Managing a shared Walthamstow Warner garden: what’s worked in two years

Two years have passed since I moved into our Warner flat in Walthamstow. While we quickly worked out all the quirks of the building (oh hi hidden chimney breast in the kitchen), the challenges we hadn’t clocked before we moved in (very thin walls and a leaking roof), and exciting finds once we peeled back the layers (original Edwardian floorboards and horse hair lime plastering), the garden took me a while to get a hold of.

I’m still nowhere near a master of the space, and each week it’s clear that this is an ongoing project, but these are some reflections on what has worked and what has not worked for what started out as a pretty plain south-facing, completely gravelled shared space measuring approximately 7m x 7m.

What worked

Experimenting with colour: re-painting the fence from dark green to a lighter sage green lifted the small space. Painting the picnic bench bright blue with some bargain £2.50 outdoor paint from Forest Recycling Project has added a pop of colour in a shady plant-free space. FRP have also been fantastic for cheap scaffolding boards which I’ve made into raised beds. You can just make them out below, underneath all those nasturtiums and sage.


Edibles: strawberries, herbs, potatoes, and salad leaves have all been successful and love the south facing sunny spots in the raised beds. I used the inside of compost bags to put down as a liner for the strawberries, as you can see below. Next year I’m planning two beds of strawberries and keeping the salad leaves in the window boxes for easier access.


Pallet compost bin: After a neighbour was chucking out a mega pallet used to transport paving slabs, I dragged it in, turned it upside down, sawed off some of the top to make a lid, painted it, added chicken wire to make sure the garden waste stayed inside, and finally positioned it in the shadiest corner of the garden where nothing would grow. Some sedums have also been added for a green roof effect.

Working with the gravel: I much prefer turf, but due to budget, the shared nature of the space, and the ongoing maintenance that installing a turf lawn would require, I’ve stuck with the gravel. Amongst the paving slabs I’ve added mountain daisies and sedums to create a beach path effect that is wildlife friendly. Any plants that are recommended for rock gardens could also be used. The cat regularly sunbathes on the warm paving slabs too and the plants don’t seem to mind if he rolls around on them.


What hasn’t worked

Trees in tubs: both the apple tree and the cherry tree are not enjoying growing in large tubs, despite regular watering, appropriate fertiliser, and a mulch layer. The heat from the south facing position seems too much for them. Fertiliser has given them a helping hand but ultimately they need more space and better protection.

Runner beans:  I’ve tried several locations with runner beans on canes in the raised beds over the last two years, but on every occasion the slugs get there first and I’m left with straggly unhappy plants that never recover. I don’t even like beans that much so I think I’ll just write this one off completely. More strawberries.

Tomatoes in hanging baskets: I was so excited to put together hanging baskets with tumbling cherry tomatoes, basil and marigolds, but the crop hasn’t been as plentiful as I was hoping for, and the weather has left the plants continuously too dry then too wet, and suffering from blight.

What I still want to work in

A bigger water feature: I have a mini bucket pond with some papyrus in, but incorporating a larger water feature or pond with moving water would be great for next year. I really liked the Urban Rain Garden by Rhiannon Williams at 2017’s RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show, that collects rainfall from the roofs of buildings to irrigate the garden.

Green wall: as described in a previous blog post, having a green wall in the garden would be great. It’s going to need more planning to make sure it’s safe, can be done inexpensively, and doesn’t cause damage to the bricks and exterior walls.

More wildlife features: connected to both points above, there are still so many opportunities to create more wildlife friendly spaces in the garden and the area.


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