Home to Edward Augustus Bowles: self-taught gardener, horticulturalist, and crocus enthusiast. One day I’ll remember to note down the names of the plants I photograph…
Nothing says ‘urban’ like Garage, and in April 2000, one-hit wonder Sweet Female Attitude got to number 2 in the charts with their Old School Garage choooooon Flowers. The duo, Leanne Brown and Catherine Cassidy, never got anywhere near the top of the charts again, but who really cares what happened next, they should be proud of making one of the most catchy and memorable songs of the Garage years. The perfect mix of urban sound and romantic horticultural lyrics, what’s not to love?
I never wanted this blog to be that serious-minded, so perhaps it’s appropriate that my first ‘Fancy a Walk’ walk was pretty much unplanned and saw me sitting on a rainbow bench, in a park graveyard, with a little can of vodka and ginger ale, talking about boys.
The graveyard in question was Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park, just down the road from Mile End station, which, like many of London’s Victorian cemeteries has been turned over to nature, resulting in a romantic mess of broken tombstones and tangled wildflowers. The day in question was a sunny and warm Bank Holiday Saturday, and the company in question was my old friend Philomena and her sister’s adorable dog, Joey.
So after a lol-filled misunderstanding with a Muslim guy at Mile End station who was handing out anti-ISIS leaflets, and thought I’d refused to take one because I’d misheard ‘anti’ as ‘pro’ – as opposed to my general dislike of leaflets and waste – we set off on our merry way, drifting in and out of the gravestones, in and out of the sunlight.
One of London’s ‘Magnificent Seven’, you could easily dismiss this space, with its inevitable war memorial at the entrance, as just another crumbling corner of Empire, another slice of chintzy Victoriana; all angels and melodramatic inscriptions. And if it were perfectly maintained then it certainly would be a strange and chintzy place, but giving spaces over to nature tends to free them a little, especially when the past is literally being swamped, rotted and covered up by the flora and fauna of the present. Nature has taken over to such an extent, that the graves themselves have very little impact; they’re merely a backdrop to the sun, which is what we’re really here to pay our respects to.
After weaving in and out of graves, we discover a pretty cool rainbow bench and sit down for a while to enjoy the warmth. Smoking, talking, taking photos, we chat about how unfair it is that women are labelled as ‘emotional’ and ‘moody’ when men, in our humble opinion, are just as batshit crazy and emotionally unstable as the rest of us. And as if to prove our point, we hear a drunk heading our way, yelling about ‘boners’ with his friend. Time to move on.
On our slow way out, after failing to find the chalk maze and pissing Joey off by kicking his ball into the undergrowth, we spot a kicked-in tomb. A black marble slab lies on top of a few rows of bricks, which someone has booted a hole in, so you can see down into the crypt below. Having been raised on episodes of Scooby-Do and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, we go looking for the dead. With the joint power of two iPhone torches, we peer into the hole and there they are, Victorian bones. There was no skull in sight, but rows of bones, unmistakably ribs and legs, suggest someone, long since passed, was definitely resting gently on top of the soil. Buried perhaps 150 years ago (I forget the date or the name) they looked exactly how you’d expect a (headless) skeleton to look. And while it was a little eerie if you put your mind to it, there was also something quite everyday about it. You see them in museums after all; bones are bones, and when everything is stripped away they don’t have much power left. Put them together in a science lab and you’ve got a cheeky skeleton named ‘Bob’. Rotting flesh on the other hand, would’ve been another matter, but thankfully there’s none of that here, there’s just flowers and flaking stone, gently decaying under the warm London sun.
Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park, Southern Grove, London, E3 4PX
Thanks to Philomena for the company, and the great photo of me and Joey!
I meant to make a lot of recipes with dandelions back in April and May, when they were actually flowering, but being the disorganised soul that I am, I got round to doing it today (5th June 2016)
So that wasn’t quite as cringe as I expected it to be…though I clearly need to work on my camera and lighting skillz.
