Ecology Growing Practice Urban

Blue Pots

I was on my daily cycle which takes me over London Bridge, behind Tate Modern, and (walking) back over the Millennium Bridge. In the old days I would often go and see Luke and Edmund at their poetry shack by the river. In a skip beside one of the new developments that are going up that are the subject of litigation I saw a huge selection of plastic plant pots that were being thrown away.

Because it was fenced in I was unable to clamber in myself but a guard very kindly hooked out some for me. I took as many as I could carry with me on a bicycle. The process reminded me a little of collecting the wood for the forms sculptures. I saw from a sticker that the blue pots I liked had been part of an order of eighty Pinus Mugo Pumlio. These dwarf pines must have been for making little bushes or summat.

Here they are stacked up on a bench by The Tate. They cleaned up very nicely back at home. Can’t have nice plastic pots going to waste!

Community Ecology Practice Urban Wilderness

Walden Comic

A comic from 1997. Walden has since been turned into a graphic novel.

Ecology Growing Practice Urban Wilderness

Cow Parsley

It’s interesting cultivating weeds. These plants are robust and want to grow where you find them. There’s a lot to recommend them.

Cow Parsley is on my mind because, just this morning, I planted some that I collected at the Tibetan Buddhist Monastery Samye Ling in the borders of Scotland. You can see a clump of it, white heads, just to the left of the gate in the picture of Tara above.

Cow Parsley is one of the very few plants I could actually name that I remember from the hedgerows of Gloucestershire and my childhood. Apparently it’s from the same family of plants as carrots; and if carrots cross-pollinate with it they can “regress”.

The seeds are satisfyingly large. I like large seeds.

I’ve planted them in a module tray. I tucked them in a bit after I took this photo. Very interested in seeing how they prosper on Old Street and whether the insects like them.

Community Growing Practice Urban

Guerilla Monkey Puzzle

In a recent post I mentioned a Monkey Puzzle tree I had planted locally. By chance I came across a photo I took of it twenty years ago. It’s subsequently been cut down.

Agriculture Food Growing Organic Urban

Beetroot Planting

The last cold night in Central London this year was Tuesday 14th March. As you can see from the Frost Map above this last freeze happens sooner with us in the metropolis owing to the effect of the urban heat island.

The final spectacular growth of my seedlings.
At last we are free.
Alarming white salt residue on the surface – that’s London water for you.

If I had more space I would have a water butt on the roof and would gather rainwater there to feed the plants. That’s because using chlorinated tap water seems a real shame. The hard water deposits also build up calcium on the leaves of salad greens. Farming operations like the legendary Jadam in Korea filter their water. If one was using water from a borehole at least the chlorine wouldn’t be a problem. Following this thought to its logical conclusion in the summer, in the absence of as much rain, I would need to filter the London tap water to some degree. There are some quite ingenious techniques for creating DIY filters using charcoal but at the moment life is too busy.


The root ball here is what they call “air pruned” in the soil block. That’s to say, unlike roots in a seed tray which start growing back in on themselves, in a soil block when the roots reach the air at the edges they stop. Or at least that’s the argument… These seedlings were multi-sown, that’s to say I put three seeds in each block so they get to grow with a buddy.

Laid out on my raised bed.

I worked out where I was going to bury them here and then, as you can see below, buried them relatively deep. I could have done deeper I guess but didn’t want to disturb the soil unduly.

Six feet underground.
Dug in deep and dressed with compost.

Last year I remember being worried when I’d planted my seedlings. Like these above they look very defeated. The expression gardeners use for this period of adjustment is transplant shock. Soil blocks supposedly fare better, and you can sort of see why as they’re already in their little universe, but like everything in horticulture people give you a million reasons why one thing or another is optimal – and most of them are bullshit. Dressed with a little compost just to tuck them in; these will do fine.

Community Health Spirituality Therapy Urban

Neurodiversity in G-Block

My uncle is closely involved with the charity Being Alongside. I’ve been to a few of their conferences primarily to show support for him, but they are always interesting. Being Alongside, a Christian organisation, approach mental illness as a condition to be aided by compassionate intervention. Unlike the generation of countercultural thinkers, they don’t concern themselves with the connection between the spiritualised state and psychological problems. The countercultural position is that mental health problems manifest in equivalence to the difference between consonance and dissonance in music. In normal states of mind the volume is low, even imperceptible. At higher volumes spiritual states of mind can be equated to consonance and mental illness to dissonance.

Jonathan Aitken looking at us slightly askance.

This latest talk featured The Reverend Jonathan Aitken (prison chaplain) and Neil Fraser (Custody Manager) of HMP Pentonville. Aitken is a celebrated poster-boy for Christianity. An MP in John Major’s government he suffered disgrace in a law suit against The Guardian in which he committed perjury, and ended up spending seven months at Her Majesty’s pleasure. He was made bankrupt and was divorced to boot. His downfall and subsequent conversion to Christianity was greeted in some quarters with cynicism, but the church loves a repentant sinner, and, I dunno, he seems like a good egg.

Aitken talked about his experiences of being (briefly) the most vilified individual in the UK and about how he carved himself a niche at Belmarsh writing and reading letters for his fellow inmates. An opening act he was keen to set up his colleague at Pentonville Neil Fraser who has been instrumental in the initiative to set up and run an ADHD and Autism “Neurodiversity wing” in G-block.

Neil Fraser discussing life in G block.

