My Beautiful Neighbourhood

Short version:

Photos of things in gardens and on the streets in my local area that show what grows well in urban gardens, how food can be incorporated into the front garden, how structures can be used and a couple of great ideas for making the most of your space.

E.g. It’s bananas that there is a banana tree here. I’ve not seen fruit on this tree but even it’s existence just makes me incredibly happy.

So… we moved to Streatham for a few reasons:

  • It was further out of London and less polluted. This is a great link if you want live information on pollutants in your local area, right down to the individual streets.
  • We got much more house for the money.
  • We could actually afford a garden. A real one. That has soil.
  • Schools. Turns out a lot of the people who have moved to our area of Streatham have also moved for the schools.

What I didn’t realise until after we moved was how friendly the neighbourhood would be. We actually know, as in have real conversations, with people who live on our road. There’s even a Whatsapp group. I’ve even met people in 3 of the houses in the road parallel. In my 20 years of London living, I never knew such a thing was possible.

As well as the friendly natives, I absolutely love some of the gardens that I’ve seen. So today I’d like to share some of these wonderful things.

If anyone recognises any of these pictures as their property and you’d rather not have the photo up – please do let me know and I’ll take it down.

I love it when people use all the space they can, even in the walls. In the photos below, the dividing walls have planters built in:

I love it when people don’t resign themselves to flora-less gardens when they don’t have bare earth:

I’ve also seen some very clever planters:

Not only are there planters in the gardens but sometimes in Streatham you see planters on pavements with signs saying you can help yourself to the herbs. Unfortunately I don’t have any photos of those planters, but I love that these are planters just on the streets:

Sometimes things make it into the streets by themselves. I make a mental note of plants like these. If they seed themselves happily in cracks, then there’s no reason why I wouldn’t also be able to grow them in my own garden.

Sometimes they just spill onto the streets from the gardens.

Here are some more big bushes/trees. I am often surprised by how big a tree you can actually fit in London gardens if it’s slow growing enough and not too close to the building:

Those trees, being so large, would have taken many years to establish. There are some shorter term ways to utilise the vertical space:

There’s also ways to make the most of any space lower down:

You can also incorporate edibles into hedging:

Of course my favourite option is to go all out and just grow edibles in the front garden.

These photos (so far) are all just things you can see from the road so I love to imagine that there’s a plethora of BACK gardens in the area that hide edible treasures and ingenious gardening ideas. Of course I couldn’t get photos without trespassing and probably jail time. I don’t think the defence ‘I’m just really really nosy’ would stand up in court. However… there was a 5th birthday party in a centre that had a fantastic vegetable patch in the back that excited me much more than the bouncy castle!

Finally, just to show that I don’t have a one track mind and can also appreciate a good wild flower meadow:

Actually… I think I might be lying. I love this wild flower meadow because it’s great for bees…and well…. bees are important for anyone who wants to grow their own food. Turns out I really do just have a one track mind. It’s not dirty, but it does think about the composition of dirt quite a bit.

Things kids can do with flowers

Short version:

Pick them, eat them, press them and bathe in them. It’s safer to do all these things with edible flowers to avoid poisoning or dermatitis. Beware of even the ubiquitous daffodils!

Pick them

The harder thing is stopping my 3 year old from picking them. We’ve made it a blanket rule that she can’t pick flowers beyond our garden without checking with me first. This is both out of common courtesy and for safety. Please be warned that there are many common flowers that are poisonous or have noxious chemicals. Bluebells, snowdrops, hyacinths, crocus and daffodils are flowers often seen in gardens, but they all contain toxins. When we first moved into our house my little one took a shine to the daffodils. I didn’t think anything of letting her pick and play with them – like I did as a child in my own parents’ garden. She developed a rash where she had rubbed it on her skin. After a bit of research I found that daffodils have calcium oxalate crystals in their sap which irritate the skin – something well known to daffodil pickers and florists. We grow all flowers that are safe to touch. The next challenge was to teach her which of the flowers would turn into fruit and was therefore off limits.

We pretty much continually have a glass on the kitchen table that has the kid’s latest pickings. It’s good for her to get to know the local flora and she likes the colours and smells and textures. She has also learnt to exercise caution as even edible flowers, like borage and roses, can have defence mechanisms like little prickles and thorns.

Eat them!

It took a while to ensure that she only picks the safe things to graze on. Whilst we grow mostly edibles (we have grown sweet peas on the roof out of her reach and we also grow star jasmine – both for the fragrance) it’s worth nothing that edibles like tomatoes and potatoes have poisonous leaves, passiflora caerulea does have edible fruit, but the leaves, flowers and unripe fruit are poisonous, and asparagus has poisonous berries.

She loves the flowers from borage, winter purslane, mint, dill and basil, though to be honest these last 2 barely make it to flower as she also loves eating the leaves. With nasturtiums she will pinch off the nectar containing cone to suck. She’s not keen on the cornflowers, calendula, watercress, coriander or brassica flowers when they grow. She loves the artichokes and chard flowers when cooked. This is the first year that we’re trying to grow violets, red clover, daisies, chamomile and bellflower in the lawn. I’ll have to let you know how they fare and how tasty they are (or aren’t).

In addition to education on what is edible, it’s important that they learn that flowers may sometimes be covered in pesticides so they cannot go around eating flowers outside your own home environment.

It sounds like the risk isn’t worth it but any adult who forages had to start learning it at some point. I believe it’s important for our kids (and everyone) to make the connection between what they eat and how it’s produced. With our little one sometimes she eats enough borage and winter purslane flowers (and leaves) that I don’t have to worry about her vegetable intake.

Press them

This was something we did as kids. Life is very different these days. Our kids are initiated into technology so early. I won’t lie (please don’t judge me), my one was already tapping away on my phone by her 3rd birthday. So, it’s nice to do activities with her that I did during my own childhood. You just need to arrange them between pieces of paper (something that is a little absorbent is best), enclose that in a heavy book, stack more books on top and leave for about 2 weeks.

Bathe in them

My little one has eczema that stems from allergies. This means a bath every night in plain old water with a soap substitute but sometimes to make it interesting we’ll throw in something from the garden. There are plenty of things that look and/or smell good. Here’s where you must do a bit of research and exercise caution (see details about daffodils above). Generally, we follow the rule, if you can eat it, you can probably bathe in it and don’t go overboard. If unsure put a bloom or two in for the first bath. Excess may cause issues (like a bath with half of my mint patch would certainly cause eye irritation, if not skin irritation) and besides I’d like to keep some of my flowers in the garden.

Bee Happy

So as a last thing, it’s quite nice for our little one to get to know about bees, how amazing they are and how much we rely on them for pollination. She’s learnt not to harm them or be scared of them and she’s rather fond of them.