Saturday, 22 December 2012

In the Shadow of the Great and Good

You may know Kensington's Holland Park. You may have visited the Dutch Garden and the Japanese Garden. You may even have attended an opera - with peacock accompaniment. But you have probably not visited the secret garden that takes part in Open Garden Squares Weekend and where you can gain the best idea of the original architecture of Holland House.

A Distinguished History

The original house was built in 1607 for Sir Walter Cope, James I’s Chancellor, whose heiress married Sir Henry Rich, later Earl of Holland. Rich built the magnificent stables (since largely rebuilt, with a splendid modern sequence of murals depicting a garden party held in the 1870s by the then Earl of Ilchester) and the coach house, west of Holland House, beyond which is the Dutch Garden with its intricate beds of triangles and rectangles. The back wall now forms part of the Belvedere restaurant, and past the toddlers ’play area is the Orangery and the rose garden.

In front of the line of brick arches, formerly part of the old stable block, now a hard surfaces area with benches, was where the 3rd Lady Holland raised some of the first dahlias to be grown in England, in the early 1800s.

By 1860, when the 4th and last Lord Holland died, his widow came into increasing financial difficulties and Holland Park only now survives because in 1874 Henry Edward Fox-Strangways, 5th Earl of Ilchester and a descendant of the 1st Lord Holland, agreed to take the mortgaged estate in return for allowing the dowager Duchess to live at Holland House for the rest of her life. The 5th Earl added a water and rock garden in the 1890s and a Japanese garden (to the north of the Dutch garden), which, fifty years after the WW2 bombing, was re-created with Anglo-Japanese funding.

An Admirable Present

During WW2 the house was bombed and destroyed by fire. Afterwards the remains of one wing were repaired. With new buildings designed by Sir Hugh Casson and Neville Condor, this now forms the King George VI Memorial Youth Hostel, officially opened by HM the Queen in 1959. With 10 rooms and 200 beds, it serves 50,000 hostellers a year, mainly in groups.

The Gardens

The public gardens, including the Dutch Garden and the Japanese Garden, lie mainly to the west of the house, though they extend south of the surviving garden front, with the famous Inigo Jones gates.

The special part of the garden, which takes part in Open Garden Squares Weekend, lies within the grounds of the youth hostel on the east side and is normally only visible through the perimeter gates. From here you can gain the best idea of the original architecture of Holland House, with its arcading and Dutch gables. There is a large well-stocked pond, visited by mallards, moorhens, herons and peacocks.

Open Garden Squares Weekend

Holland House Garden will be open to Open Garden Squares Weekend visitors on Sunday 9th June 2013 from 10am to 5pm. Tea and coffee will be available - and a barbecue if the weather permits.

The garden is a convenient one to visit between gardens to the south of Kensington, such as Edwardes Square, and those to the north, such as Ladbroke Square.

Further Reading

Friday, 25 May 2012

Surviving and thriving in the heart of the West End

The Phoenix Garden has to be one of the most aptly named of all the gardens Duck Island Cottage has explored for this year’s Open Garden Squares Weekend. It was created in 1984 by a group of local volunteers from a space which was acting as a car park. It is a remarkable example of what can be achieved with about six inches of topsoil below which sits a bedrock of rubble. The Phoenix Garden is the only surviving garden from an original group of seven community gardens in the Covent Garden area; the other six were lost to development. However, given the involvement of the London Borough of Camden, Phoenix’s future is safe and secured, with a much-needed new garden building planned for 2012.

The Phoenix Garden is overlooked by the 18th-century spire of St Giles-in-the-Fields parish church.
Tucked away behind Shaftesbury Avenue, and overlooked by the 18th-century spire of St Giles-in-the-Fields parish church, the garden today bears very few traces of its colourful history – there was a leper hospital on the site in the early 12th century and the images in Hogarth’s infamous Gin Lane of 1751 were inspired by contemporary scenes and characters from the area.

In the company of its gardener, Chris Raeburn, and Jane Palm-Gold, from the garden’s management committee, Duck Island spent two hours exploring the garden’s plants, trees and gently sloping walkways, with many seats created using stones saved from the previous site. Since 2002, Chris has worked a running programme to re-landscape and re-plant, in what previously had become an overgrown, unruly space. His planting features both wild and cultivated specimens, and the effect is of an ordered but thoroughly natural garden. The beds here are made up of dense, supporting layers, wonderful to look at and fantastic environments for insects and birds. In Chris’s own words, plants will grow in any location if they are suited to the site. Given the land’s relatively recent usage, scrubland weeds are key to underpinning the garden’s micro-ecology and certain beds have never been dug by Chris. As he says, if you constantly dig the soil, vigorous colonising plants will try to take over and the garden does not need the kind of tending required by an allotment. He favours long-flowering ornamentals so that the garden has colour and scent all year round.

London’s corporations and companies tend to favour formal, neat designs for their gardens, and a generous annual budget is key to maintaining this look. However, Chris’s first yearly plant allowance was £40 and, although it has grown a little since, it is a still a fraction of what can be spent on a garden, along with chemical fertilisers and herbicides. As a result, The Phoenix Garden features a diverse range of plants and wildlife and so genuinely provides an easy access to nature.

We look forward to seeing The Phoenix Garden in all its glory this June, and we know you’ll be captivated and intrigued by this inspirational space.

