New season sowing

Despite the cold these last few days in Brighton, the new growing season feels like it’s started. We’ve started getting seeds in and there are green shoots poking up through the soil.

Our recently sown troughs of salad leaf seedlings in the greenhouse which already need thinning out.

Our tray of that LRSP favourite cavalo nero is showing signs of germination.

We’ve sown different varieties of tomatoes: sweet million, gardener’s delight and tumbling toms.

There are also courgettes and some dwarf beans (Blue Lake) showing signs of breaking through the soil.

We’re also all sowing basil (Sweet Genovese) on window sills.

There are still a few basil seedlings which have survived in the greenhouse over the winter and they are showing signs of recovering. They were very sickly during dark and rainy January and February. Basil proved to be a favourite in our public herb planters so this year we’re trying to ensure we get enough continuous stock throughout the summer.

Image2725And we’ve still got lots and lots of seed. Last year, I experimented with scattering all the ‘past sell-by seed’ onto a prepared raised bed in late April. I was rewarded with a wonderful variety of salad leaves, although French frisee lettuce turned out to be thuggish and tried hard to dominate the plot.

Daphne is our seed queen in the LRSP. She’s already potted on tomato seedlings and has basil coming up. Her seedlings enjoy the luxury of a warm south-west facing bedroom.

I never feel very confident about seeding, though germination usually happens.  I’ve decided this year to keep heating on at a very low thermostat in the conservatory to encourage the seeds to germinate; after all, we had frosts last week. I’m hoping this will encourage the tomatoes, courgettes and beans.

The RHS have recently posted a guide to what can be sown when in a greenhouse or conservatory that’s particularly helpful.



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Mort Bay Community Garden

I’m upside down again. North is South, winter is summer. Australia is a fantastic country for swimming, surfing and outdoor life, but as I have been basking in Perth’s temperatures well above 30C and Sydney’s 25-28C, it has struck me that the challenges of water harvesting and watering of a community vegetable garden are in a whole different league from those we face in Brighton.

2014-03-11-512 2014-03-11-516In Sydney, I came across the Mort Bay Community Garden – a fantastic project in Birchgrove, not far from the city centre. Friends showed me the site on an early evening stroll: it’s much bigger than the London Road Station pocket-handkerchief site, but it had been developed from waste land. There was clearly a solid irrigation system in place. A quick look at their web-site shows their useful watering rota.

They use corrugated iron raised beds to grow a whole range of produce: lots of herbs and hot climate vegetables such as sweet corn, aubergines and peppers, but also fruit bushes.

Looking through their website, it was really interesting to see a similar range of activities: general maintenance, planning planting, organising events such as a harvest supper, composting … Looking around their large site, I was really impressed with the number of things growing so well in hot weather – and not a water butt in sight.


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Surprises at Preston Circus

2014-02-08-001We decided to start work on renovating the planters at Preston Circus on the day when yet another gale was forecast. Last Saturday, winds reached 40mph in Brighton. And there we were, trying to dig in soil enhancer to top up the level of the planters and provide nutrients for the next season.

Buffeted by the wind, and with frozen fingers, we just about managed to get our eight sacks of soil into the two planters near the Duke of York’s cinema before we were surprised by icy hail, turning hands blue and noses red. We retreated into Moe’s Café for coffee – and tried very hard not to smear the new interior with soil and mud.2014-02-08-004

As we drank our coffee, the sun came out, then the sky darkened, then icy rain and fierce wind, and then sun again. The sequence just repeated itself throughout the afternoon. During a sunny period, I went over to inspect the other two planters. The ‘prairie’ planter was not looking particularly happy. The central grass looks dead (there are green shoots), all but one of the lime green carex everillo seems to have died (probably because they like shade), and the euphorbia have completely disappeared, presumed dead. The heuchera are standing their own and the verbena bonariensis is still there. The rudbeckia has died – were they annuals anyway? We’ll need to rethink our planting here.

2014-02-08-005But the big surprise is the ‘seaside’ planter. This should definitely not be happy in the current wet conditions, but it’s bushy and lush. It just sulked during the summer when it had the heat the plants were supposed to like and a specially mixed free-draining soil with sand and grit. We added some garden compost in September in desperation to keep it from drying out, and since we’ve just had lots and lots of rain and wind. The grasses, the santolina and the trailing rosemary love it! We’ve still got marigolds too from last summer.

2014-02-08-008And what’s that? The succulent South African native lampranthus delighting in the wettest English winter on record? It just goes to show … gardening and the English weather: you have to enjoy unpredictability!

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Who are they? Station staff from 1925

London Road 4Who are they?

This photograph of railway staff was taken on the steps of London Road Station in 1925.

We were looking at it again this evening as a few of us got together to plan historical displays as part of the celebrations of the 150th Anniversary of (part of) our railway line.

Did all these people work at the station? Did they live nearby? We know that some houses in our area were built to accommodate railway management.

