias, dahlias, (this last especially a concession to Mrs Ingram who loves them – they are beautiful…) are renowned for being attractive to pollinators.

What works very well among these select vegetables, trees, and carefully-chosen flowers, are herbs. Ever since I came across Juliette de Baïracli Levy and went on Kirsten Hartvig’s amazing country ramble at Forest Row I’ve been enchanted by them and their awesome potential. In the city they really work well, they don’t take up masses of space, the bugs love them, and they are fascinating. Currently, I am growing nothing particularly far out.

I believe that what one grows in the city should fundamentally address our urban alienation from nature. That selection should be geared to making us connect with the process of growing, with the seasons, with the cycle of life and death, and our cosmic alignment. In the city, we can’t pretend that we’re living wholly natural lives, but at least we can use growing to keep in touch with those things; like a diver underwater has an oxygen tank.

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In the past I have never liked Sunflowers. I always felt there was something ungainly about them. That they were such a popular flower, I think also brought out my snobbishness. What is a music critic but a snob?

However, on my journey writing “The Garden” I came across them repeatedly. More than any other plant they are emblematic of the hippie movement. In practical terms, not only do they attract wildlife, they also create a crop with their seeds. They are not a boring ornamental.

For instance, this is Helen Nearing’s walled garden at The Good Life Center in Maine. I wish I had a better photo of the Sunflower itself, a volunteer which the center’s residents let grow because it was Helen’s favourite plant. You can see it in the distance against the back wall on the left.

Therefore, this year I decided to grow them myself. On the left in the seed tray are the classic Giant Yellow variety; on the right with the darker stalks are Velvet Queens.

When the seedlings got root bound, I graduated the larger ones to pots.

Here are the largest and most promising seven plants.

Then I started hardening them up outdoors on the roof garden where we get a lot of sun.

These too needed planting up quite quickly. Lorra growing power in Sunflowers which can reach up to 30 feet tall.

I planted the biggest three into my own compost in large pots which I had been protecting through the winter with clover. This will be their final destination. I’m excited to see how they will get on through the Summer.

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April Raised Bed Update

Half the Spinach was already harvested but I wanted to flip these beds to Beetroot.

I was very proud of these Leeks but they took FOREVER to grow.


Very nice crop of Spinach. Did well through the Winter.

Rocket was surprisingly excellent. I’ve a bad habit of leaving it too long. It then gets woody, “lignin”, but this was delicious.

After everything had been harvested.


Mulched with this stuff which I bought by accident but subsequently got great value out of.

Out come the Beetroot seedlings from under the grow-lights. Less far along than I was with the soil blocks last year.

Looking very cheerful in their new home. Gotta love Beetroot.

Planting my other seedlings from indoors. Chamomile. Calendula. Red Cabbage. Rosemary. For the first time, I sieved my potting compost. I’m going to do this every time from now onwards.

Pretty alarming all this huge debris. Great compost though – and this stuff is nice mulch for my bigger plants.

Here are the seedlings in their makeshift tent.

Washing Spinach.

Rocket and Spinach ready to eat.

Leeks steaming on the stove.

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My Trees

I’ve been meaning to write a post about my trees for a while. Growing trees from their seeds takes a certain amount of care and patience.

I was worried about the health of these two Horse chestnut trees. I was sure they’d succumbed to fungus and died. But they’ve come back looking very strong this spring about which I’m delighted. I’d potted them up and put them in my own compost. These were grown from two conkers I found in the street around the corner in the autumn of 2023.

It’s troubling when young deciduous trees lose their leaves in the winter. You think they have come a cropper. This Oak I found as an acorn on Hampstead Heath. I think it’s going to do well this year. I gave its siblings to friends in Wales.

Since I rather optimistically planted a pip in a friend’s back garden in the early seventies when I must have been, ooh, six years old, growing an apple tree from a pip has been an cherished ambition. This was from an organic apple from the supermarket. I currently have a few more pips I’m hoping will sprout – one a particularly delicious variety I got from a farmer’s market, the other from the apple tree by the Caddy’s caravan in Findhorn. I read recently in Mark Ridsdill Smith’s excellent “Vertical Veg” book that apple trees do well in containers on roof gardens – so have redoubled my efforts. It’s all about tree crops, people.

Finally, this Ash tree, a volunteer which I have nurtured has really thrived from what was just a tiny weed. Very proud of it!

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Winter Spinach Harvest

My spinach did so well over the winter.


Counter culture

Theodore Roszak is turning in his grave.

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March 2024

I mentioned a couple of posts ago that there was nowt going on. But now the building work is [really finally] over and I’ve finished the first draft of the book. Simultaneously, suddenly, spring is upon us. It’s unlikely that we will see another frost until the end of the year.

I’ve planted the first batch of seeds. Compost here is all Carbon Gold (Biochar All-purpose outside and Biochar Seed Compost indoors). All seeds not my own, or sourced elsewhere, are from Tamar Organics.

