Open Garden Squares Weekend 2005

Discovering London's Green Secrets

CATHERINE MILLER reviews Open Gardens Squares Weekend 2005

There were 116 gardens involved in Open Garden Squares Weekend in 2005. Over the weekend. which this year was on June 11th and 12th, I visited gardens new to the scheme as well as some of the original squares.

The Wildlife Garden at the Natural History Museum I spent most of Saturday setting up and staffing the Federation's stall at the Londoners' Wildlife Gardening Fayre at the Natural History Museum's Wildlife Garden.  This garden has a range of different habitats for wildlife and native plants, authentically recreated in a very busy urban environment. The special event attracted a constant stream of visitors, some of whom ventured further into the wildlife garden to discover the strawberries provided by the organisers!
Fitzroy Square

On Sunday I started off in Warren Street with a look at Fitzroy Square, a pleasant, relatively small and open space almost overlooked by the Post Office Tower. The organisers were setting up for the day with bunting and cream teas. The area is interesting, with French's theatrical bookshop and Sterns African Records nearby.

The tunnel between Park Square and Park Crescent

Park Crescent

I was curious about Park Square, at the bottom end of Regent's Park, as I used to pass it often and wonder what it was like inside. It is managed by the Crown Estate and is very peaceful with high standards of planting and maintenance. It has its own service area within the garden, and proper beefy railings. There is a big liriodendron and absolutely huge plane trees, which were planted at the time of the Battle of Waterloo. As you walk round in the sun, there is a smell of Mediterranean plants - helianthemum, mock orange and roses. There is a children's area, gravel walks and a tennis area.

From this garden it is fun to go under one of the busiest roads in London via a secret tunnel, almost entirely obscured by planting, to emerge in Park Crescent, a large grassed area with trees and shrubs around the railings.

Earls Court Square I  went on to  Earls Court Square, a very pleasant garden where they had welcomed 100 visitors each day of the scheme. Crown lifting of surrounding planes has let more light into this square, while retaining shelter and privacy.
Iverna Court

New to the scheme was Iverna Court. In fact it was a new garden altogether - a small, newly planted space overlooked by a wonderful Armenian church. The project had obtained half the funding needed from the local authority and had had much discussion about all the details, finally having the opening party the previous week, with a bar and steel band ("They played Für Elise", the organiser said in admiration.)

As they wanted to attract more birds, a surrounding pyracantha hedge had been planted, and there was an oak pergola with a space underneath for playing boules, as well as a fountain splashing on stone setts. They had been astonished by the interest brought about by inclusion in the Open Squares scheme.

Chester Square

Chester Square, boasts a secluded little space in the centre enclosed by yew hedges. There are box-edged beds with restful planting of purple astrantia, nigella, and white roses. Big, simple clay pots full of lilies are placed next to the seats. Other areas feature classic herbaceous planting- heleniums, eryngium, and campanula persicifolia. Smoke bush and tamarisk are among the shrubs planted. This garden square was very popular, and visitors were encouraged to record their impressions.

Eaton Square

Eaton Square had recorded more than 500 visitors each day. A small group of steel pan players provided music for an appreciative audience. Bright raised beds featured red and yellow begonias inter-planted with purple-leaved bedding. A simple and informative tree walk leaflet was provided. Scented-leaf geraniums next to stylish wooden benches were a nice touch.

Eccelston Square On the way to Westminster, I went past Eccleston Square, full of foxgloves and roses that had climbed halfway up trees, and Warwick Square, where I caught a glimpse of broad gravel paths through shrubbery. Warwick Square
Lillington Gardens

I then reached Lillington & Longmore Gardens, new this year to the scheme. I found a group of volunteers staffing a table on the street, distributing plans with hand-drawn routes through the nearby estate. This trail led to various areas planted up within a low-rise estate, including a sensory garden with raised beds of herbs, myrtles, and Mexican daisy, then Mediterranean planting of stachys, phlomis, and huge Spanish broom in full bloom. The highlight for me was an "Exotic Dry Garden" with exuberant planting of giant echiums, verbena bonariensis, nigella in great swathes, lychnis coronaria, Russian sage, and yuccas. The head gardener said she didn't grow anything that needed too much attention, and was helped by a local resident who grew exotics from seed. The standard of planting is terrific.

Dean's Yard

College Garden

Finally to Westminster and, via Deans Yard, an open green space, to College Garden, which is a real treat. I crept through dark passageways which led out to a large open space with great views of the Houses of Parliament. In one corner is a small but perfectly formed rose garden, edged with hornbeam and crammed with highly scented roses. Two huge planes stand in the middle of the green. A big weeping mulberry stands over a new fountain and a large fig tree is propped up. There are some good herbaceous plantings - valerian, geraniums, delphiniums - along with old-fashioned sweet peas (the ones with the strongest scent) in pots by benches. Down the dark old passages again to emerge at St Catherine's Garden, featuring Mediterranean planting of Mexican daisy, Californian poppies, pink yarrow, santolina, senecio, artemisia, various sages and brooms. This planting is on a raised bed above a sunken, partly ruined space, full of character and overlooked by the Houses of Parliament.

It is interesting to see the OGSW scheme developing every year, and that the old, the new, and the unusual garden can all be accommodated. There is always a new area of London to explore, with different horticultural treasures to discover.