If you can help us with our researches, please do get in touch.

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Walks – from London Road Station?

Change trains and you could go anywhere. 3 changes of train will get you to Moscow and 6 changes will get you to Istanbul.” (

It’s an inspiring thought when you live next to a railway station, particularly on a grey day in February.

But train still rhymes with rain – a bit of an obsession at the moment as we become resigned to effects of the wettest January for centuries. Today I will be venturing out to look around the London Road Station garden, but while the soil is wet and many plants are still hibernating, thoughts do turn to other things connected to our station.

LRS building webLondon Road Station is a focal point in our community. Many people pass back and forwards over the footbridge to the local primary school, between our two excellent local pubs, The Signalman and The Open House, one on either side of the railway. We all love our Victorian station building, designed by the renowned railway architect of the time, David Macotta.

And the train is a wonderful means of getting out into the Sussex countryside without having to battle around other cars on our increasingly congested Victorian streets: so much more fun to start a walk with a train journey.

I was reminded of this by an e-mail from Chris in Lewes. He has created a wonderful website detailing walks in our area using public transport, and particularly trains. Forget Moscow and Istanbul for the moment, our train stations are the gateways to the magnificent South Downs National Park.

There are some great walks here on Chris’ website from stations along our Brighton to Seaford railway line: Newhaven, Southease to Seaford, Falmer to Ditchling Beacon – all wonderful downland walks with stunning views towards the sea and back towards the Sussex Weald.

At a meeting of the Steering Group for the Brighton to Seaford line, Chris convinced me that we should start thinking about walks from London Road Station. I was a little dubious: why would you want to start from London Road Station, when you are more or less in the National Park when you arrive at Falmer, Lewes, Southease etc?

We can walk up to the Downs from here in about 30-45 minutes, but perhaps more interesting from London Road Station would be some short walks around our Victorian urban area?

750px-London_road_viaductOur streets are very much marked by their railway heritage; it was the coming of the railway in the second part of the 19th century that promoted their development. Houses around here were built for railway managers. Our pub is called The Signalman, formerly the Railway Tavern, and A.A. Taylor’s joinery by the station used to be the stables for horses drawing coaches to take railway passengers on to their destinations. Within five minutes’ walk of London Road Station is the former Railway Mission, now the Calvary Evangelical Church at Preston Circus. And there is the splendid Viaduct, built in 1845: a major architectural attraction when it was first built, with many visitors coming down from London specially to visit it.

Urban walks allow us to look again at familiar streets and buildings, and recognise the everyday history which has shaped them: they are visits to a living museum. And if you want a more typical kind of walk in lovely countryside, then you can hop on a train and get out to the South Downs National Park within minutes.

So it looks like I’ve talked myself into a project: if you’d like to join me in thinking up a ‘railway heritage’ trail from London Road Station, please get in touch:

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New year, new stuff

These first grey months of the new year are planning time. At London Road Station, we’ve got two key projects on the horizon.

Planters on the platforms

planter with trellisAs part of the award of ‘Best Community Station’ from Southern Railways, we’re getting three new planters to liven up the railway platforms, north and south. The ones we have chosen have trellising (as above) so we can grow climbing ornamentals and achieve some height – I think it’s up to 1m 80. We’ve budgeted for purchase of annuals and perennials to fill these planters and we’ll need to think about how best we maintain stock for future years. As with the Preston Circus Planters, we’ll need to think carefully about position (there are both shadier and sunnier areas), impact (lots of long lasting colour), shape (combinations of tall, bushy and trailing plants) and sustainability (drought – hard to think of now – and wind). We may want to continue our ‘herb’ theme as a foundation, with flowering annuals interspersed. We now need your ideas!

Brighton to Seaford Line 150th Anniversary

Our station is part of the Brighton to Seaford line, which opened in 1864 – 150th anniversary this year, to be celebrated on Saturday 7th June with all manner of events up and down the line.

We got our history of the station poster up on the south platform last year (thanks, Jim) and you can see a copy of it here. We’ve been thinking about different ideas for celebrating on Saturday 7th, including a street party outside the station. Another idea is to extend our history display and prepare some more posters, perhaps focusing on events and changes at the station and in the area over the last 150 years. If you have any ideas for our celebrations, or reminiscences, please do get in touch!

London Road 4

The eight railway staff outside London Road Station, c. 1920s

Outside Number 6

Outside the south west corner of the railway building, Shaftesbury Place (near what is now our shady garden). Early 1950s


Tramlines being installed at nearby Preston Circus, early 1900s


The badly bombed viaduct (which leads from our station to Brighton mainline), May 1943


Railway workers coming down towards Preston Circus from Brighton engineering works, early1900s

We’ve started collecting a few photos, some of them from the wonderful James Gray collection of historical photos of Brighton.





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2013 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 3,400 times in 2013. If it were a cable car, it would take about 57 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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