Belated thanks to all for your help – Diana Weir

Phase II of renovating the Hertford Road/Stamford Road junction took more than a little longer to achieve, thanks mainly to adverse weather conditions, but we got there just in time to have our new street garden before the neighbours strung up Jubilee street party bunting around the whole pedestrianised area on Monday.

Frustration reigned a week ago: the cardboard carton strips which I’d carefully cut at home on the Sunday morning had all suddenly gone, owing to the (entirely uncharacteristic) over-enthusiasm of the Council recycling collectors. The entire boxful, neatly hidden from the street (or so I’d thought) disappeared just before I could install them on Thursday morning.

Fortunately, Scooterden had not only received their belated bike shipment but kept the cartons, as I’d requested. So I hauled two huge bike boxes out into the road and got out my wicked titanium knife, yardstick and marking pen all over again. One opened carton, propped between the railing end columns, fenced me protectively against the usual stream of pavement cyclists while I laid out the other on the granite setts and got cutting. It took hours – and I’d already dug out Mabel’s donations of irises etc from her garden that morning – so I took the new bundle of edging strips home for safe-keeping until I could start installing them later.

The best way to fix them began with cleaning out the inner edge of each tree pit, to give the heavy cardboard some support to stay in the shape I wanted. Fighting a six-metre strip of multi-ply industrial cardboard into shape around a tree pit isn’t the easiest thing to achieve single-handed but I managed it the first six times – although being distracted by the arrival of Marc Hauer, heaving a massive tub of wonderful Tree Nursery compost, ensured that I forgot to turn the sixth one printed side inwards. So Piaggio got their free advertising after all…! For the last one, round a tree so mature that the roots had risen above the pavement and filled the pit so tightly that I couldn’t clear more than one edge of the pit, I scrounged help (a second pair of hands) from a passing stranger, who helpfully turned out to be a local artist and therefore interested in learning more about Chelsea Fringe in case she could take part next year.

Saturday was the only day I could hope to plant on but it was so busy that my timing slipped at every stage. Nevertheless, following Miranda’s excellent example of e-mailing my intended schedule to every De Beauvoir Gardener and intending helper proved invaluable. Marc and the compost (plus some more of Jenny’s variety pots) arrived almost instantly and Barbara had me dig up massive mint and campanula plants from her back garden before feeding me (I’d quite forgotten to plan any lunch) and then setting me to extract lots of over-deadheaded white geraniums from her own tree-pit, all to make space for more plants that she’d just bought. As I plodded home looking like a vegetative Birnam Wood, Nancy Korman caught me for long enough to hang yet another carrier bag of plants on a spare finger.

Then there were all these amazing bags of greenery awaiting me on the garden path – completely unattributable as to donor but helpfully labelled in case I couldn’t recognise lilies of the valley, foxgloves etc. So very many thanks to the givers, whoever you may be – almost everything went into the tree pits that evening and the rest is being potted up in case reinforcements prove necessary later.

Sadly, the time slippage lost me the indefatigable Alison Benjamin’s third offer of help – but my neighbours opposite returned home just as I started to lug plants up the road and were quite easily persuaded to join in. One wielding a spare trowel, one hauling a watering-can up and down their stairs and following us around the street, we had the whole lot planted up in well under two hours. Then I weeded out the rest of the weed-killered but still obviously live weeds from among the granite setts near the tree pits on the west side – which is probably why my creaky knees again feel about 90 years old! Never mind: the entire space looked amazingly new and fresh after all that hard work, just in time for a good soaking from Sunday’s rain. Only slight problem: I forgot to photograph it!

I ran out on Monday morning to clear up the unused (because constantly soaked) clay before the party set-up and was delighted to discover that the rough elements (visibly including the wretched pavement cyclists) had solved the problem of the clay I’d spread out to dry: it had become so sodden and been over-ridden so often that it had disintegrated into mud – immediately usable as a conveniently water-absorbent top dressing. The other bags of clay I’d put out there had disappeared under old sheets, tied up with Union Jacks, to become supports for the legs of the gazebo – and I was even asked to supply yet another, to help keep the buffet-protecting umbrella in place. I hope that someone’s Jubilee party photographs show the street garden in the background….

PS It emerges that even brown gaffer tape isn’t entirely waterproof, faced with rain of this density: next, I need to refix some of the joints in the edging with something that won’t lose its grip when wet. Some ancient document spikes should do the job, I think. There’s no real cure for drunks breaking down the edgings by blundering onto them except adding another layer of edging outside the original one, though.


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