posted on 10/04/19
My adopted home, London was at first daunting to someone more accustomed to the lush rolling hilltops of the Yorkshire Wolds. Making my way through the constant stream of new events, exhibitions and experiences, and the hustle and bustle of rush hour with sharpened elbows, it was hard to imagine where one might go to relax here, especially in the Square Mile, which daily inhales and exhales over 400,000 city workers each day.
However, while tour managing our London Day; the London Gardens Walk, expert lecturer Louisa Allen showed our group several places where one can seek refuge from the chaos of the City, in gardens showing like drops of emeralds on a map of our capital.
After weeks of baking weather, I watched dismayed as the heavens opened as I waited for our group to arrive. Mercifully, the skies quickly cleared over a fresher London as we set out along the bank of the Thames to Potters Field Park. We followed the weaving paths in between banks of grasses and perennials with rustling seed heads, designed by leader of the Dutch Wave, Piet Oudolf. Armed with a planting scheme, Louisa darted about bringing our attention to the many varieties of plant employed to create this ‘sea’ effect.
Crossing London Bridge, we dived into the jungle of St Dunstan in the East. Irreparably damaged in the Blitz, the Grade I listed church was turned into a garden in 1970. Rampant climbers wend their way up the surviving tower and drape themselves over the ruined walls adding more than a touch of Romanticism, while also making a fitting memorial to the loss and destruction wrought during WWII.
St Dunstan's in the East and The Charterhouse private garden.
In the afternoon, Charterhouse opens a window onto an almost forgotten London. The courtyards of the rambling Tudor mansion have been designed in an English country garden style. The head gardener showed us ancient mulberry trees and explained London’s fight against Massaria disease that is killing the capital’s plane trees.
Plants traditionally used for their medicinal properties are found under the shadow of London Wall in the Barber’s Surgeon’s Garden, where there has been a garden since 1555. The present one was begun in 1987 by the Worshipful Company of Barber Surgeons to present and preserve the plants that have been used for centuries for their healing properties.
In direct contrast, this herb garden sits next to the futuristic Barbican estate, where the challenge is to maintain and tend a roof garden with car parks lying underneath. The plants, carefully chosen by Sir Nigel Dunnett, must survive in a shallow layer of soil sitting above waterproofing and modular drainage sheets. They aim to give a continual wash of colour throughout the year to liven up the grey palate of the concrete building structures.
Nomura International’s rooftop garden.
A private tour of Nomura International’s rooftop garden on the banks of the Thames was an elegant finale. Usually only reserved for the bank’s employees, there are both formal and kitchen gardens here, voluntarily planned and maintained by the switchboard team and used daily by the company’s chefs. We did not sample the fruits of the garden, but rather sipped a glass of prosecco as the sun dipped behind the South Bank across the Thames.
The day revealed perfectly how the City authorities have succeeded in preserving organic spaces within the UK’s largest conurbation, making London one of Earth’s greenest cities. Each garden traces a part of London’s history and highlights the challenges presented by city gardening.
Claudia Habergham, Operations Executive.
Image top: Postman’s Park.