Stanford House Gardens

Published: 15 September 2017

Story provided by David Green

When I first moved to Stanford House, in March 2015, I vociferously lamented the loss of my beautiful gardens. Cliff, the undoubted driving force behind the many improvements to Stanford House over recent years, heard me. In 2016 I received a note from Cliff to the effect that we should meet and discuss plans for the beautification of the grounds. We agreed that we should create a floral oasis that the community could enjoy.

At that time there were some large patches of grass (lawns would be a gross exaggeration) on the Gloucester Avenue side of the building. It was suggested that a border around the grass plus several large flower beds would greatly enhance the area. Work began. The first problem was the soil which, due to years of pedestrians and a content rich in aggregate, had a consistency close to concrete. Cliff's cousin, a fine hard worker, was called in and between them, with the application of pickaxe and shovel, the beds took shape. Sadly two dozen ornamental bushes, some of the first to go in, were stolen from the site. Undaunted, work continued and the borders are now encircled by hawthorns with dahlias, campos, lilies and marigolds providing colour. In the springtime the beds are a riot of yellow, pink and orange as myriad daffodils and tulips come into bloom.

The flower beds are built around rose bushes. These provide a magnificent centrepiece, offset by bedding plants such as pansies and dianthus (chosen to match or enhance the colours of the roses). The bedding plants are chosen to give a continuity of flowers throughout the year. On the corner of Gloucester and Princess Margaret Road was an unsightly area of tarmac. With a raised kerb it was not utilized as part of the car park and did nothing except act as extra, dangerous, parking for people picking up schoolchildren. It was an accident waiting to happen. Cliff had a brilliant idea. To stop the illegal parking and provide more flowers for display, he placed, painted and filled six large lorry tyres, each to act as a plant container. Right now they are overflowing with nasturtiums which are trailing across the tarmac in a representation of the community spirit.

The stretch from Gloucester to Coronation, along Princess Margaret Road, was not easy to landscape. It comprises a strip which gradually increases from a few inches to 12 feet behind a raggedy hedge with the odd tree along the way. Midway along the stretch is what was once an entrance, blocked by bollards and a bar, for emergency vehicles. Prior to this entrance I created what I term, the Salvia bed. 2016 saw a sea of aptly named salvia seascape flowers which produced a vista of blues and whites giving the impression of storm-tossed waves. This year brought about wholesale changes to the bed. A dozen strawberry plants have produced ample fruit ranging up to 2.5 inches in diameter. Quick tip, use grass cutting as straw to surround the plants, this keeps them free of insects and snails. There are also two gooseberry bushes and a blueberry bush which should produce fruit as the years go by. Surrounding these (indeed concealing them to all but those in the know) are dahlias and campos with a smattering of pansies and dianthus to give some colour to the bases.

The strip of grass on either side of the salvia bed (as I still call it) became a large exit for drivers who could not be bothered to go the extra fifty yards to the Gloucester exit. This practice was curtailed by the simple expedient of placing a number of large boulders along the verge. The emergency entrance had fallen into disrepair. The bar was long gone and the bollards fallen down or removed one by one. Once we received the news that there was to be a new entrance to Bata directly across Princess Margaret Road then it became obvious that there was potential for a nasty accident to occur. Cliff acquired a large, square planter flanked by two long narrow planters and these were placed across the entrance. These were filled with hostas, begonias, pansies, marigolds and geraniums and provide a very colourful site for pedestrians.

The car park is split into two parts with a three foot wide median and bollards acting as the division. There were a couple of dead trees along the median which were cut back, removing the danger of a dead branch falling on a car. Due to people constantly walking across the median as well as a plethora of weeds, the soil had to be turned to a depth of 10 inches. In 2016 parts of the median were given over to vegetables; cherry tomatoes (a good choice as they bear a far more abundant crop than regular tomatoes), cucumbers and peppers. In the early spring of 2017 the beds were more extensively dug and lavender bushes, geraniums, foxgloves, impatiens and a flourishing rhubarb plant took up residence. Cliff also bricked the edges to give a nice definition to the beds. In addition he built a brick path to allow pedestrian access between the segments of the car park. By and large, people have been very respectful of the plants especially once they are flowering and thus more obvious.

There is also a mini allotment. As the verge along Princess Margaret Road widens there is a triangle of previously waste ground given over to vegetables. In the past year I have had an excellent crop of onions, some bigger than a baseball, which are very strong (I have enough to see me through winter). There was a crop of elephant garlic which, frankly, were not a success; ah well, we live and learn. I am on my second crop of potatoes (the first were enjoyed by a variety of people) and the cucumber plant and orange cherry tomato plants have proved prolific. The vegetables are shared amongst
any who care to try them – there is nothing quite like the taste of fresh produce straight from the soil. Come October the crops will all be up-rooted and the soil replenished ready for the winter onions and potatoes.

From the junction Princess Margaret and Coronation (where there is pedestrian access to the car park) up past the bus-stop, we have created a two foot wide border between the hedge and the grass verge. Anchoring this bed in the corner is a giant dahlia, with purple and white plate sized flowers. Along the border are geraniums, alcoa, campos and rhubarb, cherry tomato, plum tomato, blueberry and gooseberry plants. With a newcomer, a cucamelon plant. A member of the cucumber family, native to the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico, this produces grape size cucumbers that look like tiny watermelons (hence the name) and taste like citrus infused cucumbers, a definite lemon flavour. They can be eaten straight from the plant or used in a salad. I did try them in a stew but the flavour was overwhelmed. They have been a great conversation piece.

Along Coronation Avenue, by the side of Stanford House, I have created an eight foot wide scalloped bed, referred to as the conifer bed as a series of small conifers were the first to go in. This has proved very successful as great attention was paid to preparing the soil for planting. Marching down the centre are a dozen raspberry bushes, split between summer and autumn fruit to prolong the season. More cherry tomato and cucamelon plants provide bookends. In between the conifers (which appear not to have grown any) bordering the street are poppies and geraniums. On the Stanford House side there are some magnificent giant and regular dahlias and a couple of tall elegant canas. The front of the beds are awash with blue lobelia, stock and nicotiana flowers. I currently have 180 winter pansies (with another 270 expected at the end of September) awaiting transfer to the beds from my flat as the summer and autumn plants die away. This bed has probably garnered the most praise.

And there is a small herb garden. Tucked away behind the bushes to the left of the conifer bed there is a physic garden. Here I grow mint, coriander, basil, oregano, sage, chocolate mint, chives and angelica. Perfect to go in the pot when you are cooking.