Catching up on the new season

SAT 7th June 10.30 – 4.00pm SHAFTESBURY PLACE. Celebrate 150 years of Brighton to Seaford railway with coffee/tea and homemade cake, exhibition, open garden, model railway display, music, picnic, guided walk, etc.  More under ‘Events’


It’s a typical May Bank Holiday, which means it’s raining heavily. Time to catch up with what’s been happening in the edible growing plot at London Road Station. We’ve had a month of sunny and rainy weather – great for growing, but our warm and wet winter also provided perfect conditions for slugs, snails and aphids.

Shady leaf bed

Sorrel cavalo shady bedWe’ve moved our exuberant mint and have devoted the shady bed by the wall to cavalo nero, lettuce and some variegated sorrel. The slugs of course went for the cavalo shortly after we planted it, so that we renewed some of the plants last week. We have had to resort to organic wildlife-friendly slug pellets.

West bed

Potatoes in west bed 2 c

This bed is looking good cleared of raspberries, now growing in various large pots by the railings. Sue planted three seed potatoes – a first for the garden – and they are doing very well. We prepared the bed for climbing beans, mixing Veolia’s soil enhancer into the soil. We’ve not been very successful with germinating beans from seed this year, but we do have some plants ready.

East bed

We planted onions here earlier on, and they’ve overwintered well. We now have chard and spinach in this bed, growing well.

Apple and pear orchard beds

Parsely by apple treesThis year, we’ve got lovely flat-leaf parsley and lollo rosso lettuces growing here – both doing really well. The lettuces are nearly ready to harvest. We’re holding on to see if they will last until our event on 7th June and can be part of the ‘Pick and Cook’ demonstration.


StrawberriesWe’ve kept the strawberries in the second raised bed and they seem to be doing well, though with more leaf and fewer fruits than the ‘left-over’ strawberry plantlets, abandoned to do their own thing in an old window box by the pear-trees. The soil in the raised bed may be too rich – too comfortable – so the plants are growing lush greenery, not fruits: back to the principle that a little stress stimulates fruiting.

Salad and courgette in apple bedIn the pear-tree bed, we’ve got spiky oriental greens and three courgette plants. These are dwarf bush plants, requiring about 60cm space between each plant, so it may be that they’ll sulk at some point. We’ll need to keep an eye on ensuring sufficient water in this bed; as for nutrients, the soil, enriched with our compost, Veolia and ‘Black Gold’, should be able to sustain them. They will require careful management as they start to grow outwards, downwards, every which way. Contrary to our experience with courgettes last year, these plants (Franchi ‘long’) are doing very well indeed.

As part of catching up, I’ve also gone back through e-mails and texts recording what was going on in the earlier part of the year. Thanks to Diane for keeping in touch!

Tuesday 4th March 2014

A beautiful early Spring afternoon made for some really enthusiastic gardening (and talking about gardening!)  Very pleasing to survey the plots and share our thoughts.  The shady triangle is really coming into its own with a specially good show of ‘Golden Daffodils….’ with the last of the cyclamen doing their best.  We decided the miniature daffs are by far the best, much less subject to the wind blowing them over, and providing good patches of colour because of the dense planting.

The veg garden stays tidy, with buds appearing everywhere.  We are still getting used to the fruit trees new angle, but they look good, specially as Mark disentangled them from the now redundant canes.

We planted some little sorrel seedlings (the red variety) just to see what they would do, and we harvested some more leeks.

The greenhouse plants are racing along now, and we were pleased to see new dark green shoots coming from the base of all the parsley plants we potted on only last week..  We harvested the lettuce, and then planted seeds for the next crop. Then time for tea, and planning!  Which variety of beans to grow?  where to site them?  Among other important topics.

Tuesday 25 February 2014

Tuesday was dull, weather-wise, but in every other respect it shone!  We potted on the parsley plants, tended the greenhouse (actually, should say ‘admired’ as Mark and Daphne have done all the tending and it looks really good!) and the basil seedlings I didn’t bring home for tlc are doing fine now (M and D’s magic touch again!)

The highlight of the afternoon was Bryn’s visit.  He was fulsome in his praise for our fruit trees – the best of the bunch he is ‘overseeing’. They are vigorous, healthy and have flower buds to prove it. The main task was to pull each little tree(not so little now) down to an angle of 45 degrees.  It did seem a bit brutal at first, but the trees didn’t mind, and they look very comfortable in their new positions.  We, well 99%Bryn, tied the branches in with the plastic tree ties, and snipped off a few small branches which were heading towards the wall.

Bryn will be back to look at how they are doing in late June/July.  In the meantime we need to water well when needed, and stop feeding as they will get too leafy and big, and not concentrate on fruiting. There are other things to do at solstice time and early August, and we had instructions about how and when to remove excess fruit to ensure good harvests. The plum tree received some training to fill its allotted space efficiently – tied in with inner tubes this time – a brilliant tip.

We ended the afternoon with a leek harvest – leeks in cheese sauce for Bryn and the De Boissieres, leek and potato soup for Diane and Simon.   A delightful way to round the afternoon.

Tuesday 18th February 2014

It was a worthwhile afternoon – and the plots felt quite spring-like!   Just a bit of general tidying, weeding the tree pit  (and I harvested some chard for a savoury tart!)The greenhouse is looking good, just a little bit of watering to do. The geraniums in the conservatory also had a little drink.   The sun was pouring into the conservatory by 3, so it was certainly time to sit down with one of Elspeth’s gardening books, feet up, cushions in place……. I woke up at 3.45!   Thank you, Elspeth for sharing this little bit of heaven with all of us! The basil which is now on my windowsill is hanging in there, five of the plants look really viable now.


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Update on the orchard

2014-04-22-1246Our mini-orchard of cordoned apples and pears is springing back to life. But there’s a bit of a problem in one of the pear trees. Some of the leaves are mottled with light-coloured blotches which are starting to turn brown on the underside of the leaf. We’ve identified this as Pear leaf blister mite, caused by a microscopic beastie which invades the leaves.

Luckily, the advice is that this invasion is less serious than it looks – phew! There are no chemical controls: if a few leaves are affected, they should be removed, but otherwise, the tree should just keep going and the mite should not affect fruiting.

As much of the tree appears healthy, we’ll start by removing the worst affected leaves and giving the tree a good foliar-feed spray.

The trees were winter-pruned back in February when Bryn visited from Brighton Permaculture Trust: photos below.

2014-02-25 16.36.16 2014-02-25 16.37.51 2014-02-25 16.38.03 2014-02-25 16.38.53 2014-02-25 16.39.43 2014-02-25 16.41.22 2014-02-25 16.57.02


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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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