This continuum between the prison and clinic is interesting for a number of reasons. One knows from reading Foucault’s “Madness and Civilisation” that all manner of people were confined in the original asylums with genuinely mentally ill people being in the minority:

“From the creation of the Hôpital Général, from the opening, in Germany and in England, of the first houses of correction, and until the end of the eighteenth century, the age of reason confined. It confined the debauched, spendthrift fathers, prodigal sons, blasphemers, men who ‘see to undo themselves,’ libertines… One-tenth of all the arrests made in Paris for the Hôpital Général concern ‘the insane,’ ‘demented’ men, individuals of ‘wandering mind,’ and ‘persons who have become completely mad.’ Between these and the others, no sign of a differentiation.”

Fraser, who is described by Aitken as a very tough correctional officer, could perhaps be viewed in the same light as the earliest asylum doctors who, as Foucault elaborates, worked their miraculous therapy by policing ethical behaviour amongst their charges:

“In the time of Pinel and Tuke, this power had nothing extraordinary about it; it was explained and demonstrated in the efficacity, simply of moral behaviour…

I pointed out to Fraser that it was an extremely stressful position they had found themselves in and asked him whether they had received any therapeutic training or support. To my surprise he opened up and explained very movingly that, starved of funds, he and his colleagues have received practically no help at all. The profession is apparently dogged with staff barely coping with the pressure.

The results on the intervention in the Neurodiversity wing have been really startling. Simple measures like knocking on cell doors and waiting a minute outside (by which approach prisoners on the spectrum are not overwhelmed by an incoming herd of officers) or the use of a support dog called Dobby (the weekly appearance of whom is a highlight) have contributed to a radically different atmosphere. Prisoners interviewed in an internally-circulated video which has apparently gone viral in the service finds them sincerely expressing gratitude. Outcomes on release seem set to be more positive.

Community Ecology Spirituality Urban Wilderness

Bugging Out

So great the way the parks department create these homes for insects in the tree undergrowth. It’s a lot easier than lugging all that timber away – and that’s not to criticise the strategy. The light touch innit.

There’s some colourful graffiti in the shelter beside the wood.

Hannah Nat has herpes.
Amanita Muscaria.
ཨོཾ AUM.
Community Growing Practice Urban

Guerrilla Camellia

How it looked freshly planted in 2002.

I planted this Japanese Camellia in the leisure centre flowerbeds in 2002. It was a gift from my father-in-law which I didn’t have a pot large enough for. For many years it was dwarfed by the trees and bushes around it. I was sure I was going to be rumbled and the council were going to cut it down. That never happened thankfully. In the intervening years I’ve composted around its base occasionally.

These days, twenty one years later, it’s absolutely massive. It has really thrived. And this time of year, at the end of February, it flowers. It’s very pretty though sadly the petals go brown and it starts to look a right mess. Requires me to dead-head it.

It’s like a flipping tree trunk.

The Monkey Puzzle Tree I planted at the same time didn’t fare so well. Where I put it it had almost no light and it got choked by other hardier bushes. It looked pretty terrible by the time it was cut down.

Ecology Growing Urban

Winnowing Limanthes

Growing veg on my roof garden is only meaningful up to a certain point. You couldn’t pretend it was a substantial amount of food or that it was making a dent in your shopping bill. It’s for laughs really. To that end I like to plant to a lot of flowers with the focus on ones which the bugs like. And they love Limanthes which is sometimes called poached egg plant because it has a yellow bit in the middle and a white rim. Geddit?

Limanthes in bloom early last summer.

Last autumn I collected the seed of the flower and stowed them away in the dark in a jar. The Limanthes jar is here in the centre with my saved Poppy seeds and saved Borage which I also planted yesterday. Yesterday was an auspicious day to plant because it was three days before the full moon.

Home-grown Poppy, Limanthes, and Borage in jars.

Because I was a bit lazy when I gathered the seed it was mixed up with a load of other shite. Twigs and stuff. So I had the opportunity to winnow it. I scrunched it all up and blew the chaff away.

blow your house down.

Then I stuffed them in pots and marked them “LIM”. The temptation is to overplant because you’ve got so much seed. Which I probably succumbed to. Though it’s supposed to keep it’s not going to be so lively next year and you don’t want to waste it. Home-saved seed is supposed to be particularly vigorous, these little guys know the scene and they’re back for more action. We’ll see.

Potted for 2023.
Food Growing Urban

Beetroot seedlings

Soil blocks in 2023.
Is this a jungle? It just came alive and took him.
It’s like a jungle sometimes it makes me wonder how I keep from going under.

The last frost here in London is towards the end of March. If you were to plant seeds outdoors after that point you’d have to wait a while to get a vegetable you could eat. Therefore you plant seedlings earlier indoors in the warmth, and get a head start. And then you transplant them outdoors as soon as it’s a bit warmer because a frost will kill many types of seedlings. I use some cheap LED grow lights because there’s not enough light on my window ledge. In theory it would be good to have a greenhouse but I don’t have enough space for one. Furthermore this early in the year you’d need to heat a green house somehow. I heat my study already because I work here. Therefore, on balance, I think it’s justifiable.

If you don’t have enough light the seedlings get “leggy”. The poor things are stretching themselves up higher to reach a light they perhaps assume is just out of reach; like they think they are under a pile of leaves or summat. And then they fall over. This, below, is my leggy seedlings last year – terrible. But you know they planted just fine outdoors and grew into big healthy beetroot. You just bury them and their stems a little deeper in the soil. I’m not going to have that problem this year. In fact I’m pretty happy with how they are looking.

I’m planting all my seeds in soil blocks which are like home-made chocolate brownies. You could make them just as easily squeezing the soil into a little ball and popping the seed in the top. That’s apparently how lots of native peoples do it. Maybe I’ll try that in the next batch. I plant a lot of beetroot because it’s maybe my favourite vegetable. I like to roast it. Delicious.

2022’s leggy seedlings.