Three years ago Suzanna opened Linda, 'a Sunday shop of shady plants', to help Londoners make the most of every area that could be green, not only for their wellbeing but for the benefit of the local wildlife as well. We spoke to her about the fact that whilst it is true that humans need access to green space, wildlife and in particular the pollinators on which we rely also need access to that green space too. With plants (all grown in the UK) and planters for sale, as well as planting plans available, Linda really is hidden gem of a place to make your very own hidden gem of a garden no matter how small or shaded:
FIRST AND FOREMOST, TELL US HOW LINDA AND YOUR URBAN GARDENING BUSINESS CAME ABOUT.
I worked for 20 years in the music industry - the past ten as a freelance brand consultant and a sound artist – but increasingly found myself pulled towards creating gardens. I have always spent a lot of time visiting gardens and rare plant fairs with my best mate, Columbia Flower Market was like our Sunday church. Our kids always laugh at us and call us grannies – that’s when they’re not fuming because they’re still waiting for us to finish wandering around random nurseries in the middle of nowhere.
I opened Linda three years ago - it’s a shady plant shop based in a friend’s back yard off Hackney Road. We named it after her Saluki rescue dog, which is very random and does lead to some confusion but I’m happy to answer to Linda! It was full of junk, but once we’d cleared it, painted it plaster pink to reflect the light and planted tree ferns, dead nettles, anemones, tiarellas and muehlenbeckia and lots more in large planters, the transformation was amazing. Even better were the pollinators that started to come to the yard. The bees, butterflies and hoverflies found it almost immediately. They particularly loved the lamiums (deadnettles) which are a total shady pollinator magnet!
There is a large block of new flats being built opposite that has left us a tiny chink of light – we get a lot of diffused light as we are open to the sky but hardly any direct sunlight. We decided to open it because we wanted people to see how much they could grow in a very small shady urban environment. I call it a Sunday shop – not sure if that’s actually a thing - but it’s a domestic garden for six and a half days a week and a shop on Sundays. We’re round the corner from Columbia Road so we just open the door and people pop in.
A huge number of homes in London that have balconies or side-returns or gardens that are overlooked from buildings and trees because we all live cheek by jowl. These often get neglected because they don’t get much light and end up being dumping grounds, but there are lots of things that grow in these environments. The more linked-up green planting there is, the easy it is for pollinators to get around. If every sill or balcony had a mini garden with a variety of plants, it would improve everyone’s view and the environment and we’d all be happier!
SINCE STARTING LINDA WHAT HAS BEEN PARTICULARLY REWARDING?
People sending me pictures of window boxes I’ve planted or plants they’ve bought from me thriving in their gardens or balconies. I love it. You can see their interest and enthusiasm in gardening grow. It’s a really nice way to meet new people, have lots of planty chat and swap tips (most of them promptly forgotten by me!). It actually reminds me of how much fun it was when I first started working in music, you were surrounded by people all passionate about the same thing, swapping music recommendations.
WHAT ARE YOU PASSIONATE ABOUT FOR THE FUTURE OF URBAN GARDENING?
I hope the huge passion for house plants will extend to gardening outside, whether it’s just a window sill or front garden or a community garden. Looking after something, watching it change and helping it grow can make you happier and calmer. I hope more people will start gardening for wildlife, grow pollinator friendly plants and make it easier for insects, moths and bees to move about the city. We need more community gardens too.
HOW DO YOU FEEL YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH THE LAND AND SURROUNDINGS HAS DEVELOPED SINCE WORKING AND DESIGNING WITH PLANTS?
I notice small seasonal changes so much more, even in London. I get really excited when I see the first snowdrops start to push up at Arnold Circus or early cherry blossom in Haggerston Park – it’s like that Dennis Potter quote “the nowness of everything is absolutely wondrous”. I feel a stronger need to be amongst nature more often and have realised how fundamental that connection is to my wellbeing.
HOW DOES GARDENING MAKE YOU FEEL? HAS IT IMPACTED THE WAY YOU RELATE TO OTHER ASPECTS OF YOUR LIVES?
It can be so immersive, you pop out to tie back a bit of clematis and three hours later you’re still there, usually just staring at something. The slowness is very useful for clearing my head. A gardener and writer called Laetitia Maklouf recommended always having bits of cut twine in your pocket because if you don’t tie in climbers when you see them, you forget and they quickly get out of control – I always remember that advice but never remember to do it. She’s far more organised than me!
DID YOU LEARN FROM ANYBODY AT ALL, IS THERE A COMMUNITY YOU FEEL A PART OF IN THE WORLD OF GARDENING, WOULD YOU LIKE THERE TO BE MORE?
My dad and grandpa were really good gardeners but I wasn’t particularly interested until I was older. I learnt by trying things – which is still how I learn. The Instagram gardening community has been incredibly friendly, supportive and generous with their knowledge. I’m also part of the Garden Union – a collective of gardens in Hackney set up by Cordwainers Grow – which is another very supportive community. Not to mention the volunteer gardeners at Arnold Circus which has beautiful community gardens in Shoreditch that I work in every Friday. We always get an excellent tea and I’d work there every day if I could.
