Thursday, July 15, 2010

Roots and Shoots

Eight years ago, I pushed the gates of Roots and Shoots in Walnut Tree Walk, and my life changed forever. I entered an urban oasis where humans and wildlife are living side by side. A project where nature and culture mixes without conflict. It is a place where I could forget about the fast pace of the city and where my mind suddenly became quiet. Joy and fun, learning and relaxing... Linda put me on a path, which is a little more than career orientated. At the time I was living an internal conflict, and suddenly I found myself at peace with trainees, bugs and plants. There are often events for the community . Check it out, you will find unusual plants at competitive prices, the best London honey, and a delicious apple juice. Prince Charles is a fan! I encourage you to read this blog, it so well describes the place I love it so much that I can't keep away!

Saturday, June 26, 2010


Roses started to bloom in May, and I haven't seen such a lush display for a long time. They probably loved the cold spell. My interest for roses has developed recently, despite them being high maintenance. I am very fond of old climbers and ramblers, preferably scented and with a repeated season of flowering. It is a pleasure to take a stroll on a sunny day, and stop to smell any bloom. This one - Madame Alfred Carriere, I think - caught my eye on my way to work. It is a noisette raised by Schwartz in 1879. The main crop is abundant, and it intermittently produces clusters of highly scented blooms through the summer and sometimes beyond. I love the way it grows around an old fashioned street lamp. The best way to remember their names is to plant them yourself. I will just do that at home, starting next weekend...

Monday, March 29, 2010

Spring, at last

It suddenly appeared, and a breath of fresh air has descended upon London. The first signs were very subtle: the days were getting slightly longer, one could sometimes smell the delicate fragrance of a 'Sarcococca' or a Daphne and the snowdrops and 'Hellebores' came out. Spring came two weeks later than last year. I was reminded this by the sweetly scented Magnolia x soulangiana, which has just started flowering. There is an explosion of soft pastel colours sprouting everywhere. Look around, open your senses to the fluffy clouds of the 'Cherry Trees' (Prunus sp) or the 'Snowy Mespilus' (Amelanchier sp), sometimes entangled with a 'Forsythia'. Every spring is a time to fall in love with a looked-over plant, and this year I am seduced by the delicate flowers of a white ' Flowering Quince' (Chaenomeles x superba). I always look in wonder at Nature's talent as a colourist. Indulge in your senses, as it will not last. Soon, Dame Flora will put on her summer coat, preparing the autumn ballet's opening, before going to sleep. Read the Greek myth of Persephone and Demeter that so beautifully explains the mystery of seasonal changes. Are seasons a sensible way to remind us the impermanence of life?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Light and shade

Making the most of natural light is often overlooked when planning a garden. And yet, it is the cherry on the pud... By judiciously juxtaposing hard landscape materials and plants, looking at the colours, the texture and structure, and contrasting light against dark. Fernando Caruncho skilfully plays with different shades of green and texture, making the most of light. Inspiration can be found everywhere. Watch the short film '14ieme arrondissement' by Alexander Payne in 'Paris, je t'aime'. There is an excellent 'jeu de lumiere' when the actress sits in the park. Beverly Pepper, painter, sculptor and land artist designed the small park 'Sol y Ombra' in Barcelona. In my opinion, it is one of the most playful place to observe the effect of light and shade. The Sun element is represented by a large grassy bank that raises from the ground, and the shade is a small spiral, planted with lime trees that protect the area from the blazing sun. Spots of lights hit the ground through the tree canopy. The park represents the Earth with its curves. Visit it if you are in the city. it is a lovely place to sit and wonder.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


Right now, I need some space...and very naturally my mind drifts to my favourite landscape: mountains. From one part of the world to another, they are very different entities, but all share some common features: the flora, friendly people, the snowy summits and the fresh air. They are big, great, solid, stable, unmoving. In Sanskrit, one of the word for them is a-ga. And it means 'that which doesn't go'. They invite to elevation. They are bursting with life, and they are the place in the world, where I most feel the interconnection and the interdependence between all the elements on this planet. Mountain people are different: friendly, clean, thrifty and yet generous. They concentrate on what is essential, no time to waste in complicated means. I like their modesty, their relationship with people, their deep attachment to life. Mountains are a place where my mind is at peace, where all anxiety disappears and my body relaxes. Oxygen or the lack of it?

