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Gardening On The Roundabout

June 3, 2019
by the gentle author

I went back to lend Caroline Bousfield a hand on the roundabout in Victoria Park Village where she has been gardening for the past fifteen years with spectacular results.

Wearing the regulation high-visibility vests that are an essential safety requirement for gardening on a roundabout, we crossed the road carrying secateurs and baskets. The roundabout presented an impressive display of flowers, including valerian, marigolds, evening primrose, cosmos, achillea and euphorbia – all set against the dramatically contrasted foliage of Caroline’s planting which creates such a luxuriant vision for those passing on the bus or shopping on the other side of the street.

“It was before the days of guerrilla gardening,” Caroline informed me, revealing that when she first began gardening on the roundabout, it was borne out of a gardener’s frustration in witnessing the neglect of such an attractive location for planting. “There was just a mass of green vegetation with straggly weeds around the edge. Every time I walked past it my fingers would itch to pull some of it out and plant something better in its place. And I think I did, once or twice, before I realised I should ask permission.” she admitted, as if she had no choice in her actions. Over the intervening years, Caroline has entered into an agreement with the council to lease the roundabout so that she can continue tending it on their behalf. “I think things have changed and Hackney Council is more open to this kind of thing nowadays,” she confirmed sagely, as we started work, cutting lavender in handfuls while the buses and trucks sped past just feet away.

Yet the pungent scent and the absorption of the work induced a state of concentration in which the presence of the traffic did not register. We were consumed by our task, gathering lavender but leaving enough for the bees that swarmed upon the plants, equally preoccupied in their work. Then it was time for tidying up. I undertook the unravelling of bindweed which was choking the smaller shrubs, while Caroline pruned the buddleias. As the branches were cut away, she called me over to see the scattered paper and foil food packets revealed beneath – the debris of foxes’ takeway dinners scavenged from the bins and enjoyed here in peace, as a moonlight picnic within the depths of the shrubbery at the heart of the roundabout.

Carrying the armfuls of pruned branches off the roundabout proved to be an activity which required a certain knack to find the gap in the traffic and haul it across to the pavement in time. In this task, Caroline demonstrated expertise borne of experience and an innate sense of timing, while I undertook the less challenging work of carrying the lavender. Then we stashed the sweet-smelling basket in Caroline’s pottery workshop nearby where she has been making and selling her own pots since 1975. Here she stores the lavender in the loft of this former carriage house, and when Caroline fires the kiln it fills the entire workshop with a powerful and intoxicating scent. By making her lavender up into bags and selling it through the local shops, Caroline makes enough money to pay for any new plants that are added to the roundabout each year. Although she also confided to me that she was off on holiday to Cornwall, where she hoped to get some seeds of a deeper-coloured valerian which grows wild on the cliffs there.

People driving past and travelling on buses may wonder about the mystery of the familiar “lady on the roundabout,” but there is no secret. Over fifteen years, Caroline has created a widely-admired garden and a known landmark, distinguished by a more lyrical style of planting than the standardised design of the corporate-sponsored roundabouts which exist elsewhere. During this time, Caroline’s roundabout has become a centrepiece for the life that surrounds it and a symbol of the thriving community in Victoria Park Village. Today, Caroline’s roundabout pays for itself and sustains itself without watering. Caroline’s roundabout owes its existence to her knowledge, insight and imagination, and her passionate and committed gardening.

“People do notice,” she confided to me in modest satisfaction, as she sat in the cool of the workshop to take a break, drink a glass of water and catch her breath.

“a certain knack to find the gap in the traffic and haul it across to the pavement in time”

Enough lavender left to satisfy the bees

Caroline Bousfield – “People do notice.”

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Caroline Bousfield, Craftsman

12 Responses leave one →
  1. Jill Wilson permalink
    June 3, 2019

    Yes – we do notice! Keep up the good work…

  2. Robert permalink
    June 3, 2019

    What a lovely gesture. These acts of guerrilla gardening improves the ambience of the area and provides some relief from traffic fumes.

  3. Lesley permalink
    June 3, 2019

    I loved reading this article. Gives a sense of hope. Lovely

  4. Amanda permalink
    June 3, 2019

    Please everyone, read the previous linked article telling us how Caroline began after buying Mr Koopman’s repair shop of 50 years standing.

    Every community needs someone as innovative + inspiring as Caroline. How she prevented the secondary trading area from dying by organising the essential trades to return to set up once more and even getting established shops to shuffle about so that a new Butcher, Baker, Fishmonger, Candlestick Maker could have the best locations and remain. That is amazing.
    And so is the Magic Roundabout.
    l love going to that area of Hackney.
    Well done.

    Was this lovely old building formerly a chapel? l noticed the stone cross on the apex of the roof.

  5. June 3, 2019

    I’ve so enjoyed meeting Caroline, via these posts. Maybe the local school Crossing Guard could step in, and manage the traffic while all this glorious progress happens in the flower beds?
    (kidding) Seriously, seeing how she has transformed her location (both studio and planting area) is an inspiration. Loved the opportunity to see a specialized artisan in her work space.

    GA, you take us to marvelous places!
    Many thanks.

  6. Paola Moore permalink
    June 3, 2019

    Well done Caroline and I thank you for your dedication and effort. Big Hug

  7. Saba permalink
    June 3, 2019

    The best to you in the future, Caroline, since I am always happy to learn of an artist or crafts person who has been able to both answer a calling and support themselves financially.

    Gentle Author, I remember your coverage of the demonstrations the last time the U.S. toxic President visited London. I especially remember enjoying the drag queens against trump. I hope you will provide continued coverage of the demonstrations.

  8. Pauline Taylor permalink
    June 3, 2019

    Having just come in from working in my garden I appreciate just how welcome a sit down and a cool drink are ! Thanks GA for letting us see more of Caroline and the roundabout, as I said yesterday, I admire her very much, what a talented lady she is and she obviously has a way with plants, the roundabout looks great.

  9. Evelyn permalink
    June 3, 2019

    It’s fun to see the community of plants on the roundabout, which are very familiar to any person who has resided in Tucson, Arizona. As a long-term Tucson resident of the past, it was like seeing old pals once again! We call it ‘xeriscape,’ which means a plant community that thrives in drought-conditions. Kudos, Caroline! You’re the greatest! ~ Evelyn in Minneapolis, Minnesota

  10. Marcia Howard permalink
    June 5, 2019

    Great work Caroline. Hats off to you.

  11. June 29, 2019

    I love Caroline’s initiative and optimism in creating the beautiful garden for her entire neighborhood. Terrific story.

  12. Adele permalink
    September 29, 2023

    What a brilliant and resilient star she is. Creating such beauty and biodiversity in a hostile site takes hard graft and perseverance. We need more Carolines in this world.

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