I did forget to mention how much of each ingredient I included though, and while a lot of it was guesswork, I did weigh the dandelion leaves, so here’s roughly what went in:
150g dandelion leaves
50g Italian Hard Cheese
50g pine nuts (toasted)
2 garlic cloves
A few good sloshes of olive oil
A scattering of salt
A grind or two of pepper
I had it with some pasta and a bit more cheese, and while it was definitely more tangy than basil pesto, once it was mixed with some hot pasta, this wasn’t a bad thing. Plus it tasted a hell of a lot nicer than the stuff you get out of a jar, so if your lawn is as overgrown as mine, give it a go.
Oh, and while I did need to pee afterwards, it wasn’t an emergency situation! So all’s well that ends well!
The video certainly hasn’t aged well, but this 1988 ode to buildings, highways and shopping malls (taken from the album Naked) is as catchy as ever, and captures many of the band’s big themes. Instead of seeing tarmac and urbanisation as a bad thing (think Joni Mitchell’s Big Yellow Taxi) David Byrne’s knowing lyrics lament the fact that nature has taken over, and pine for the days of billboards, parking lots and discount stores. A song for every city dweller who longs for the countryside, then finds they miss the metropolis.
Dandelion: a widely distributed weed of the daisy family, with large bright yellow flowers followed by globular heads of seeds with downy tufts [Taraxacum officinale and related species.]
Origin ME from Fr. Dent-de-lion ‘lion’s tooth’ (because of the jagged shape of the leaves.)
– Concise Oxford English Dictionary
What a cool name eh? If my name meant lion’s tooth I’d be a happy bunny. Cheerful, full of the joys of spring and yet considered a nuisance when it pops up in your immaculate lawn, the dandelion has secured an unfair reputation as a ‘common’ garden weed. Nicknamed Pis-en-lit (wet the bed) by the French due to their supposed diuretic qualities (they increase the amount of urine the body creates), the common dandelion has been consumed for food and medicinal purposes for a very long time indeed. Rich in Vitamins A, B, C and D, as well as Iron, Potassium and Zinc, all of the plant can be safely consumed, including the roots, which can be roasted and ground up into a powder to use as a caffeine-free coffee substitute. The leaves can be eaten in salads, though some people complain that they’re too bitter, so it’s best to go for the younger ones, and the flowers themselves can be cooked, eaten raw, or made into dandelion wine (though you’ll need to collect a lot for this). I’ll be experimenting with different ways to eat and cook these plants over the next few days, as my overgrown lawn is currently full of them, but until then, here’s some info about their supposed medicinal qualities.
Due to their diuretic nature (as a child I thought you’d piss yourself if you even picked one) dandelions have often been used to aid kidney and liver problems. They’re also said to possess antioxidant and anti-inflammatory qualities and they were widely used in Native American, Chinese and European medicine for many centuries. Beware though if you’re taking medications, their diuretic nature may speed up the passage of medication through your body, meaning you won’t get the chance to absorb it properly.
And of course, the seed heads of dandelions can be used as accurate clocks. Obvs.
Check back in the next few days for my first vlog, some dandelion cooking advice, and to see whether they actually taste nice or not.
Hopefully I won’t pee myself on camera…
Hello, and welcome to Wild City Kitchen, a project examining the relationship – sometimes harmonious, often conflicting – between London and the natural world. I’m setting up this blog in order to give myself a space to learn, make some connections with other nature loving Londoners, and have some good times! Whether I’m learning about horticulture, sustainability, growing fruit and veg, or how we, as humans, connect with the world around us, I want to share my knowledge here in fun and interesting ways, and also get you, good people of the Internet, involved too. Particularly with my Fancy a Walk? Project (more about this below).
Being born and raised in London has had a profound effect on my connection with the natural world. Luckily for me, I grew up with parents who loved gardening, were always taking us for walks in the woods, and who made sure we went on annual holidays to the countryside. The borough I grew up in, Waltham Forest is a particularly leafy one too (the clue’s in the name) but given the nature of urban living, there was also a of concrete, cars, and suburban sprawl. As I’ve got older, and continued to live in this city, I’ve felt increasingly ‘boxed in’ by the grey concrete around me, and tried hard to reconcile the pollution I taste in my mouth every time I walk down a main road, with my deep and profound love for this city, and the excitement, opportunities and adventures that these streets can bring. So though I love London immensely, I need to find a new way to exist here, and that needs to include new ways of connecting to the natural world within the confines of a concrete street. As capital cities go, London has actually been pretty good at providing its inhabitants with green spaces, but with the private sector increasingly encroaching on public space, it is essential we remind ourselves how important these green lungs are.
