Sunday, 4 December 2011

A Unique London Village

Open Garden Squares Weekend is all about opening up London’s private, secret gardens and Garden Barge Square, near Tower Bridge, is a wonderfully quirky and imaginative living space. The barge development feels thoroughly contemporary, yet there have been moorings on this site for over 200 years.
The secluded setting of Garden Barge Square, in the shadow of Tower Bridge and the London skyline
We were lucky to be shown around on a beautiful bright and warm November morning by Nick Lacey. Nick devised the gardens in the mid-1990s and his architectural practice is based in a nearby wharf building overlooking the Square.  This village of converted barge vessels, linked by bridges and walkways, is home for nearly 100 people, and also houses businesses and artists’ studios.

Low lying, hardy silver-leafed plants
are a particular feature of the gardens
And, between and atop the barges there are individually planted gardens, each with its own identity. They were still incredibly green, and featured a variety of evergreen and silver-leafed plants – ideally suited to the dry and windy conditions on the Thames - bordered by box hedges and swaying grasses. Mains water keeps the gardens looking spruce, but in times of shortage the Thames itself – barely saline on this stretch - can be used. The gardens are managed organically to attract wildlife interest and are fed with home made fertilisers. There is a zero toleration policy for invasive weeds and chemicals.

We were also delighted to see rarely-cultivated medlar trees with their petite proportions working so well in the available space. Nick shared with us his recipe for medlar jelly, a lovely bronze-coloured preserve which is super with cold roast meat. Both bletted (dark brown in appearance and squashy to the touch) and firm medlars are required for the jelly, the majority should be bletted combined with a few that are still firm. 

An unbletted medlar
Medlar Jelly

Simmer the medlars in a small quantity of water, sufficient just to stop the fruits from sticking. Strain the cooked fruit through muslin and gently boil the resultant juice with an equal amount of sugar. The jelly is ready when a small quantity sets on a cold plate. Bottle the jelly in clean jars and seal once cooled.

We’ll be back in a month’s time with another exciting and unique London garden!  

Thursday, 3 November 2011

A special open space in East London

Here at Duck Island Cottage we’re working on our programme for Open Garden Squares Weekend, 9-10 June 2012, and we’re very excited about the forthcoming event. We’ve just come back from a visit to Abbey Gardens, in East London – a truly inspirational location.

Harvesting at Abbey Gardens
Four years ago, two artists, Karen Guthrie and Nina Pope, designed the unique open-access Harvest Garden on neglected wasteland. The ruins of a 12th-century abbey gave the Gardens its name as well as protection from development. Karen and Nina were influenced by the idea of returning the land to production and today everyone can participate in the communal growing and harvesting of vegetables and herbs. Free garden club sessions take place three times a week, from March to October. There are no individual plots – produce is split between regular gardeners and is sold on site.

We love the positive and welcoming atmosphere at Abbey Gardens.

At Duck Island Cottage we’re also passionate about fresh, natural produce. In June 2012, at Abbey Gardens, the first of the season’s vegetables will be ready for harvesting, including our early summer favourites: peas, broad beans, new potatoes and young salad leaves. The following recipe makes the most of this early crop - and mint and parsley, also in season:

Salad of Broad Beans, Peas and New Potatoes in a lemon and mint dressing

A mix of the following vegetables:

fresh peas, broad beans, new potatoes and salad leaves

For the dressing:

light olive oil, lemon juice, salt & pepper, mint and parsley

Make a dressing by combining three parts olive oil to one part lemon juice, seasoning with salt and pepper. Finely chop a combined handful of mint leaves and parsley, avoid using the thicker parts of the parsley stalks, and add these to the dressing.

Fresh Mint
Cook the peas and broad beans until just tender, and the new potoates until cooked through. Combine the cooked vegetables and whilst still warm, pour the dressing over the vegetables and mix well together. Allow to cool, to room temperature. Line a salad bowl with the salad leaves and pile in the salad. Just before serving chop the remainder of the mint and parsley and scatter over the salad.

We’ll be back next month with a preview of another one of our exclusive Gardens for June 2012!