There is an obvious lack of diversity in horticulture – as there is in most areas – and I would like to see this change. If you visit an allotment there are many different people from different backgrounds but once you look at official organisations and publications, it’s pretty much all white. I know a lot of horticultural organisations are being more vocal about both diversity and colonial history that is so intrinsically tied up with British horticulture but until the senior positions within those organisations are more diverse, they are unlikely to be diverse at other levels.
WE ARE HUGE ADVOCATES OF THE NEED TO APPRECIATE AND BE CONSIDERATE OF THE PROCESS AND TIME INVOLVED IN CREATING & WORKING WITH NATURE. WHAT WOULD YOU SAY IS MOST IMPORTANT TO UNDERSTAND ABOUT YOUR PRACTICE AT LINDA?
This is a really interesting question – lots of people come to me, excited to know what they can plant that will thrive and clearly are looking forward to seeing something grow which is great. But so many people under-value plants, the time it takes to gain that knowledge, to grow something and compared to something like interior design, it’s not something everyone thinks is worth paying a lot of money for. I’m very happy to recommend plants to people and help them choose things that will grow in their space and that look lovely growing together but I sometimes I wish that knowledge was valued more.
WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THE IMPORTANCE OF EVERYONE HAVING ACCESS TO GREEN SPACE?
It’s so important – one in eight homes in the UK don’t have access to a private or shared garden. In London it’s one in five. In total, 3.3 million households across the country have no outdoor space. If you don’t have any green space, I’d totally recommend volunteering at a community garden or putting your name down for an allotment (not so easy in London, I know). We are so disconnected from nature, even the expression ‘putting nature first’ assumes it is something different from us, at a remove, but we are all nature and we co-exist. I’d like all primary schools to have a compulsory forest school element – especially those in urban areas - it would help instill that connection and understanding earlier on.
CAN YOU TELL US MORE ABOUT YOUR DREAMS OF MAKING NEW DEVELOPMENTS GREENER?
I live in East London and there are new developments going up everywhere. The hoardings and marketing materials feature beautifully designed interiors with large glass doors onto balconies but no images of the balconies as gardens. The big development next to Linda that’s stolen our light has lots of glass and Corten balconies (ironically, a great hard landscaping material) but they look barren and unwelcoming. I’d love to create a garden on one to show people what they could have if they choose the right plants and to encourage more people to garden on them. They are not easy sites, particularly overlooking a heavily polluted road, but there are lots of plants that work and would improve the environment for the residents and those in the immediate area not to mention all the pollinators who live alongside us.
HOW CAN WE MAKE OUR IMMEDIATE ENVIRONMENTS AND CITIES MORE GREEN?
Grow more, plant more! In London, councils need to create more allotments and community gardens and leave more of our green spaces wild rather than building on every scrap of land. A bee can last 40 minutes on a full tummy (thanks @WildHackney for that info!) so needs lots of pitstops. The more green areas and the more diversity in planting there is the better. There are so many spaces – sills, balconies, tree pits, shed roofs – that could be planted with pollinator friendly plants. Everything would look nicer and we’d be healthier and happier.
IS THERE A PARTICULAR RESOURCE, BOOK OR WEBSITE WHICH YOU’D RECOMMEND TO OTHER GROWERS FOR ADVICE?
So many! But Jack Wallington’s Wild About Weeds, Richard Mabey’s Weeds, Nick Haye’s The Book of Trespass and Kenneth Helphand’s Defiant Gardens – Making Gardens in Wartime are books that I think have really influenced the way I think about plants and my environment and my relationship to both. Jack’s book is just a very accessible way to encourage people to see weeds as decorative plants they can use in their garden and Richard Mabey’s Weeds is a fascinating, more in depth study of how weeds grow – it might sound boring but it’s brilliant and joyful, full of anecdotes that will change the way you see those pioneer plants. And may make you more inclined to leave them where they are. Neither Nick Hayes or Kenneth Helphand’s book are really about growing but are, respectively, an illumination on how we’ve had our common land taken from us, and how gardening is something that, in times of unbelievable hardship, people turn to again and again. The first made me furious and the second made me cry. Both underlined how fundamental gardening can be to our wellbeing and how vital it is that everyone should have access to green space. If you’re on Instagram I’d highly recommend @noughticulture especially for new gardeners, @johnwelsh1 for his amazing tree pit gardens and @thetemperategardener for continually and succinctly highlighting the relationship between colonisation and horticulture.
AND FINALLY, HOW HAVE YOU HAD TO ADAPT YOUR BUSINESS THROUGHOUT THE PANDEMIC, HAVE THERE BEEN ANY SILVER LININGS ?
Yes! Last lock down I was flooded with requests from people who wanted to garden and ended up delivering plants to people’s front doors, which I never set out to do. I loved it. What could be better than a crate full of green promise on your doorstep? This year has been harder because so many nurseries are sold out of the plants I want, but it’s great that people are growing more so I can’t complain.