Thursday, March 4, 2010

V & A : The Medieval and Renaissance Galleries

I visited the Medieval and Renaissance Galleries after reading an article by Tim Richardson in the SGD journal. He described the grand opening gallery as a garden space stylised like an outdoor sculpture court, which was common in the Italian Renaissance's villas. It tempted me but not as much as the cultural richness of this period. I remember well from my day at school that the Middle Ages start in 476, with the falls of the Western Roman Empire. It ends in 1453, with the fall of the Eastern Roman Empire (more rightly called the Byzantine Empire). The sound of 'orient' and 'occident' - as used in my mother tongue - is much more pleasant to my hears. The Renaissance is the transition period between the Middle Ages and the Modern period, and is said to go from the end of the thirteenth century to 1600. These dates are controversial. There have always been periodization issues regarding the end of the Middle Ages, and there increasingly are issues in connection with the start of this period. It doesn't change anything to the diversity of events and cultures. I see it as the richest and most dense period of European History. There is a constant exchange between the West and East, that influences art, architecture, philosophy, science and technology. There are so many beautifully crafted objects, like this 'Large-pattern' Holbein Carpet, that was probably woven by a Muslim craftsman working in an increasingly Christian XV century Spain. The pattern reminds us the long-established Islamic society in Southern Spain, and the way it influenced the cultural development at the time. One could stop at every object and observe. Next time I won't forget my specs...

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Year of the Tiger

Sunday, I met my friend Tian under a very cold rain to celebrate the year of the Tiger in Trafalgar Square. Year 4708 for Chinese. The Chinese calendar is lunar, and it is celebrated in countries with significant Han Chinese populations and cultures with whom Chinese have had extensive interactions, including Tibet. The festivities of the so-called Spring Festival starts on the first day of the first month and it ends on the fifteenth day , called Lantern Festival. Traditionally, it was the day when young women, chaperoned by matchmakers, were going in the streets in hope to find a suitable husband. Nowadays it is interpreted as Chinese Valentine's day. Chinese New Year falls on different days of the Gregorian calendar, every year. But it always falls on the second new moon after the winter solstice. The festival ends on the second full moon after the winter solstice and marks the beginning of spring. New year marks the beginning of a new year for a specific calendar. Various cultures around the globe have celebrated the New Year around Spring, such as Nowruz, the Iranian New Year, which falls on the day of the astronomical vernal equinox. Check it out on SOAS website ( This makes more sense to the gardener, than the worldwide used 1 January - as in the Gregorian Calendar, which continues the Roman calendar's practice since King Numa Pompilius around 700 BC. We ended up having diner in Phoenix Palace, which was like a trip to Asia. The message in my fortune cookie read " Your wish will be granted after along delay". What wish? Hurry up spring!

Monday, February 15, 2010


Yesterday I was desperate to break the winter spell, and I thought I would visit the Barbican conservatory. My trip to the Brazilian rain forest was unsuccessful, as it was closed for a wedding. So instead I took a trip through the surreal maze of concrete buildings and suspended gardens. I lost myself through the different levels peeping at birds' nests in the tree canopy. It is probably one of my favourite place in London. I wish I could do a flat swap for a couple of weeks, and take a holiday here. One could not get bored in a place so full of resources. Visit the London Museum, and learn about 2 000 years of the city's history. The Barbican Centre is Europe's largest multi-arts centre, and holds memorable exhibitions. The concert room has an excellent acoustic, there are three cinemas, a library, a sculpture court and a tropical conservatory, which architecture and plant display I personally found more interesting than the Palm House at Kew. This large residential estate, built between 1965 and 1976, was Grade II listed in 2001. There is a real harmony in scale and cohesion, and between the architecture and landscape. Going up and down, left and right, I could be anywhere in the world, depending on the weather. A film director's dream! But what's a barbican? The etymology of the word is unsure: maybe from the French barbacane, the Arabic bab-khanah or mediaeval English burgh-kenning. My dictionary says 'a projecting watchtower over the gate of a castle or fortified town; esp the outwork intended to defend the drawbridge'. I did not see the drawbridge but the best preserved remains of the city's old walls.