This blog then is a green and pleasant land amongst the tarmac, with a pinch of urban grit thrown in for good measure. To begin with, there’s going to be a few sections, which I’ll update as regularly as I can, so far these include:
Food for Free
Taking Richard Mabey’s seminal 1972 foraging guide, Food For Free, as inspiration, I’ll be venturing into London’s wilder green spaces in order to pick food that I can eat. Foraging is becoming more and more popular these days, and some areas are being entirely stripped of mushrooms by overenthusiastic foragers and shrewd entrepreneurs who are selling them on to high-end restaurants. In order to protect the local ecology and make sure I don’t add to the problem, I’ll only be taking very limited amounts of whatever I find, and never pulling up plants by the roots. In fact, I’ll be leaving the mushroom world well alone until I’ve had a lesson from an expert, as I’m just the type of person to end up dying a dramatic Victorian death because I accidentally ate the wrong one.
Wild City Kitchen
After foraging for food, growing it myself, or nicking something from a friend’s garden (sorry in advance), I’ll be sharing some recipes with you, and probably some disasters too. This may or may not include the odd video of me cooking (and as this usually involves me dropping whole meals on the floor, or flooding the kitchen, they’ll be entertaining at the very least). To begin with, I’m particularly keen to come up with a recipe using Stinging Nettles that my mum will actually like; she wasn’t too keen on the soup I made her…
Fancy a Walk?
A few years ago, I had a blog called Fancy a Walk? Which involved me going for a walk in one of London’s many parks and gardens and learning some of the history, writing a story, and uncovering some secrets – such as the story of the Blackheath Mole Man. Now, I’d like to expand upon this idea and get other people involved too. Every few weeks I’ll be announcing a walk idea, and putting a call-out for someone to join me. Whether you’re a friend, an acquaintance, or a stranger, I’d like to go for a walk with you, on a one-to-one basis. I’ll bring the tea and biscuits, you bring your walking boots and we’ll learn something about the space together, have some interesting conversation, and at the very least get some fresh air. Then, if you’re willing to be featured on the blog, there’ll be some questions about your experiences of living/visiting London and its green spaces, before I write it all up for everyone to enjoy. If you don’t fancy featuring though, you can remain anonymous, it’s totally up to you. Obviously, if I’m meeting total strangers, they’ll be some safety mechanisms in place and I’ll need to know some details about you first, but given London’s overcrowded nature, meeting strangers in busy parks shouldn’t be a risky business for either of us. More info on the first walk soon.
Just as you’d bring conkers, pinecones and acorns into school to add to the communal nature display, this is the corner of the Internet where I’ll share what I’ve been learning lately. From the deadly history of a particular plant, to the reason why tree trunks spiral, I’ll share what I’ve discovered recently, along with some photos, videos, doodles and general musings on the history of plants, parks and woodland in the capital.
The Things That Sustain Us
These days, more and more people are getting on board the sustainability train. Whether it’s recycling household waste, taking things to the charity shop, or cutting down on food waste on an individual or national level, slowly but surely people are realising it might be wise to take more care of the planet. Well, some people anyway. In this section, I’ll be looking at sustainability schemes kicking off across the capital and hopefully talking to some people about what sustainability means to them. From Veganism to Food Assemblies, how can we live more sustainable lives, and what are we willing to give up to do so?
Wild City Songs
I’m addicted to making playlists. It’s my favourite form of procrastination. Themed by colour, season, emotion, or musical genre, I can sub-categorise with the best of them. As this is a nature blog though, I’ll be posting a weekly Wild City Song, which connects to the natural world in some way; let’s see how tenuous the link becomes!
That’s everything for now, but more sections might crop up in the future, depending on how the site evolves. Watch this space.
Nichola Daunton x