Blooming marvellous

Meet the dog walkers, artists and gardeners stepping out of the hectic London traffic into an oasis of calm along the Paddington Arm

Photos: Conor Beary


Journey with us to this unexpectedly green stretch of the Paddington Arm, where an industrial inner-city landscape gives way to an uplifting oasis: green-fingered boaters grow flowers off the roof of their homes, volunteers and ‘homesick gardeners’ tend to a four-acre space beside the towpath and cygnets swim in ‘V’s through the water. We’re here to meet people taking part in the Canal & River Trust’s inaugural ‘Boats in Bloom’ contest and meet the walkers, cyclists and fishermen who appreciate this quiet corridor in west London.

Jobo Clifford-Smith, artist and owner of Katherine

“I’ve had this boat for around eight years. Before I got it, I lived in Kent with a nice garden. When I told my younger brother – who’s a deputy head gardener in Australia – about the boat, he said why not have a garden on the roof? So I did. I get a lot of people taking pictures, along with the odd joke from passers-by such as ‘have you nicked that from Kew?’ Some people think I’m a small garden centre selling plants, but I’m not, though I do give a lot away – that gets lots of my fellow boaters started on their own roof gardens. I see a lot of my cuttings growing all over London!”

Ed Davies, professional dog walker

“I’ve been using this stretch of canal for at least four years as it’s an ideal place to walk dogs. I probably walk along here three times a day for around an hour, taking up to six dogs with me. They love it. The clincher for me is that you can walk more than four dogs along here, which you can’t do in parks because of the bylaws.”

Arran Wilson, boater

“As a constant cruiser, I’ve been all over London – I only got here a couple of days ago, but my first impressions are that it’s a good stretch. Me and a companion, who has another boat, came along from Maida Vale and we agreed this is one of the nicest stretches on this arm of the canal. It feels really safe, which is always a consideration as a boater, there are some good bits of greenery and the wildlife is great – apart from the swans. They’re OK usually, but because they have cygnets with them at the moment, they can be a bit aggressive. They look good, though.”

Mike and Tracey Rumbles, walkers

“It’s the first time we’ve been here, but we love walking and are staying in the area, so we thought we’d have a wander and a look around. We’re only here for a short time; we went to the Adele concert last night, which was fantastic. But this is a great way to while away a few hours until our train back. We started out in Little Venice and have just strolled along the towpath, taking in all the sights. It’s fascinating to see how it changes from fairly built up to here, which is quite green and open.”
Mary Acton-Adams, volunteer at Meanwhile Gardens

“We look after around four acres of garden along this stretch, which was built on the rubble from the construction of the Trellick Tower. It started out with a donation from a local benefactor, but we’ve taken it from there and now have full-time fundraisers so we can keep it going. We encourage local people to volunteer so they take ownership of it and ensure it’s looked after. We’re big on permaculture here and companion planting, so you’ll see lots of insect-friendly plants and vegetables – it’s like building an ecosystem. We run several groups here, including one for ‘homesick gardeners’ who don’t have any space for a garden here in the city.”

Olivia Nossborn, Canal Deli

“I’m originally from Sweden and we’re big fans of the outdoors. I’ve been here about a year and I love working right by the canal. I used to walk along the towpath when I lived in Kensal Rise and I still use it occasionally. The views are great, the ducks are cool and I even spotted some baby swans further up.”

Larry Mitchell, fisherman

“On and off, I’ve been coming to this stretch of water for around 20 years. Normally, I’ll come fishing after work, but I’ve got the day off today. It’s really relaxing, I know most of the boaters and you meet nice people along here. I’m fishing for roach or bream at the moment because I saw someone get a really big one out of here yesterday. I’ve had some great fish here, including a big perch and an eel, which is quite rare in this bit of the canal. Shows the water must be cleaner. There is loads to look at along here and being by the canal gives me time to think.”

Liz and Dorji, walkers

“I generally walk along here for leisure, but today we’re off to the supermarket. It’s a lovely stretch. On a calm day, it’s really uplifting, especially when you see all the boats with flowers on their roofs. It can be a peaceful haven here. Further up it’s quite industrial, but this part is really pleasant.”

Boats in Bloom

We’re celebrating the people whose green fingers and gardening achievements help make our waterways such pleasant places to visit. This summer we’ll be presenting certificates to those whose plants, flowers and vegetable displays make a positive contribution to our canals and rivers. There’s still time to get involved!

Share photos on the Trust’s Boating Facebook page or tweet them with the hashtag #boatsinbloom or #towpathinbloom.

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