Sunshine and gardens in London, oh my!

It all started with having missed out. The London Parks & Gardens Trust (and if any city needed one of those, it’s London) runs an Open Garden Squares weekend every year, usually in June, where any punter willing to plonk down the cash for a ticket finds that the gates of a great many otherwise private gardens are thrown wide open for his (or her, of course), viewing pleasure. I think it’s a terrific idea, but last year I only found out about it after it was over. This yeah, having seen a poster on the way to work, I was determined to make sure I didn’t miss out again. So, with the marvellous powers of the Internet having granted me a magic pass, I gathered up my camera, my umbrella, my waterbottle and my favourite teddybear and headed out.

I had no plan of action; there are over 200 gardens on the list, which is far more than can be seen in a single weekend. So I chose an area fairly close to home that had a cluster of gardens all open on Saturday, and worked my way down from top to bottom. This was an unexpectedly successful strategy, considering how much I know about gardens and gardening. Clearly fortune favours the ignorant.

I started out at the British Medical Association Council Garden in Tavistock Square – walked through the gates and presented my fairy pass to the man at the gate, and entered a magical little world. These gardens shouldn’t be hidden away! Not when they are gems like this:

British Medical Association Council Garden

British Medical Association Council Garden

The forecast for the day was rain, but I’m pleased to note that they were entirely wrong. The sun blazed down from a faultlessly blue sky, and the occasional passing cloud only helped reinforce it all. After a pleasant interlude at the BMAC, I crossed the road into Tavistock Square Gardens, and stopped briefly to pay my respects to the statue of Mahatma Gandhi:

Tavistock Square Gardens

Then I trundled onwards to Gordon Square, but didn’t stay long, since it’s open to the public anyway, and visiting isn’t a problem. Stopped long enough to take a few photographs, of course:

Gordon Square

Something I was quite looking forward to was the SOAS Japanese-Inspired roof garden at the Brunei Gallery, described in my little guide as “a space for quiet contemplation and meditation”. Unfortunately, SOAS had chosen this weekend to have an alumni reunion, so the space for quiet contemplation was overrun by awkwardly interacting people all being formally polite to each other while the eager-eyed garden tourists peeked around the door and shuffled nervously around the crowds. It’s a curious garden, very minimalist, with a large stone structure and scalloped pebble beds in the middle, and some lovely shaded seats along one side.

SOAS Japanese-inspired roof garden

SOAS Japanese-inspired roof garden

My fellow garden-ramblers were an interesting mix, from the hardened tweed-and-Doc-Martens-wearing contingent in their identical green macs, through chic Europeans in sunglasses and high heels, to families dragging various kids around by their ears and heels. Plenty of cameras in evidence, of course, and much weighty discussion about the various benefits of Dianthus carthusianorum and Eryngium giganteum. The amount that people here have learned about garden plants and are willing to argue about them in public is a never-ending source of astonishment for me. Plenty of commentary on the merits of the various gardens and plants, far above my head.

I stopped for lunch in Russell Square, and was very pleased to note that there’s at least one other person in the world who gets caught on camera laying on the floor looking like a complete twerp:

A quick stop at the very long, thin and beautiful Ridgemont Gardens was worthwhile, but as time was pressing, I hurried onwards.

Ridgemont Gardens

The Academy, of Virginia Woolf fame, was an interesting change of pace, with a large and ornate house to inspect along with a small garden:

The Academy Gardens

A leisurely half-hour in the much grander-looking Bedford Square was a welcome break from tramping around, and I overheard a woman complaining to her companion: “There aren’t any bloody flowers! What’s the use of a bloody garden with no bloody flowers?” Well, you judge for yourself.

Bedford Square

This led on to the only real disappointment of the day, a garden whose name I can’t be bothered to look up, and which I walked out of after a few minutes because it wasn’t a garden so much as a collection of geraniums in pots, and I’m glad I did, because that allowed me to go on to the final garden of the day and spend some more time there; another little gem, but this time hidden away behind the bustle of Shaftesbury Avenue. I must have walked within a hundred meters of this restored bomb-site but had no idea it was there. The Phoenix Garden is a fantastic little place. Go there if you can. It’s not so much that it’s a grand or ornate garden, because I’ve seen better and more impressive, of course, but it’s just because it’s just so wonderful to unexpectedly stumble across this in the heart of the West End. A good way to end; mirroring the magic of the start.

The Phoenix Garden

You can find the rest of the pictures from the day here. There will be more garden-going tomorrow, and presumably more photographs to add!

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