What a fantastic week to have taken a garden research trip to London – accompanied by radiant sunshine I managed to see over 8 gardens in under 3 days and it was utter bliss. First up was a refresher visit to The Chelsea Physic Garden, which was looking voluptuous in its mid-summer pomp. I was interested to see a few developments since my last visit, which would have been a couple of years ago when I was researching the garden for its entry in The London Garden Book A-Z. New to me, the garden of edible and useful plants (including a sweetly scented perfume garden planted around a dry stone amphitheatre) was installed last year and is well bedded in at the river end of the site and makes for fascinating viewing, particularly if you are interested in growing your own food, with crops such as purslane, Chinese arrowhead and asparagus pea being showcased. The superfood exhibit sadly is non permanent as the space has been earmarked for an expansion of the pharmaceutical beds, but at least I now know what quinoa plants look like. I was rather taken with the bamboo ‘brassicarium’ too – one to try at home sometime perhaps.
It being a Monday both cafe and shop were closed and the garden was sparsely populated (they don’t know what they’re missing on the crowded pavements of the King’s Road) – I could have lingered all day but next on the agenda was a quick whisk around the Wildlife Garden at the Natural History Museum. The garden is now accessed via the Darwin Centre courtyard which is a bit of a nuisance as it means you have to go in to the museum itself, which is painfully slow-going at this touristy time of year. The garden itself was looking a little wilder than on my last sighting of it, but for all its au naturel artlessness, this is a carefully managed micro landscape, in which every bramble, nettle and oak sapling has a role to play. Certainly the family of coots on the pond looked happy to be there.
North to Islington, to review a delightful private, exotically planted garden for the City Planter (http://www.cityplanter.co.uk/inspiration/gardens/a-tropical-garden-with-a-cottage-garden-twist) and a look around nearby Arlington Square with a view to including this thriving community-maintained garden square in the next edition of the London Garden Book. On this sultry summer evening, the square was being well-used by families and children, some of the latter making good use of the water sprinkler in time honoured fashion. Although the alliums were past their best, the seed heads still made a good foil for scarlet roses and violet blue verbena bonariensis.
Tuesday morning saw me heading off to Bayswater for a tour of the ‘forested mews’ street created by Tony Heywood and Alison Condie. Strategically positioned olive trees are the foundation plants for this magical containerised forest which has totally transformed the whole mood of the street. Tony credits the individualised forest gardens that he and Alison manage for residents with breaking down the usual reserve of the London streetscene, creating a ‘non-political’ talking point for neighbours and the starting point for many an imprompu al fresco party….
The couple are also responsible for looking after the gardens of the Hyde Park Estate and the work they and their team of gardeners are doing here is equally ground-breaking. The wide portfolio of gardens in their care includes water gardens, roof gardens, formal gardens, conceptual gardens and garden squares but their vision for them is a holistic one, and they are aiming to transform the gardens into sustainable spaces, innovative design but with a wildlife friendly bias. Under this regime, lawns are replaced with woodland gardens, insect hotels are installed and the company is even trialling lithium powered mowing and trimming equipment to reduce their carbon footprint.
Wednesday was also a day of discovery, when a visit to an old favorite, Fulham Palace revealed that the garden restoration project here is well under way. The dilapidated vinery has been replaced with a smart new metal frame Alitex glass house, currently packed with tender veg and flowers, and the brick bothies behind have been totally renovated. The knot garden – originally installed by Bishop Blomfield in the 1830’s – is also looking tickety boo, restored to its original Victorian layout, beds neatly edged with box and planted with a bedding scheme of red, blue and yellow to reflect the good Bishop’s coat of arms. In the walled garden, bee hives have been installed, veg beds have been dug and planted and look promisingly fecund, with produce already promised to the kitchen of a Michelin starred chef (much to the evident delight of Lindsay Schuman (the acting Head Gardener). There’s a palpable sense of energy about the garden these days, and I’m looking forward to hearing more about future plans for one of London’s most historic gardens.
Last stop of the day, and of this trip, was the Dan Pearson designed garden at Maggie’s Cancer Care Centre, at Charing Cross Hospital. Rosemary Creeser, the gardener at Maggie’s, had kindly invited me over to have a look around and it was fascinating, and inspiring, to get an insight into what is clearly a fantastic set up. The garden itself fits beautifully around and into the Rogers Stirk & Harbour building, with a gently serpentine path through a plane-shaded woodland garden forming the unobtrusive approach to the centre. The three exotically planted ‘winter’ gardens are accessed from within the building itself and offer spaces for quiet solitary contemplation or perhaps a tai chi class in a small group. A fantastic fusion of architecture, gardening and humanity and it’s a great culmination to a really uplifting 3 days in London – now I just have to get on and write it all up!