Following on from last month’s column on front gardens, how we benefit from them and what to grow in your patch inspired by daily commutes around the neighbourhood, here’s a round-up of Forest Gate’s best trees, shrubs, and blooms.
If you don’t have a garden, you can still help establish and improve green corridors across the borough by planting up window boxes, containers, or pots.
Plus, there’s lots of pleasure to be had from eyeing up the fruits of someone else’s labour from well-gardened borders to jumbles of floral colour to pockets of wildlife-friendly guerrilla gardening. On that note a big shout out to the Forest Gate Community Garden who now have regular Seed Swaps every Saturday morning (thanks to local, green-fingered volunteer Ken Clarke) and their Big Plant Sale on Saturday 21 May – donate or buy, it all helps keep this fantastic green space going.
· Spring blossom
I didn’t dare hope for a bout of early spring sunshine, especially in the wake of mid-February’s triptych of storms: Dudley, Eunice, and Franklin.
But come it did, and with it an awakening of spring blossom that largely refrained from blooming until those gusty winds had gone.
Walking the streets of Forest Gate suddenly turned from a puffer-jacketed battle against the bluster to a tee-shirted stroll through a flower festival with delicate cherry (Prunus spp.), regal magnolia (Magnolia spp., spotted on Osborne, Hampton and Capel Roads), starry-flowered Amelanchier (similar to Magnolia stellata – as seen on the corner of Godwin and Tylney – and the perfect for small gardens including conservation areas), bright yellow forsythia (usually Forsythia x intermedia) and pink-tasselled flowering currant bush (Ribes sanguineum) jostling among the foliage to win best in show.
RHS Plants (www.rhsplants.co.uk) sells small garden trees and shrubs or find one at a local garden centre such as Harlow Garden Centre (www.bluediamond.gg) just up the M11.
· Spring bulbs
The very early spring bulbs such as snowdrops and crocuses most certainly hit the spot between hibernation and getting back to the world at large.
Next up are the first of the showstoppers from the paperwhite or trumpeted perfection of daffodils and narcissi (I love creamy-yellow miniature Narcissus ‘Toto’ or ‘Elka’, pure white Narcissus ‘Thalia’ and orange-centred Narcissus ‘Actaea’) or vivid purple-blue grape hyacinth (Muscari spp.) to subtly toned or fabulously flamboyant tulips (Tulipa spp.) – this year I’m eagerly awaiting a kaleidoscopic array of ivory and green perennial Tulipa ‘Spring Green’ (ideal for my woodland), the classic red/orange Tulipa ‘Princess Irene’ and candy pink Tulipa ‘Pretty Princess’ to go with last year’s crème caramel Tulipa ‘La Belle Epoque’ and deep maroon ‘African King’.
To plant ahead for next year’s display, order bulbs at the end of September and plant in November.
Order Arthur Parkinson’s book The Flower Yard (Kyle Books, 2021) for ideas and advice including how to make a bulb lasagne. It’s an uplifting and fun read too.
· Ornamental grasses
My mum-in-law gave us three pots of pheasant grass (Anemanthele lessoniana) about seven years ago and our back garden has looked reliably evergreen ever since thanks to a vigorous self-seeding and clumping habit – we must now have about 20 mature plants.
This unlicensed spread isn’t to everyone’s taste, but it does give you loads of extra filler plants for zero pounds (especially important right now with all those bills going up!).
This stalwart grass is also easy to pull up if it’s crowding other specimens out, as are juvenile plants with which we’ve now populated our front patch (just give them a good drink when you replant). Other grasses that work well as fillers or to add colour, movement and year-round interest include Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa macra – there’s a fab garden just using this on Claremont Road, currently still in its autumn cloak), feather reed grass (Calamagrostis spp.), low-maintenance and evergreen sedges (Carex spp.), delicately-stemmed hair grass (Deschampsia cespitosa), the larger silver grass (Miscanthus sinensis) the bleached seed heads of which are gorgeous in vases, clump-forming switch grass (Panicum virgatum) or fountain grass (Pennisetum spp.), and feather grass (Stipa spp.).
Sow purple-flowered verbena (Verbena bonariensis) and pink or white echinacea (Echinacea purpurea or Echinacea pallida) for peeps of perennial colour through the swishing leaves.
Sonya Patel Ellis is a writer, editor and artist exploring the interconnectedness of nature. Author of Collins Botanical Bible (HarperCollins, 2018), The Heritage Herbal (The British Library, 2020), Collins Garden Birdwatchers Bible (Harper Collins, 2020) and The Modern Gardener (Harper Collins, 2022) she is often to be found roaming around nearby Wanstead Flats or in her garden for botanical inspiration. See www.abotanicalworld.com for more details plus signed books and botanically inspired prints.