Friday, 7 March 2014

The Secret Garden

I've been wanting to feature the Secret Garden on this blog ever since I started the "Triangle" almost exactly three years ago. However, I was determined to shoot it in spring, when everyone's thinking about gardening, and when the wonderful yellow mimosa towards the back of the garden centre, is in flower. In 2012 I was just too busy and missed the brief window of opportunity, then last year spring was so dismal, and the sun so absent, it wasn't worth bothering. So finally, and just in time for what promises to be a lovely weekend, step inside The Secret Garden.


The garden centre has been carved out of a steep slope down from Westow Street, giving it a dramatic backdrop of mature trees and the spire of the Greek Orthodox church. When Roger Cocks took over the site in 1986, the whole block which houses the supermarket, the Phoenix centre, and the row of shops along Westow Street, had just been developed by the Salvation Army and Croydon Council. Previously the site had been occupied by the Royal Normal College for the Blind, in an imposing gothic building. 
Roger, who did Business Studies at Bristol University, had worked in the advertising and marketing world, for WHSmith, Kaleidoscope and Letts Diaries, when he decided he'd much rather work for himself. Keen on gardening, friends had encouraged him to set up a garden centre, although he admits he had a lot to learn in a short time. The shop was built early on, although he has since extended it, and the layout of the exterior has changed over time, with pergolas being added, and then partly removed. With over a quarter of a century's worth of experience, Roger is now a mine of information, and clearly enjoys chatting with, and imparting advice to his customers, with Cyril, his terrier, at his side. Impulse buying accounts for a high proportion of sales, and anything in bloom is always popular. But, ever the marketing man, as he suggests, rather than coming in once a year in spring, you're better off coming in once a month and picking whatever's in flower at the time. That way you have a garden for all seasons, rather than one that's all show in spring, but has nothing to offer at other times of year. And to encourage you to keep coming back, he has a loyalty card scheme which includes 10% discounts on mondays!
Hopefully some of these pictures will inspire you to get back in the garden after a long wet winter, or if not, at least give you ideas for Mother's day at the end of this month.

Roger & Cyril

Coxwell Road (next to Sainsburys carpark)
70 Westow Street
020 8771 8200

Tuesday, 11 February 2014


Anyone thinking about emigrating? The relentless onslaught of biblical storms courtesy of the roaming jet stream is enough to drive anyone to hibernation or long distance travel. At least up here on the Triangle we can be thankful for our altitude, unlike the poor souls along the Thames valley, Somerset Levels, and the southwest coast. It makes you wonder why a Sardinian would swap his island for ours, but Efisio Fronteddu has now been here, on and off for twenty years, so it can't all be bad. Anyway, I thought we could all do with an injection of colour and warmth, which is why I decided to pay a visit to Efisio's restaurant, Mediterranea.

Efisio had worked in, and run, several  restaurants, both here and in Sardinia, including a stint with the great Locatelli at Olivo in Belgravia, before opening his restaurant on Westow Street in 2007. Just in time for the recession! Times have been tough, but Efisio is optimistic about the future for this family business. Efiso's wife, Matilde works in the kitchen, alongside his brother-in-law, chef, Emanuele. The addition of a pizza oven certainly helped the business, and they now also bake their own bread, including Pane Carasau, a Sardinian flatbread, which is apparently thinner when made near the coast, and thicker inland. Possibly something to do with humidity suggests Efisio. Among the restaurant's signature dishes, are a fish stew,served with fregola (a Sardinian variety of cous-cous), and Malloreddus, a type of pasta served with a sausage sauce. In addition, they have a charcoal grill for authentic mediterranean flavour. Looking ahead, Efisio is considering a delivery service, and weekend brunches. 
Every year during the Overground festival, you'll find Efisio out front, serving food from a stall on the street, and being involved in the community is very important to him. The upstairs room is regularly made available for local groups such as Transition Town, and he is passionate about the library, having spent many hours there over the years, with his young children. When not in his own restaurant, his favourite local haunt is Numidie, which, come to think of it, is overdue a feature on this blog.


Buon Appetito!