From Top left to bottom right: Beetroot, Sunflowers (two varieties), Allium (that I found drying in the green house beside the Caddys’ caravan in Findhorn), Rosemary (the herb favoured most highly by Juliette de Baïracli Levy), Calendula, and Chamomile.

The Sunflowers are a departure for me. I was always on the fence with them in the past but in the course of writing “The Garden” I’ve become keen on them. They, of course, also produce a crop. The Sunflower was Helen Nearing’s favourite plant.

From left to right: Yarrow (from Emerson College), Dandelion (cultivated from volunteer), Buddleja (cultivated from volunteer), Horse Chestnut (found in the street), Thyme, Rosemary, Apple (from Sam’s Biology tutor), Oregano, Dandelion (cultivated from volunteer), Borage (from last year’s seeds), Calendula (from last year’s seeds), Cosmos (from last year’s seeds).

From back to front: Buckwheat (from last year’s seeds), Nigella (from last year’s seeds), Clover.

Back to front: Echinacea (these need repotting), Limnanthes x2 (from last year’s seeds).

From left to right: Apple, Amaranth (from last year’s seeds), Ash (A volunteer), Yacon (tubers from the plant I got from Ann Sears), my old Dogwood, Mint (last years seedling which I cut back and mulched and which have bounced back), and Rocket (a bit like a weed it seems).

The Spinach and Leeks have really thrived over the winter in the raised bed. I need to actually harvest both soon.

From Left to right: Nasturtiums (from Findhorn), Lavender, Honeysuckle, and the green manures (this is basically my home made compost sown with clover, alfalfa etc. into which I’m going to plant seedlings once they are ready). Nasturtiums are really underrated as a food crop. The leaves and the seeds (very peppery) are delicious.

And here are the Black Cat and the Grey Cat with the broad beans planted in December. They are so happy to be out on the roof garden again after a really beastly winter coping with dust and rubble indoors. This tiny landscape fills me with joy and anticipation. So lovely to have seeds there from my journey.

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Carlin Peas Update

It’s a Carlin Peas update. These peas work better tinned I think. It’s the lazier, more expensive, and ecologically unsound way to eat them. But, on the other hand, cooking them oneself takes forever and might even be less energy efficient. Very delicious.

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Broad Beans 2023

I first planted Broad Beans on December 4th 2021. See the photos from 2021 below. This will then be third year I have planted them in the same pot.

No dig aficionados will be interested to know that at no point have I thrown away the soil in this container. I have merely cut the plants away at their base, leaving the roots in the soil, and refreshed the pot by means of growing (another) legume like the Buckwheat I cut down in the autumn, and dressed the surface with compost.

As far as I know this is pretty extreme. When people talk about No Dig, they are applying the method to a bed in the ground, not to containers. I’m not even certain whether it is supposed to work in pots. It seems logical, however, that the roots of older plants will decompose into the soil, and that the actions of worms (of which there are few in here) will create some aeration. However, I’m almost certain that I would get better growth if I composted the remaining soil after harvest and started again with a whole fresh round of compost. Even if I dug it up and mixed in some compost – No Dig heresy. So, it’s an experiment.

What I can vouch for is that using 2021’s Super Aquadulce beans as a seed stock, planting my own beans as seeds, created smaller and less productive plants. Of course, 2022’s smaller crop might equally have been to do with this No Dig “in container” method I have been experimenting with? This year, I reasoned, it was a good idea to buy in fresh bean stock from Tamar Organics by which approach I will be able to eliminate what caused the smaller growth. Science innit.

Also I have reflected that, with the amount of care one lavishes on a plant through the year, getting a mediocre crop is dispiriting. I know some people are militant about only using their own seed, a logic that they extend to disparage the use of F1 seeds, but as far as I’m concerned it’s cool. I mean, none of us is an island! As fun as it is to grow from one’s seed (and I have a bumper crop of seeds to sow in Spring 2024) total self-sufficiency as position is overrated.

As far as F1 seeds go, this is where I’m squarely with the Wizards. Of course GMOs are heresy, lunacy, but we should use whatever breeding techniques we can to make great crops; to make organic work. In actual fact these Super Aquadulce beans aren’t F1s. But some F1s, even if I can’t use their seed, that’s gotta be cool. This year I bought some Spinach, “Tundra F1,” which I look forward to growing again.

I was delighted with the latest batch of compost out of my hot bin.

Ooo-arrr. Look at that there compost (Here dressing my Mint pot).

And here it is laid out as a sheet mulch, spread like thick like butter, on my broad bean box.

The box sited. Here it gets a lovely long day of light as the sun sweeps from east to west.

Here are the beans. Sown squarely. Next year I will try the Biointensive method of sowing in triangular formation. It does make sense.

As Henry Thoreau said, “What shall I learn of beans or beans of me?”