Fairytale of an inner city borough…

I’ve been lucky enough to work on a project that the Empty Shops Network and South Kilburn Partnership are running. Dan Thompson (artist, writer and founder of the Revolutionary Arts Group) is heading up this particular initiative. You may have heard about it already, or perhaps you’re working on it too! 

Window vinyl designed by Steve Rowland of Made Labs, Workshop 24

The Peel Precinct, (Carlton Vale, South Kilburn) is an area which is being regenerated in several phases. At first glance you may notice a deprived inner city London borough. However, like most things in life, once you start to scratch the surface; talk to people and work alongside local residents:  an inherent beauty becomes apparent. Workshop 24 is a pop-up shop/arts centre/community space/venue/hangout situated on the housing estate precinct. Until recently it was a derelict shop which has been transformed into a bright, lively and inviting space.  People come and go, drop in for tea, learn new skills, make, mend, do, write, paint, sew, garden, read, draw, film, record, observe, chat, tell their stories and chew the fat.

Dan 'working hard and being nice to people' in workshop 24

After a day at Workshop 24, I come home feeling lifted and enthused. It’s strange, after a while you look beyond immediate surroundings and concentrate on the spirit of the place and how it can be improved.

So what, you may ask have I been doing there? Well, as someone who does ‘stuff’ with gardens, runs workshops, improves outside space and writes about it, I’ve been cleaning and greening up the precinct. The photo below shows me clearing and weeding the planters with the help of two lovely lads from the local Islamic School. These kids stayed with me for over an hour, got their hands dirty, weeded, hoisted bags of rubble and were a pleasure to meet. We had a good old chat about their lives, their school and their futures. Their expectations are high: They’re studying hard to get into university and I’ve no doubt they’ll get there.

Planting tulips and weeding


My mantra is: “If you’re going to do something, you may as well make a start.” Although this was a freezing December afternoon, and not your typical gardening weather, we ’ve been greening, cleaning, weeding, clearing, preparing and planting areas of the Peel Precinct. I also planted a load of red tulips in the raised planters. These were very kindly donated by the Millbrook Garden Centre, Gravesend, Kent. Many thanks to the management of the garden centre for supporting us.

Parallel lines and Sixties structures



Today was a good day!

Today was a good, a very good day. Here’s a little example of what I got up to…

Getting plants ready to brighten up the Peel Precinct

Buying Saraccoca at Hampstead Garden Centre. Berries for the birds.

Waste not want not

Before I had kids I was carefree. I’d have lunch at 3pm, decide what to eat when I felt hungry. The whole idea of planning meals ahead totally baffled me. Boy did that change when I had my first baby. Boot camp had arrived and I either ‘got with the programme’ or nobody would eat until 9pm.

In retrospect, I also used to waste money on food shopping. Going shopping on an empty stomach and without a shopping list is probably one of the worst things you can do. I should know – being an ex-serial offender. Around 3 and a half years ago, I decided to use a meal planner. The idea being that we would stop throwing away food, become more organised, use the food we grew in the garden in specific recipes and spend less money but buy more ‘quality’ ingredients. It worked, I use the analogy, “Cook more – spend less, live well.”

Here’s a couple of links to meal planners: Love Food Hate Waste have a blank meal planner. You can also download either a weekly or monthly version from Netmums.  Or you can scribble one down on scrap paper and keep it next to your recipe books. Not rocket science by any stretch of the imagination, but thanks to this little piece of paper, life is that little bit easier and more organised. It’s also great planning new curries from scratch or working out what to do with the overload of courgettes in your veg patch…

The photo is a Nigel Slater quick lamb curry recipe. I must/will post it on le blog for you!

Inspired by something intangible…

Pure escapism...at Scotney Castle (National Trust)

I’ve always found gardening to be quite a profound experience. Cathartic, calming;  it also quietens my busy mind. I spend so much of my life on overdrive that it’s a much needed tonic. Even thinking about gardening makes me smile. Most of us are plotting, planning and organising our veg patches, ordering seeds and re-designing our outside spaces at the moment. Dark, cold, wet January days are perfect for thinking about the growing season.

