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Book Review : Great Gardens of London by Victoria Summerley, Hugo Rittson Thomas, Marianne Majerus ( Frances Lincoln Ltd )

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London’s parks and gardens are much-loved by Londoners and visitors who are often seeking some sanctuary from the frantic pace of modern life. Whilst London’s parks are well-known, this book  ‘Great Gardens of London‘ by Victoria Summerley with photography by Hugo Rittson Thomas and Marianne Majerus illustrates that many of London’s great gardens are relatively unknown. The book’s author, Victoria Summerley is a national newspaper journalist who specialises in writing about gardens and gardening. In 2010, she was the winner of the prestigious Garden Media Guild Journalist of the Year award, and she also writes an award-winning blog. She is ably assisted in the book by two well-known and prestigious photographers, Hugo Rittson Thomas and Marianne Majerus.

The author makes the point that “London is a surprisingly green city – roughly 45 per cent of Greater London is green space. ” Most of the green space is parks, commons and heaths, but there is a large number of gardens of all different styles and sizes. From this large number of gardens, the author has selected 30 gardens which she categorises into five sections. The gardens are divided into chapters covering Pomp and Circumstance, Wild in the City, Gardeners’ Worlds, High-Rise Retreats and Private Paradises.

In a book that features gardens that are private and others that are open to visitors, the first section is opened by one of the most famous addresses in London. The garden at 10 Downing Street has never been considered a great garden in design, which is surprising considering that William Kent, one of the great 18th century designers was responsible for the transformation of No 10 into a residence. In many ways the garden has been ignored compared to the major events that have taken place in the building, however in the last 30 years the garden has been used to make some major announcements. One of the most dramatic events that directly affected the garden was in 1991 when a IRA mortar bomb landed in the garden which created a crater that is now covered by a Woodland Garden. Winfield House, the US ambassador’s residence in London, Eltham Palace, Strawberry Hill, Hampton Court, Clarence House and the Inner Temple all illustrate the way that gardens often not only reflect their times but more importantly the personal tastes of their owners.

Away from the high and mighty, the second chapter explores the Wild in the City which shows that even in the most unlikely places, London gardeners create their little piece of paradise. One of the most original gardens in London is the Downing Roads Floating Gardens in Bermondsey which consists of seven barges planted with trees, shrubs and perennials. Also included in this section is the new planting schemes at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.

Horticulture for medicinal purposes and therapy has a long history and the chapter entitled Gardeners’ Worlds lists some of London’s most important health related gardens. The Chelsea Physic Garden in Chelsea and the Royal College of Physicians in Marylebone are perhaps the most famous gardens in this section, however the more recent Thrive project in Battersea Park which provides horticultural training and therapy to gardeners with physical disabilities or mental health issues provides evidence of the importance of gardens for a healthy mind and body.

One of the most dramatic recent changes in London has been the high-rise buildings that now dominate the skyline, the chapter entitled High-Rise Retreats provide evidence that roof gardens are becoming more and more popular. Although most of these gardens are contemporary, one of the most remarkable is over 70 years old. The Kensington Roof Gardens in Kensington were created in the 1930s due to the fashion of the time for roof gardens on top of department stores. The department stores may have closed but the Kensington Roof Gardens has survived offering three different styles of garden.

The final chapter explores Private Paradises which are often within the more select areas of the city and designed for some of London’s most wealthy citizens. One of the main examples of this type of garden is the Cadogan Place Gardens in Knightsbridge, the gardens have been owned by the Cadogan family for over 300 years. In many ways this has protected the gardens from development but they remain only accessible to the wealthy residents who live around the garden. The final part of the book has a map and details of which of the featured gardens can be visited and when, there is also some suggestions for more gardens to visit.

Great Gardens of London is wonderfully attractive and well written book, full of stunning photographs of some of the greatest gardens of the capital. The author suggests the book is aimed at residents and visitors alike, at lovers of both gardens and design, and those curious about London’s history. It will definitely appeal to anyone with a fascination for gardens and illustrates the importance that  London’s gardens and parks have playing in providing havens of peace and quiet in an increasingly frenetic modern world.

