Helen’s Holloway garden sows seeds for first book

Amateur gardener turned author Helen Babbs explains the delights of urban roof horticulture

When Helen Babbs moved into a small flat in Holloway, she could hardly have imagined that the uninspiring flat roof would eventually lead to her becoming a published author.

However, in a bid to make it a green, pleasant space, she started planting various vegetables and plants on it, while writing a blog about her progress.

The blog gained something of a cult following, and a novel about the garden, My Garden, The City and Me, is set to be published next month.

Helen, who is 28 and lives at the junction of Holloway Road and Camden Road, in Holloway, said: “My flat is sandwiched between two busy roads in an area of London not particularly known for its beauty, but the roof garden is like this idyllic little bubble.

“There is no view of the road from up there and even though it’s an urban setting you can hear birds, which are so nice to hear in a place where you are more used to hearing the number 29 bus, or sirens.

“It is south facing so it gets the sun four or five hours a day, plus it gets lots of heat rising from the kitchen below.

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“Because the flat is small, I realised the roof garden could be like an extra room, so making it nice after hours was very important.

“I started planting some nice-smelling flowers, like jasmine and lavender, and white ones that seem to bloom at night. I also planted courgettes, herbs, garlic, tomatoes and even strawberries. Everything had to be in pots because there is no soil.

“While I was doing all this I was writing about it and putting pictures on the blog, and I think because of that, the publishers came to me.

“It’s about the first year in the life of the garden. It’s also about enjoying wild spaces in London that people may or may not know about. Places like Gillespie Park, which is really wild, not clipped like a lot of London parks. It’s extra special being so close to Finsbury Park and the Arsenal stadium. I also love the Duncan Terrace Gardens, in Islington, which have an amazing bird box in at the moment called the spontaneous city in the tree of heaven.

“The book is quite personal and its kind of like reportage. It sounds a bit arrogant to say it’s poetic, but I have tried to capture the atmosphere of the roof, which sort of becomes a character in its own right.

“It will be published on the summer solstice, June 21, which is a nice touch.

“When I was young, my mum kept a garden, but I didn’t know anything about them when I moved here. If I can do it, it’s proof that anyone can.”