A Garden fit for a Queen
Visiting a garden of note was on my To-Do list on a recent visit to London. Britain gardened the world in great style, leaving long lasting legacies, throughout. So a weekend in London required important decisions namely what garden to visit. With so many gardens of note in the London area it is hard to know where to start.
While in my undecided frame of mind, my wife got chatting to a fellow traveller on the Tube, who insisted that "Queen Mary Garden" at Regents Park was not to be missed. Regents Park was also on our "To Do List" as it houses London Zoo which was a must for our son. It is also ideally close to Buckingham Palace and on our route .It all seemed to fit very nicely but I was not convinced how wrong can someone be?
I was quite taken aback at the splendour and size of what is intrinsically a public garden. Queen Mary Garden was developed after the Royal Botanic Society lease expired in 1932 and the site was used to create the gardens which also include quite a diverse collection of themes. In one garden there is the celebrated Rose Gardens, a small Japanese garden (which I missed), extremely impressive Mediterranean and Herbaceous Borders, A Waterfall, A Lake, Begonia Gardens plus the Triton Fountain and the Jubilee Gates of 1935 which are most spectacular.
It became quickly obvious that this is a large expanse that requires an, afternoon or more, put aside to take it all in. For example close to the Rose Gardens is a small lake full of ornamental ducks and carp and the middle of the lake houses an Island Rockery. One needs to put an afternoon aside or more and happily within the Queen Mary Gardens, an extremely descent Espresso Cafe and restaurant.
The history of the gardens is rich and fascinating befitting the setting. Regent's Park officially known as "The Regent's Park" was once part of the extensive Forest of Middlesex. Its development stated when Henry VIII acquired and created a hunting ground Marylebone Park, which covered almost the same area, as the 410 acres of The Regent's Park today. Another crucial event was Oliver Cromwell who sold it off to pay wages arrears to the New Model Army. Over 16,000 trees were felled during this period.
In the 1840s a new design gave it "The Avenue" and a grand carriage drive to provide access to the upmarket villas that were being built. Very quickly in the late 1850s there was a setback when many of these trees became sickly. This led to leading garden designer of the day, William Nesfield being consulted; he recommended removal of the stunted trees in conjunction with plans for the new Broad Walk. This commenced in 1863 and consisted of formal gardens set within the existing tree framework that have been there ever since.
The first part of my Afternoon took me to the Rose Garden. Being late August the rose display would be waning as rose’s peak in June/July but they were still blooming nicely making a good show of themselves. To see the majority of the rose garden will take more than one hour at an admiring pace; this is required, as it is a great formal rose gardens with a staggering 60,000 roses planted.
Next up was the was where i spent most of my time, as it was a warm day, admiring the Delphinium Border, Mediterranean Border, and Begonia Garden offset by regular seating close by in the shape of benches placed all along what was the carriageway drive they are plentiful enough not have to fight for one.
Borders Perennials at there peak in August so the displays beds were sumptuous. There may have been more New Zealand Flax than I expected and surprisingly some, Eucalyptus trees that seemed a bit out of context, but the overall planting displays were breathtaking. Coleus plants that obviously enjoy the warmer London weather were planted on mass. Generally treated as a house plant Coleus have strong red foliage that made a splash of colour “Of Jackson Pollack” type impact. Outstanding displays of Cosmos and Begonias in white and a current favourite of mine the metre high plus Verbena Bonariensis were set out in larger than life displays featuring just about every perennial of note.
Heucheras were planted in large displays proving how many different new varieties have been bred and are thriving successfully year round. Different shades of green, orange, purple and yellow/lemon displays all offset by magnificent Weeping Willows happily growing beside water surrounded by Pleached Viburnum Hedges and Choisya Ternatta hedge rows with nearby swans "Happily swanning about”.
While I could not find time for lunch a fellow visitor informed me that she had one of the best lunches on her visit to London at The Smokehouse which has a BBQ menu. It is set out in a natural timber structure blending beautifully into the gardens terrain of trees with an open kitchen and terrace ideal for sunny days with plenty of room for 200 diners.
Many a famous movie has used this idyllic setting including Harry Potter, Bridget Jones , About a Boy and the classic David Lean movie Brief Encounter. A day spent there can include searching out the Wetland and Reed Beds and discovering how a Metropolis, can facilitate a Bio Diverse Wildlife theme, to prosper so successfully. With this kind of thinking comes the bonus of rich birdlife with 200 species of birds residing in the park over the year.
If you’re planning a visit take into account that there is an "Open Air Theatre” in the park with performances from May through to September. With descent planning, one can take in magnificent garden; enjoy a descent café, meal and a theatrical performance all in a truly magnificent garden setting. I left the Queen Mary Gardens heading for Great Portand Tube station wondering how this garden had escaped my attention for so long, the station is close by, and it should be noted that children under 11 with an adult travel free on the Tube.