Visiting London  Guide Rating – Highly Recommended

If you would like further information or buy a book, visit the publisher’s website here

London Visitors is the official blog for the Visiting London Guide .com website. The website was developed to bring practical advice and the latest up to date news and reviews of events in London.
Since our launch in 2014, we have attracted thousands of readers each month, the site is constantly updated.
We have sections on Museums and Art Galleries, Transport, Food and Drink, Places to Stay, Security, Music, Sport, Books and many more.
There are also hundreds of links to interesting articles on our blog.
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National Open Gardens Day at The Roof Gardens of Kensington

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The success of the National Gardening Week, which was launched by the RHS four years ago has led to the first ever National Open Gardens Day on 17 April 2015.  To celebrate the incredible array of  gardens in this country,  the RHS have asked gardens that normally charge for entry or that are closed to the public on that day to take part.  The RHS is kick-starting the campaign and its gardens and many RHS’s Partner Gardens will be joining too and throwing their doors open for free as will some of the  National Gardens Scheme gardens.

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Entrance to the Gardens on Derry Street

London has many wonderful and impressive gardens, however The Roof Gardens of Kensington is one of the most unusual and unexpected horticultural delights of the city.

The gardens were the idea of Trevor Bowen, the  vice-president of Barkers, the department store  that owned the site . The gardens were laid out between 1936 and 1938 by Ralph Hancock, a landscape architect at the cost of 25,000 and were opened to the public in 1938. A shilling was charged for entry which raised £120,000 for charity over  30 year period.

When you arrive at the Roof Gardens, you are transported into almost surreal world high above Kensington High Street. However this is not a fantasy terrace with views all over London, this is a real walled garden with over 60 trees, some planted over 70 years ago.

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Remarkably considering the size, it is not one garden but three. You step out into The English Woodland Garden with a lawn and a couple of bridges and plenty of colour with thousands of plants fighting for your attention. But its is the ducks asleep on the lawn and the strutting flamingos walking around the garden that you tend to focus on before you follow the winding path to the Tudor Garden.

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The Tudor walkway and the three courtyards are planted with plants that would recognisable in Tudor England. This is a peaceful and relaxing place to sit and admire the pots of Lime that guard the archways.

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It was in this peaceful oasis that I came across Head Gardener of the Roof Gardens, David Lewis. I was interested how the minimal depth of soil 18 inches could sustain so many trees and plants. David’s answer was it necessary to make sure you planted the right sort of plants for the environment, he also suggested that it was exciting to maintain the traditions of the garden but also try to keep it up to date with some of the latest horticultural developments. David is restricted in some aspects due to the trees being made subject of preservation orders in 1976 and the gardens being acknowledged as a place of ‘ Specific Historical Interest’ and given a Grade II listing by English Heritage.

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Head Gardner – David Lewis

If the visitor is surprised by the gardens up to this point, the sight of the Spanish Garden will really excite the senses. Based on the Alhambra in Granada, the Spanish Garden offers a distinct Moorish flavour with a white campanile with bell complementing the view of the spire of  the local church.

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The previous two gardens seem muted compared with the colour schemes in this Mediterranean  haven, bright and colourful English plants  are mixed with Mediterranean trees  to provide a wonderful sanctuary from the hustle and bustle of the London streets below.

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Although the Roof Gardens of Kensington is a RHS Partner and part of the National Open Gardens Day, the good news is that the Roof Gardens of Kensington are open to the public at other times. If there is not a private event in the gardens, visitors can take a walk around the gardens free of charge.

Visiting London Guide Rating – Highly Recommended

To find out more about the Gardens and find out about  openings , visit the Roof Gardens  of Kensington website here

To find out more about the  National Gardening Week and the National Open Gardens Day, visit the RHS website here 

London Visitors is the official blog for the Visiting London Guide .com website. The website was developed to bring practical advice and latest up to date news and reviews of events in London.
Since our launch , we have attracted thousands of readers each month, the site is constantly updated.
We have sections on Museums and Art Galleries, Transport, Food and Drink, Places to Stay, Security, Music, Sport, Books and many more.
There are also hundreds of links to interesting articles on our blog.
To find out more visit the website
here