With Kent on our doorstep, the good life is never far away. The Resident meets the urban dwellers living the country life in south east London – from a bee keepers to an urban farmer and a cheesemaker – and asks for tips on how to embrace a more rural way of life in the city…
You can go a long way to creating a rural idyll literally in your back yard by keeping bees. It keeps you in touch with the seasons and what plants are flowering. When your bees come back with red pollen on their legs, you know the horse chestnuts are flowering.
Some of the bee keepers I’ve met in London used to live in the country and see their hives as a way to reconnect with that life. It’s best to go on a course first to see whether it really is for you before you spend money on hives, though. You need to get a feel for what’s involved and how to handle your bees, but once you’ve set everything up maintenance should only take around ten minutes a week. One or two hives is manageable for most people.
You can get up to 80lbs of honey per hive, so it’s always a good idea to offer honey to your neighbours. Urban types can get alarmed by swarming bees but there are ways to avoid this – and even
if your bees do swarm it usually only lasts a few minutes and often people don’t even notice it’s happened.
Brockley and Greenwich honey is available at The Broca Café in Brockley, The Larder in Ladywell, Apple and Orange grocers in Greenwich, and Park Beekeeping Supplies in Blackheath from the end of July to October. See capitalbee.co.uk
We’re in the middle of the lambing season at the moment and are hoping for around 80 new lambs at Woodlands Farm, so we need a lot of help. Fortunately we have plenty of volunteers who sign up to our lambing rota. We train up our volunteers so they are able to help us with everything from lambing to mucking out. Some of our volunteers are thinking of moving to the country, so they come to us for some hands-on experience before taking the plunge.
When people visit us for the first time they’re amazed at how big the farm is. Ninety acres doesn’t mean much to most people in the city, but it’s around the size of 50 football pitches. We’ve got 54 ewes, two pigs, four cows and a visiting bull at the moment, but numbers change constantly. We’re a working, self-funding farm and we get our income from meat from our animals. We also sell hay to local horse owners. People buy our smaller bales for their guinea pigs and rabbits too.
This time of year is really special on the farm, with lambs running around and spring in the air. We combine nature conservation with our working farm and don’t use pesticides or fertilisers. There’s been a farm on this site at the bottom of Shooter’s Hill since the 18th century.
Having grown up on a farm near Aberystwyth, it’s great to work in a rural environment in the midst of the city in a place that’s open to everyone. It’s country living in the city.
331 Shooters Hill, Welling, Kent DA16 3RP; 020 8319 8900; thewoodlandsfarmtrust.org
Living in Blackheath Village and having Greenwich Park nearby is my happy compromise between town and country life. It’s the perfect balance between country living and having all the benefits of the city on my doorstep. The arts and crafts scene here adds to the rural feel and I love that so many local pubs and restaurants are dog-friendly.
I walk through the park on my way to my salon and dog crèche every morning at 7.30 with my 2-year-old Dalmatian Rupert. It’s glorious at that time of day. If I leave work on time, we walk back through the park at the end of the day too when the sun’s coming down. Most of my clients love the countryside and drop by in wellies and wax coats, in fact many of them have second homes in the country.
The dogs they have reflect this – Labradoodles, Cockapoos, Labradors and Spaniels. All dogs love country life and the freedom to run around, but these solid breeds adapt well to an urban setting. They’re in their element in Greenwich Park, which is a safe area for them to run in.
9 College Approach SE10 9HY; greenwich-hound.com
The Ecology Park is a little piece of the countryside in an urban setting. It’s is a beautifully designed area of wetland with a mosaic of small-scale countryside habitats such as marsh, meadow and alder carr, or wet woodland. It’s also a site where you can have a go at traditional habitat management techniques such as cutting reeds with a hand scythe or coppicing willow trees and using the poles to weave fences.
It’s a fantastic place to visit in May, June and July when the wildflower bloom in the meadows and along the shingle beaches. We don’t encourage picking, but we do organise wild food workshops in the warmer months. One of my favourites is the wild garlic that grows in the woodland.
What we do encourage is people to grow wildlife-friendly plants in containers in urban areas as it can really make a difference to the feel of a place. Although I live in Woolwich, I’m an avid reader of Country Living. I’ve even removed my small lawn to create a bit of cottage garden feel.
Ecology Park Gatehouse, Thames Path, John Harrison Way SE10 OQZ; 020 8293 1904; greenwichecologypark.com
Cut flowers can bring natural life to urban interiors. The current trend is for sustainable and British Grown flowers and the designers we work with insist on having natural-looking arrangements in simple jars which enhance and bring life to urban interiors beautifully. Often we fill jars only with British grown foliage, contrasting their different shades and textures. We also often add berries, or simple branches of whatever happens to be in season. The same applies to outdoor balconies. The preferred planting of the moment is loose and natural, incorporating herbs, wild flowers from seed, and ferns. The effect is beautiful.
When it comes to balconies and outdoor spaces, we also suggest thinking outside the box, using old crates and the like and filling them with wild plants and flowers. For balcony parties or even weddings we often use crates filled with wild flowers, too.
It’s so important to support our growers because they produce some of the most wonderful blooms.
We are very lucky in these isles to have an abundance of wonderful flowers and foliage and we forage regularly. I am always amazed at what’s out there from season to season.
24 Greenwich Church Street SE10 9BL; theenglishflowerhouse.co
I grew up in the Yarra Valley just outside Melbourne, Australia surrounded by bush and forest, so living in Surrey Quays I do miss the rural life. But as my business partner Tim Jarvis and I drive down to the Common Work Organic Farm in Chiddingstone, Kent two or three times a week to pick up milk supplies, we get our fix of greenery. I still like to experience more by walking in the woods around London, especially Epping and Richmond.
Farmers’ markets are another great way to connect with the country and meet the people who work on the land and produce your food. We regularly set up stall at Brockley Market, close to our cheese-making base. You’ll find us at Herne Hill Farmers’ Market on Sundays and North Cross Road Market in East Dulwich on Saturdays, too.
Most cheeses are a representation of where the milk comes from – where the cows grazed. Our cheeses are made from raw milk, which has its own native microbes. That means the milk is alive with its own distinctive bacterias and probiotics. We create flavours through factors such as the length of maturation and the temperatures we use, but when you eat cheese made from raw milk, it really does put you in touch with the landscape.