Friday, February 12, 2010

The 'forest'

A grid of 25 cypresses (Cupressus sempervirens) has been planted within a mirrored box, in the Emma Cors Gardens (corner of the Cut and Waterloo Road). It was commissioned by the Waterloo Quarter Business Alliance. It was so popular with residents and people passing by, that the display has been extended. I wish I had been with a playmate the day. Instead I played at guessing who would cross it and who would contour it. It is a good project to remind urban dwellers about the interconnection of every living things. Observing nature, rather than idealising it, could maybe help us to tune our lives to her rhythm, rather than destroying it. I suppose our relationship to nature is a little like a tempestuous love affair; learning the hard way through doing it all wrong and making a total mess. There is hope: no situation is insoluble.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Samten Kyil...

...means the Garden of Contemplation in Tibetan. The Tibetan Garden for Peace is located in the Imperial War Museum's ground, in Lambeth. For all information check I love the idea of a garden to help us reflect upon harmony and its constituents. Despite the cold I mooched around this tiny space for a relatively long time, looking at all the components and their symbols. There are many references to the Tibetan culture, of course. But the garden is primarily a symbol of harmony that can be created between different people and cultures. I observed its laying and found shared elements with gardens across spaces and times. Observing nature and learning about other cultures has open my eyes on the deep interdependence of all living things. I want to come back in the summer, when the pergola is covered with scented climbers. Maybe to meditate on harmony, peace and what could be my contribution to peace. I share the gardener Moustache's opinion on war : "...une petite guerre de rien du tout peut aneantir un tres grand jardin."

Monday, February 8, 2010


It is snowing again, and I wonder when it will stop. I haven't experienced a winter like this for years. Last Friday, Alix told me that she was scared she would stay in when spring arrives. It is not as bad as in Berlin though, where a 10 cm crust of ice hasn't melt in 2 months. However I kind of like winter. Maybe not when it is raining, but on a crisp bright day the landscape is beautiful. Just go in a park and look at the trees. In my opinion, it is the best time of the year to identify them at a glance, or by looking at their buds and twigs, if you want to know the species. Playing 'spot the difference' with the children is a lot of fun. The London Plane (Platanus x acerifolia, syn. P. x hispanica, P. x hybrida) develops with age a wide-spreading outline with massive branches, and finer twigs that look like lace. Fruits - borne in 2's, sometimes 3's - are dangling from the branches. The bark looks like a camouflage fabric in soft shades of cream, olive and light brown. It is smoothly rough to the touch. Check out the specimen outside the Dorchester Hotel in W1, very dramatic when lit up at night. The tree is a cross between the American Plane (Platanus occidentalis) and the Oriental Plane (Platanus orientalis), which is a major feature to provide shade in Persian and other gardens of central and south Asia. I want to travel soon to both Isfahan and the Kashmiri valley to understand better the principles behind the gardens there.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Al Badi Palace

Badi means "marvelous, magnificent". In 1578, the Sultan Sa'adian Ahmad-al-Mansur (1549-1603) was enthroned, and he started to build this huge palace with open courtyards. Very quickly after his death the palace went into disrepair, and was destroyed, in 1710, by the Alaouite Sultan Mawlay Ismail who used the Italian marble and the gold from Sudan for his palace in Meknes. Last year, returning from India, I developed an interest in Islamic gardens. Gardens are a great path to learn about the history and customs of different cultures. Al- Badi is very interesting, as it has not yet been restored. Therefore, it was easy to observe the traditional watering system. The sunken beds, would have been planted with scented plants, with utilitarian values. In this case, I believe, orange and lemon trees (Citrus sp) were planted in array, so the top of their canopies would just reach the level of the paved walkway. The basins were fitted with a split water channel, which arms would be blocked to divert the water in the beds requiring the irrigation. This system is clever, as the moisture is longer conserved by the canopy of the trees. Max found the noise of the stokes much more interesting than my explanations.