Dalston’s box junction. Photo: © Peter Jones

Dalston’s box junction. Photo: © Peter Jones

I’d been visiting the guerrilla gardening website, dreaming of planting up the duller bits of Dalston. It then occurred to me that there were two neglected troughs nearby that I could cultivate. They sit on a small traffic island opposite my house, divided in two by a cycle lane.

Apart from a few bulbs in spring, for most of the year they were full of dry weeds. I set out one afternoon with black sack and rubber gloves, took out the cans, the large battery, the crisp packets, the used condoms, the miniature gin bottles, the sack of American coins, and began planting.

Being in the middle of the road, the boxes get far more light than the average garden. Most things grow at twice the rate, but suffer in the summer drought. Each box gets a mulch from the wormery a couple of times a year, but my watering is sporadic.

The dryness favours grey foliage plants – lavender and pinks have thrived. Nasturtiums swell up in rain, when they threaten to smother everything else. The tough American prairie daises, echinacea and rudbeckia give a long, impressive finale to the year. I’m currently trying out blues and purples in one box (echinacea, salvias, scabious, thyme, verbena bonariensis) and yellows, whites and pinks (aquilegia, ox-eye daisies, stocks, verbascum) in the other, turning to scarlets (crocosmia, geum, khinopfia) as the year progresses.

Some thefts have been heartbreaking, a spreading pink the size of a football made it through the damp winter and into flower before being stolen, and cruelly, the only crocosmia to flower was pulled and then discarded in the middle of the road. God knows what these lunatics do with the loot – give them to their mothers? Plant them in their own sad patch? The first couple of times I wanted to put up a sign, or write in chalk on the boxes DO NOT STEAL, but putting up signs seems a bit sour.

Instead I now grow from seed and smother new plantings with soil and leaves. Anything bought new I split into parts to give the safety of numbers. That said, I haven’t been able to resist planting a white pom-pom dahlia and a couple of red hot pokers in memory of my 70s childhood.

Is my foray into public gardening really guerrilla gardening? I suppose may be, although I’ve no links with the group – I simply wanted more space to grow things. Someone asked me who owned the boxes. The answer is I really don’t know – all I can suggest is that it’s a very absent landlord. The gardening has got me talking to neighbours I’d never previously spoken to – one told me that when something comes into flower it makes her day, and it certainly does mine too.

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