Celia Hart's blog about what's going on in and around her studio.
Art, printmaking, inspirations, gardening, vegetables, hens, landscapes, wild flowers, East Anglia, adventure, travel.

Monday, 15 June 2009

Park life

Like all big capital cities London can always surprise, however well you think you know your way around. Round corners and down paths you never explore are hidden parks and gardens, one weekend in June each year these breathing spaces in a bustling city are celebrated with Open Garden Squares Weekend. If, like us, you've never been along – put a note in your diary now (that's what I did last year).

London is huge and there are about 200 garden to choose from, so I recommend doing your homework by studying the website and planning a route before you set off. Early yesterday we drove into London, with a swarm of Lambrettas setting off for a Big Rideout as our out-riders and the sun shining North London seemed a smiley and happy place to be. We found a place to park in Regent's Park and set off to see our first garden

The Royal College of Physicians Medicinal Garden

We were lucky that a tour of the garden, with Dr Henry Oakley the Garden Fellow, was just about start – this made the visit fascinating. At first sight the garden is small – raised beds by the parking area and terraced beds by the main doors, a little lawn surrounded by borders; it also includes a series of eight tiny front gardens of the stylish Georgian terrace opposite and a modern courtyard; but there is something a bit different, so many different plants – in fact over 1000! And every plant is there because of it's medical connection, either it has been or still is of medical use or it is connected to an eminent physician. For instance the Oriental Plane tree in the photo is from a cutting taken from the tree on the Island of Cos under which Hippocrates taught his students. I'm sure Dr Oakley could talk at length about every single plant, he chose one or two from each area of the garden – still far to much to relate here! but the website has lots of information if you are interested. Like many of the gardens open at the weekend, you can arrange to visit and to have a tour.

That was such a good start to our day! We needed lunch after all that thinking, so we bought goodies in the Brunswick and set off to find a suitable picnic spot – we selected

Brunswick Square

This is a delightful little park laid out in 1795 was originally alongside the, now demolished, Foundling Hospital. The Friends of Brunswick Square were celebrating The Great Tree, one of London's oldest and most majestic London Plane trees, under which a trio of musicians played some suitably summery city jazz. Suitably refreshed we walked south to . . .

Queen Square

Another elegant little garden in a Georgian Square in Bloomsbury, this one has layers of history which could fill a book! Fanny Burney lived here when she wrote Evelina, William Morris's interior design company was located here with his workshop around the back. Air-raid shelters below the gardens kept 2000 people safe during World War II and many local residents are commemorated within the garden, including Sam the cat.

Some gardens only open after 2pm, so we took the opportunity to stretch our legs and walk down to the Embankment – from the shade of the trees beside the Thames we could see the sunny South Bank teeming with people enjoying the excitement of the city. We walked through the grand gates of

Middle Temple

This is one of the Inns of Court, I'm not sure if you're allowed to wander in this area of London during the working week if you're not a lawyer or a client, but I'd never ventured in before. It reminded me of the Cambridge colleges, a cloistered world with it's own traditions – neatly lettered names beside doors, 'Keep of the grass' signs. The roses were the colour of claret. We made our way along cobbled lanes and through courtyards where Dickensian clerks wouldn't have been out of place taking bundles of papers tied with red tape from the chambers of Filtchitt and Flummery. There were grand buildings

The Maughan Library and Garden

This was originally Clifford's Inn and is now part of King's College, London; beside the grand architecture is a small formal garden – a contemplative space for students. This was a brief stop on our way to

Lincoln's Inn

One of the City of London's historic Inns of Court, Lincoln's Inn's history goes back to before 1422. There are six gardens in among the historic buildings, in New square there is a delightfully splashy fountain designed by William Pye in 2004. It's hard to believe you're right in the centre of London, opposite Tate Modern, a stone's throw from The City; like Alice falling down the rabbit hole, you're in a parallel world. At the end of another wonderfully shady avenue of London Planes was this 'country cottage with roses round the door', no doubt the residence of a well heeled legal gent and his good wife.

