CASH­ING IN ON THE CITY GAR­DEN

Lon­don’s Square Mile is now in full bloom, says Lind­say Swan

The Sunday Telegraph - Sunday - - Life Food Special Gardening -

High above Lon­don’s teem­ing streets, once unloved con­crete spa­ces are be­ing trans­formed into boun­ti­ful fruit, veg­etable and wild flower gar­dens. At the Strand head­quar­ters of Coutts, the Sky­line Gar­den yields a breath­tak­ing va­ri­ety of the fresh­est veg­eta­bles, herbs and fruit for the bank’s busy kitchens, while a short dis­tance across the rooftops, staff at the in­ter­na­tional law firm Ol­swang tend the ed­i­ble roof gar­den in their lunch breaks and en­joy eat­ing the fruits of their work. Ol­swang is one of five cen­tral Lon­don busi­nesses to be in­spired by in­mid­town, the Busi­ness Im­prove­ment Dis­trict for Blooms­bury, Hol­born and St Giles, to turn unused roof spa­ces into pro­duc­tive gar­dens. “It’s just the be­gin­ning, there’s mas­sive po­ten­tial,”ex­plains in­mid­town busi­ness man­ager Mitch Steprans, who has a vi­sion of a much greener ur­ban land­scape in the fu­ture. “Of our 570 mem­ber busi­nesses, prob­a­bly half could be greened,” he ex­plains. There are many pluses apart from the en­vi­ron­men­tal ben­e­fits of rain­wa­ter runoff and sound re­duc­tion, im­proved bio­di­ver­sity and heat re­ten­tion. The most ob­vi­ous is the pos­i­tive ef­fect on peo­ple. The Ol­swang gar­den­ing club mem­bers glow when they re­mem­ber the day they brought up the gar­den ma­te­ri­als in the ser­vice lift, call­ing on the lawyers to do the heavy lift­ing, “We only had half an hour to get it all done and we said to the fee earn­ers, ‘In­stead of go­ing to the gym, why not hump com­post?’” laughs Ali­son De­laney, the hor­ti­cul­tural queen bee, who to­gether with col­league Sue Fitzhar­ris, runs the gar­den­ing club. The chal­lenge was picked up gamely. Lawyers and other staff en­joy the com­plete change of scene and breath of fresh air in lunch breaks, as well as the chance to meet peo­ple from dif­fer­ent parts of the busi­ness. Ben­jamin Shore, a se­nior as­so­ciate in the real es­tate team and, by his own ad­mis­sion a novice gar­dener, is glad to learn about grow­ing food and the chal­lenges of plant­ing in a mi­cro­cli­mate to cre­ate a year-round scheme pro­duc­ing fruit, veg­eta­bles and herbs while sus­tain­ing the res­i­dent bee colonies. “The gar­den­ing club is a great op­por­tu­nity to be part of a new and ex­cit­ing way to be green and help the com­mu­nity, too,” says Ben­jamin. “Thanks to the roof gar­den peo­ple from dif­fer­ent de­part­ments, lawyers and sup­port staff, in­ter­act in a way that makes it eas­ier to work to­gether, whether it is to plant marigolds or draft a con­tract. Mak­ing the most of our out­side space has had a real vis­ual im­pact and has pro­vided in­spi­ra­tion and prac­ti­cal know-how to the staff, our clients, po­ten­tial clients and char­ity part­ners.” Ol­swang’s roof gar­den is burst­ing with all kinds of herbs, pep­pers, straw­ber­ries and laven­der in spe­cial grow­ing pock­ets, which fit with weight re­stric­tions and al­low good drainage. Large pot­ted trees and three bee­hives give struc­ture. Ex­tra man­power is pro­vided by north Lon­don char­ity Jobs in Mind. Its Ur­ban Growth pro­gramme works with lo­cal res­i­dents with men­tal health prob­lems to de­velop the skills and con­fi­dence needed to get back into em­ploy­ment. A team of six to eight gar­den­ers comes in weekly to help, pro­vid­ing an op­por­tu­nity to be rein­tro­duced into the busi­ness en­vi­ron­ment. Mem­o­ries of Italy where he spent part of his child­hood and the ex­pe­ri­ence of eat­ing freshly picked pro­duce in­spired Coutts ex­ec­u­tive chef Peter Fiori to set up a rooftop gar­den on the nar­row ter­races skirt­ing the kitchens and din­ing rooms at the top of the build­ing. Work­ing with kitchen gar­den spe­cial­ist Richard Vine, he has cre­ated a green space that is at once beau­ti­ful and spec­tac­u­larly pro­duc­tive. Grow­ing in wooden planters spe­cially made in work­shops at HMP High Down is an abun­dance of herbs, veg­eta­bles and fruit, all in peak con­di­tion. In­sect-at­tract­ing flow­er­ing plants in­clud­ing bud­dleia, roses, laven­der and fuch­sia flour­ish in a meadow area. The gar­den is now an es­sen­tial part of the food cre­ated in the busy kitchen where eight chefs cater for break­fast, lunch and din­ner for up to 700 clients a day. They are proud of their gar­den and en­joy be­ing able to cook with in­gre­di­ents in such peak con­di­tion. “Ev­ery sin­gle thing cooked in the kitchen in­cludes some­thing from the gar­den, with dishes cre­ated to use pro­duce at its peak,” ex­plains Peter. Sweet ci­cely im­parts a hint of aniseed to ice cream, sor­rel and lo­vage are added to sum­mer drinks, lemon ver­bena gives a de­li­cious edge to oily fish, tiny radishes and beet­root dec­o­rate plates with a flash of red and green. Win­ter leeks, peas and a new crop of car­rots are al­ready planted and bor­lotti beans – “I couldn’t have a gar­den with­out them,” says Peter – are not long off har­vest. De­spite its lo­ca­tion, this re­ally is a su­perb kitchen gar­den. While it may be too soon to put fig­ures on the green roof ef­fect, there is much to sug­gest that em­ployee well­be­ing and pro­duc­tiv­ity will in­crease and hav­ing some­thing of the coun­try in the heart of the city – rus in urbe – is prov­ing pop­u­lar with com­pa­nies’ clients too.

Dig this: Coutts’s sky­line gar­den; chef Peter Fiori and Ben­jamin Shore, a lawyer at Ol­swang, be­low

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