I find it fascinating how, when and why people get into gardening. Once bitten by the bug, life changes overnight. For me, after years of living in London (you know the scene: flat, no garden), I bought my first house and inherited a garden (vastly overgrown and packed with bindweed) – having my own outside space was an ephipany. But there’s another story…

So, how do you know when the gardening bug has well and truly hit you? Suddenly, phrases like ‘perennial’, ‘annual’, and ‘hardy’ pepper everyday conversations. You find yourself straining to look at seed packets, stroking horticultural fleece and musing over fertiliser. Sound familiar?

In my previous life (not so long ago), I wrote articles about fashion. Now, I get serious palpitations over a new cultivar. Some of you will be seasoned horticulturists and may have grown up with gardening in your blood. My mum was a fan of the ‘evergreen’ – ‘hebes’ (can’t bear them now), the odd conifer, laurel and Euonymus (always variagated, which alas I can’t put in my garden on principle). No flowers, certainly no veg (too much mess) all neat and there to give a feeling of dark green year-in-year-out. Anyhow, I digress: I love seasonal planting and feel exhilarated to watch the garden play its part throughout the year. Things come and go, plants shoot up and die down: it’s all part of the natural order of things.

There’s an old Chinese proverb which says: “If you want to be happy forever, make a garden,”…

I couldn’t agree more.

How did you get into gardening? I’d love to know.

n.b. I took the above photo at Scotney Castle, Kent. It’s well worth a visit. For more info, see the National Trust website.

Pier Day report coming soon!

I’m so sorry it has been too long since I have blogged – girlwithaspade has been stretched in lots of different directions recently! THankyou for still taking time to look at this blog. Content will be returning this month. I will be posting a ‘how to’ piece – detailing how to stencil and spray tin cans to create beautiful containers and planters. Bye for now!


We love you


The Secret Vegetable garden…

If you walk down Rochester high street in Kent, you may notice a hairdressers called,’The Cutting Crew.’ This is no ordinary hairdressers – hidden away behind the back of the shop is a walled vegetable garden that has been brought to life and tended by ‘man-about-town’, club promoter, sharp dresser, hairdresser, gardener and vintage clothing expert Steve Riddle.

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Less than a year ago this garden was an overgrown junkyard, full of nettles and weeds. Steve decided to clear it out and the results are astounding. In less than a year he’s created a mini allotment. It’s become a real talking point in the community and customers are now coming in and swapping seeds and plants. Steve and his colleagues have given lots of their produce to local businesses, as well as having tasty supplies for lunch in the back garden! Everything is organically grown, the soil was already fertile, because nothing was growing there apart from nettles which fertilised the soil every year.

Beetroot, radishes, cabbage, onions, sweetcorn, courgettes, herbs, rocket, potatoes, carrots, pak choi, squash, strawberries and french beans are all growing in abundance. Not a bad crop for the first year eh?! Even the scarecrow is suitably stylish – clad in 70’s retro and a Chinese straw hat. When the weather turns, Steve’s going to put her in a sowester and matching rain hat!

A stylish scarecrow

Product Review: Gardman Shrub Ties

Hello! I thought I’d post a product review – It’s getting to that time of year, where everybody is staking, deadheading, pruning and starting essential garden maintenance. I needed to stake my Eucalyptus tree, so bought a set of:

Shrub ties by Gardman, £1.59 for pack of two

I was advised to buy this as the velcro ties are being discontinued – apparently they cut into trees and shrubs, eventually strangling the trunk.

However, much as I love to be positive, I am disappointed and would advise you not to waste your money on this particular product. The plastic ties rip easily and the slightest bit of pressure causes it to break.it uses a chain-lock mechanism.

Verdict: Thumbs down.

Gardman Shrub Ties