Open Garden Squares Weekend 2007

New Venues Flaunt Their Attractions

London Landscapes roving reporter CATHERINE MILLER was out and about during OGSW 2007 and visited some old friends and new

This year's Loire Valley Wines Open Garden Squares Weekend saw a bumper crop of 162 gardens sharing their charms with the general public. On the Saturday I visited two which were included in the scheme for the first time.

(Click on a garden name for further information.)

English Eccentrics [No.51] was the English Eccentrics garden in Kentish Town, which you enter through a garment showroom, admiring the clothing if not the price tags. The garden is a courtyard planted with low, mounded cneorum, agapanthus, Saura, big miscanthus, and giant phormium. Kentish Town British Rail station is over the back wall, and the garden is divided by a bold feature of a white wall with rectangular spaces, evocative of hot countries. This has the unexpected effect of making the space appear bigger. Mediterranean planting and small clay paving setts link the two sections of this impressive garden together.
Lambeth Palace [No.84] was the garden at Lambeth Palace, which is a huge green space, its walls enclosing a superb house and setting - really magnificent. Shrubs there have space to show off and I admired a specimen smoke bush, which is usually seen constrained by other plants. There are wild area with paths mowed through, a pond and a large formal area with hornbeam, lavender, roses and scented geraniums.

The chapel garden is how you imagine a medieval monk's garden would be, with espaliered trees and rhubarb pots. The espalier frame was made by a craftsman blacksmith based at Surrey Docks Farm in Rotherhithe.

On the other side of the house is a courtyard with huge grandiflora magnolias and a venerable old fig tree.

Gordon Square The following day, Sunday, I visited two squares that had undergone refurbishment and were now open to the public. [No.65], Gordon Square, had a refreshment kiosk, three round flowerbeds full of colour in the centre and shady edges to sit in - a good place for a picnic.
Woburn Square [No.162] Woburn Square boasted new planting and a new lawn with a small play area at one end and a summerhouse-style shelter at the other.
Royal College of Physicians' garden At the Royal College of Physicians' garden, [No.121], I stumbled on a fascinating tour, led by Dr Henry Oakeley. He explained that plants grown for herbal medicine will generate more of the active ingredient on a sunny day, making a dose difficult to quantify. He tutted to great comic effect when none of us hapless tourists knew that the plant name peony derived from Peon, physician to the gods in Greek mythology, and pointed out an important plant for head patients, Digitalis lanata, which is where the medicine digitalin comes from.

Useful plants grown in this garden include:

  • Drimys winteri, which was named for Drake's captain, Winter, who used the bark to treat scurvy,
  • star anise, which pharmaceutical companies are interested in because of its properties to counter bird flu
  • deadly nightshade, which is used to speed the heart rate.

I had often gone past this garden with no idea that it contained such a wealth of plant resources.

Harleyford Road Community Garden At [No.69] Harleyford Road Community Garden, I ducked into a doorway off a busy road to find a green haven with many little secluded areas, including a nice shady bench where I had a sandwich. Planting is eclectic, with wild flowers in one corner, bananas and variegated myrtle in another, and compost bins tucked away in a corner to turn the waste from the garden into fertiliser. They also make use of manure from the nearby Vauxhall city farm. The garden workers are all volunteers and there is a friendly welcome for visitors.
Bonnington Square Bonnington Square, [No. 11], is accessed via a passage from Harleyford Garden which is opened daily by a resident. Both the Pleasure Garden and the surrounding square display exuberant planting of palms, bananas, arums and melianthus, and a real sense of community is apparent along with the profusion and variety of plants and flowers everywhere.
Cleary Garden The Cleary Garden is this year's Loire Valley Wines legacy garden, having received special funding for refurbishment. Vines and prostrate rosemary have been planted in front of a plaque commemorating Fred Cleary. In the lower garden there are climbing hydrangeas, a pristine lawn and clematis in various shades of purple.
From the City I went up to Hampstead to look at a garden that is usually private. [No.59] Gainsborough Gardens, on the edge of Hampstead Heath, has a sunken lawn surrounded by roses in profusion and large trees. It is an idyllic vision and the children playing there are lucky indeed to have such a beautiful playground.
Branch Hill Allotments At Branch Hill Allotments, [No.13], there are about 40 allotment plots, and they reported 60 or 70 visitors for each of the two days. Camden's allotments officer was there as moral support for the 300 people on Camden's waiting list for allotments. Surrounded by large trees, in a dell with good soil, people were growing vegetables, fruit and flowers. Plot holders were on hand to talk about their work, and Rosť d'Anjou was being sampled under the apple trees, Rosť wines are increasingly popular this year and this example was very refreshing.
Fenton House It was a short walk to Fenton House, [no.55], which has a beautiful, peaceful garden that is hardly overlooked at all as it is on a hill. This has everything: bees, apple trees, formal areas on different levels, nooks and crannies, and the sound of running water. On offer were two different Saumur wines, Réserve des Vignerons, which was elderflowery and tangy, and Les Andides, which was light and fresh. Cheers!

This weekend offers so many combinations of style and character of London gardens that I ended the weekend feeling inspired and glad to live in a city with so much variety.

Catherine Miller
Federation of City Farms and Community Gardens