The other great Inn of Court that we knew the name of but have never stepped foot within is

Gray's Inn

Sir Francis Bacon (a contemporary of Shakespeare), depicted here in the rather smart black statue surrounded by lavender and pink roses, was responsible for designing 'The Walks' as the Gray's Inn gardens are known.

Of course 'The Walks' are yet another avenue of London Planes, they maybe a clich̩ but the shade is most welcome when it's 'a scorcher' like yesterday. At the end of the avenue are two Indian Bean trees, they are old and collapsed on the lawn because they are 400 years old Рplanted as rooted cuttings by Bacon, a gift from his friend Sir Walter Raleigh, who'd brought them all the way from the new colony of Virginia in America.

I don't mind admitting that my feet ached! So when we emerged into Fleet Street we hailed a cab and enjoyed the ride back to Regent's Park – a surprisingly long way! So, definitely the right decision. We'll make a note on the calendar for next year, and explore another secret section of the city – want to join in?

On our way home we stopped at Alexandra Palace, North Londoners' favourite place to chill out, enjoy a 99 or a cold beer and look out over the city; to look at the skyline and remember visits before the Gherkin and Canary Wharf when the only high rise were The Post Office and Nat West towers; to people watch on the grassy slopes around our much loved old aunt of a building – Ally Pally. It's London's Sunday Afternoon in the Park with George. Click on the photo to enlarge it.


  1. what a wondeful day!! what's a 99?

  2. LOL :-)
    A 99 is an ice cream cornet (soft swirly bright white ice cream - not posh upmarket sort) with a stick of Cadbury's Milk Chocolate 'Flake' stuck into it.
    A classic English summer treat!

    And it's called a 99 because...
    nobody really knows!


  3. I never knew about this before Celia... and me a Londoner! Ally Pally was a favourite haunt of my youth though. We used to go there to skate.

  4. now i'm hungry.........local supermarket sells flakes, think they're around $1.50 now.

  5. Hi Petoskystone

    I've added a link :-)


  6. Thanks so much for the garden tour!!! I liked learning about the Indian bean trees coming from Virginia, which is where I currently live.

  7. Sounds like a fabulous day. If the weather was like it was here you were blessed too!

  8. Seeing Ally Pally made me go all nostalgic as we used to live just below it. Our old house was probably somewhere in your pic. I was born not far from there so spent lots of my childhood there and my kids grew up with it as a sort of make do countryside before we moved to Cornwall and got the real thing. I saw that the open gardens thing was coming up and really wished I could have got up to town for it. Perhaps next year.

  9. Thank for the pics of Lincoln's Inn and Grays Inn. When I was practising as a lawyer in London I was always too hurried and stressed to enjoy the surroundings...;-).

  10. I love how even in the cities, if you know when and how, you can explore these little secret places... Would love to go one year...

  11. A magical memory tour for me! Thankyou. And no, I don't think you are supposed to wander around Inns of Court. I did! Mr. Pin Stripe Trousers asked me if I was lost.

  12. That's what is so nice about London, there are so many hidden garden gems around if you know where to look. I don't know London very well so thanks for showing us around.

  13. Yes, the big smoke has its charms! My journey home from work this weekend was interrupted by thousands of naked bicyle riders in Park Lane!

  14. Hi Gina - you can still go skating at Ally Pally.

    Hi Island Gardener - thank you! The Indian Bean Trees looked very healthy despite their great age.

    Hi Veg Heaven - indeed, a grand day for it!

    Hi Carol - Oh you must! The Open Squares web site is useful as a lot of the gardens are open throughout the year, not just the one weekend. Have you spotted your old house yet?

    Hi myenglishcountrygarden - I imagine the Inns of Court are full of people scurrying too and fro on weekdays.

    Hi Rose - we've been saying that for years - I now want to explore all the gardens!

    Hi Moreidlethoughts - LOL! there were lots of 'Do Not...' notices.

    Hi Acornmoon - it's fascinating when you make the effort to explore places off the main tourist routes.

    Ooooooo Matron! - naked cyclists! what a carry on!



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