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Garden Designer Visit: How Stefano Marinaz Uses His London Allotment as a Garden Laboratory

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Garden Designer Visit: How Stefano Marinaz Uses His London Allotment as a Garden Laboratory

July 6, 2022

An allotment is the British English term for community garden, but it means more than that: it is a European concept of growing food where space at home might be limited. It has currency in the UK and Italy, where landscape architect Stefano Marinaz grew up, taking stock of his grandfather’s allotment and learning the business of seed-sowing and nurturing plants from a young age. Now based in Chiswick, West London, the landscape architect has been able to fulfill his dream of owning a glasshouse, while dividing the 30 square yards available to every allotment holder between his interest in food and a desire to experiment with plants. It is also a place for his colleagues to get some dirt under their nails, and to show eager clients a bit more about the business of growing.

Below, Stefano takes up the story:

Photography by Alister Thorpe.

Above: In the greenhouse. Allotments are often messy but highly organized. This one in Chiswick is beautifully organized while still being recognizable as an allotment.

“Our apartment didn’t have any outdoor space, therefore the idea of an allotment was perfect,” explains Stefano. “When we got it [there is often a long waiting list] there were brambles everywhere, with rotting timber around raised beds. After roughly a year I realized how much space we actually had. I didn’t need to feed 50 people. So I decided to allocate roughly half of the allotment for edible plants and half for flowering perennials and annuals that I wanted to test and see how different plant combinations worked together. In particular, I was interested in seeing how the perennials would establish with very little care, and which plant communities would be the most resilient, with an idea of adapting these planting schemes for our clients.”

Above: The glasshouse is surrounded by personal touches like a habitat for insects on a bamboo frame, and woven edging along the dirt path.

“The allotment then started to became an interesting project, as bit by bit we were putting in vegetables beds, with new perennial combinations, and growing in pots, and adding the glasshouse. Every season there was so much to look forward to.”

Above: Glass cloches provide warmth for young cucumbers in an uncertain climate.

“It became also an opportunity for us to bring clients along and show them how a naturalistic planting can be integrated with vegetables,” he continues. “The allotment is a way to show clients that it is not impossible to grow vegetables, and to work with nature within your own garden—and that they should give it a try.”

Above: “By showing real examples, it is easier to educate people to make changes in the way they live in their garden,” says Stefano. “The allotment is also a place where we do design work and plan projects, bringing over laptops and sketching paper.”
Above: Rusted metal arches provide structure in a wild-looking garden featuring wildflowers and edited weeds such as teasel.

In country towns and rural areas, allotments are not locked, so the idea of using only salvaged and repurposed materials is practical. In cities they are more secure but they are still not the place for showing off hardware. Aside from the greenhouse, almost everything has provenance, with leftovers from design projects put to good use (such as bamboo canes that came with a delivery of climbers for a client project). The natural cycle is fully-functioning, with everything grown from seed, composted, and aided by birds, invertebrates and mammals. It is commonplace for allotment associations to have wood chip delivered by the local council, a by-product of tree management.

Above: “The structure we designed for the vines was made out of leftover steel from a project of ours, and installed by the landscape contractor’s metal worker.”
Above: Cucumbers and tomatoes given protection and plenty of space in the greenhouse.

“I normally go to the allotment 3 to 4 times a  week in the mornings or evenings to do some work, but also to check things and guide the new growth,” says Stefano, adding that a full weekend day is dedicated to the garden every other week. After their first three months, perennials are not watered, so that Stefano can explore the resilience of chosen plants. Vegetables on the other hand are watered 3 to 4 times a week.

Above: Stefano Marinaz harvesting tomatoes, and more tomatoes.

Plans for next year? “We would like to change the perennial beds, and add some new planting combinations. This allows us to have fresh cut flowers to bring home and to the office.” He adds: “Some cut flowers are beautiful as dry flowers, lasting up to a full year with their gorgeous forms.”

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