Secret Gardeners: MP Nickie Aiken

What does gardening mean to you? Secret Gardeners explores our connections to nature and community, and the reasons why we love to garden.

Joao caught up with MP Nickie Aiken, the lucky winner of our Gardeners’ Hamper at the Soho Village Fete Raffle earlier this summer! While she spends her days advocating for her constituents in the heart of London, we had the opportunity to explore her other passion – gardening.

Name: Nickie Aiken            

Profession: Member of Parliament for Cities of London & Westminster

Where is your garden located, and how long have you looked after it for?

I have lived in my Pimlico basement flat for over 20 years and have a small, narrow patio. I have filled it with pots and window boxes over the years.

Which is your favourite plant (or plants!) in the garden?

My favourite is Lycianthes rantonnetii aka blue potato bush (so much so that I have two of them on my patio!).

Lycianthes rantonnetii blue flowers on the patio of MP Nickie Aiken's London flatAbove: Lycianthes rantonnetii in the garden

Which is your most used gardening tool, and what do you use it for?

It has to be my trowel as I add new pots and plants each year. I have also begun to use my secateurs following advice from Joao that I needed to prune my taller plants to make them stronger and healthier.

Joao helps MP Nickie Aiken prune the plants in her gardenAbove: Joao helps Nickie to prune the plants in her garden

Many gardeners find solace in the act of gardening. Can you tell us what gardening means to you, and how you manage to balance spending time outdoors especially with such a demanding career?

With such a full on and often hectic workload I relish the chance to switch off on a weekend afternoon and potter in my patio. I will often put a podcast on and then prune, pot new plants and repot others. I find it so relaxing. I don’t spend as much time gardening but I always find it satisfying and comforting when I do. I get such a kick when I see a plant thrive, particularly my herbs which I can use when cooking.

Fuchsia grows in the garden of MP Nickie AikenAbove: Beautiful pink Fuchsia are one of the flowers that blooms in Nickie's garden

As an MP, you're undoubtedly involved in many community initiatives. How do you think community gardens and green spaces can benefit inner city neighbourhoods?

I am a massive supporter of community gardening initiatives. As a local councillor I supported the installation of small individual wooden allotment boxes outside a sheltered housing block which are still used today. Some people grow vegetables, others plants and flowers.

I am particularly impressed with the group of volunteers who are working with users of The Passage day centre for the homeless in Victoria. They have set up a gardening club and have planted dozens of pots around the centre. It’s a brilliant initiative which has helped breakdown any barriers between local people and the street population. Sadly we have seen some pots be vandalised recently but this has not put the local community off.

Urban gardening can be a challenge due to limited space. How have you maximised the potential of your own garden?

I have all sizes of pots and mix the type of plants I grow in them. I also grow three different plants in one pot. I like the contrast that each plants provides, the different colours and textures.

False shamrock with purple leaves and soft pink flowersAbove: Oxalis triangularis, also known as False Shamrock, grows delicate lilac flowers

What’s next for your garden? Are you planning any changes for the Winter?

I will bring my lime tree into my flat as I prefer to be inside during the winter. I will keep an eye on all my pots and window boxes over the winter months, feeding and watering them as necessary and hoping they survive if we have a particular harsh winter.

A small lime tree growing in a terracotta pot, next to a watering canAbove: Nickie's lime tree – can you spot the fruit?

If you would like to tell your gardening story, we would love to hear from you.
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With thanks to Nickie for showing us around her beautiful garden.