Information on visiting The Phoenix Garden »

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

An urban oasis for wildlife and people

This month Duck Island Cottage visited Camley Street Natural Park - a short walk from Euston Road, located within the heart of the King's Cross redevelopment and in a part of London with very little open space.

Many of Open Garden Squares Weekend’s participating gardens are centuries-old squares and dedicated green spaces. But, this park in its current incarnation is a youngster, having just passed its quarter-century.

From 1870, the bijou two-acre site was used for coal storage and in the 1950s, as the demand for coal diminished, the area became derelict. The land was purchased by the former Greater London Council in 1981 with the intention of creating a coach park. However, in the intervening years a remarkable array of wild plants had colonised the land - an amazing development given the shallow topsoil, below which, just five inches down, lay rubble and toxic remnants left over from the area’s previous use. It was agreed to turn this resilient, unique site into a park and so landscaping commenced in 1983, followed by tree planting in 1984.

Skilled, thoughtful landscaping and planting makes the park feel spacious: it packs in meadows, marsh woodlands and an open water habitat - fed by the waters of the Regent's Canal.

Pond-dipping is one of the most popular activities for schoolchildren visitors
(Photo: Sarah Jackson)
Now managed by the London Wildlife Trust, the Park’s focus is on the management and maintenance of diverse wildlife, which includes a wide variety of birds, bees and butterflies, amphibians and plants. And it also provides the local community with a valuable resource, providing environmental education for schools and opportunities for volunteers to get involved in tending and managing the site.

One of the Park’s wood-chipped walkways bordered by dense and lush foliage
(Photo: Sarah Jackson)
The Park continues to evolve and develop. The latest projects are the creation of a floating forest garden in a restored grain barge moored nearby and the construction of two clay, wood-fired ovens which form the centrepiece of an outdoor cooking and dining area, which itself is bordered by a backdrop of reclaimed logs. 

Camley Street Natural Park is a wonderful example of nature’s ability to survive and thrive in the most challenging of conditions. Please add it to your gardens itinerary this June!

Friday, 9 March 2012

Octavia Hill’s 'vision for society'

This month, Duck Island Cottage has been absorbed and fascinated by the life and work of Octavia Hill (1838-1912). Red Cross Garden, near Borough High Street, bears testimony to her campaigns and causes. On the long list of her achievements is co-founding the National Trust, (with Sir Robert Hunter and Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley), in 1895. Octavia was concerned by the impact of uncontrolled development and industrialisation; and the Trust was set up to act as guardian for the nation in the acquisition and protection of threatened coastline, buildings and countryside. 100 years on from Octavia’s death, it’s highly appropriate that in 2012 Open Garden Squares Weekend is being held in association with the National Trust. It’s also a great opportunity to re-consider the work of this campaigner for open spaces, par excellence.

Octavia Hill’s blue plaque on Bishop’s Hall overlooks her Red Cross Garden
(photo: Lucinda Blythe)
The first thing that strikes one is the scale of the garden. In the gloom of the densely packed streets of 19th-century Southwark, this would have been a spacious, green oasis, but it’s truly compact. Duck Island Cottage wonders what the residents of the 1880s would have made of the Shard, the garden’s towering neighbour, and the soaring heights of the City skyline just over the river.

Red Cross Garden is one element, along with Bishop’s Hall and six cottages (on the same site), in what is considered to be one of Octavia Hill’s finest environmental and social schemes. The Garden was laid out in 1887 and, along with paths, flowers, trees and a pond and a bandstand, it hosted the annual Southwark Flower Show, as well as numerous fetes and celebrations, including maypole dancing. The Hall likewise bustled with activities: it was the venue for working men’s clubs, women’s groups, concerts and plays, and the Army Cadets – the movement was founded here by Octavia. The cottages border the eastern flank of the garden, and provided an alternative to the cramped tenement buildings, which, at the time, stood across the road. 
The Cottages with their view of Red Cross Garden
(photo: Lucinda Blythe)
The original garden layout was lost to a simplistic design after World War II, but a restoration programme, with Heritage Lottery Fund and Southwark council backing, commenced in 1997 and was completed in 2005. The new design is true to the original, but is also a delightful community space. In a nod to Octavia’s own principles, recycled materials were used and the pond, originally designed only for fish, was excavated and is now both ornamental and a haven for wildlife.

Red Cross Garden is as relevant today as when created by Octavia Hill. Duck Island Cottage urges you to add it to your itinerary this June.
A mosaic with designs based on local schoolchildrens’ sketches created for the new garden
(photo: Lucinda Blythe)

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Behind the Black Door

Behind the black door lies the splendid Crescent Garden…
(photo: Lucinda Blythe)
At Duck Island Cottage we love London’s secret green spaces. And, if we asked our Open Garden Squares Weekend visitors to imagine a hidden, private garden, we feel sure they would describe Crescent Garden, in Maida Vale.

On a bright, sunny February morning, with snow still on the ground, Duck Island Cottage was allowed through the black door and into Crescent Garden, in the company of Virginia de Vaal, who has been involved with the development and design of the garden since the early 90s. When Virginia moved to Randolph Crescent, this three-acre space was full of diseased trees and contained only three small ‘sausage-shaped’ flower beds - photographs from the time show a very large stretch of lawn peppered with just a handful of trees and not much else to engage one’s gaze. Virginia is keen to point out that the stunning garden we’re walking through today is very much the result of team work, with planning and planting overseen by a head gardener; but the fact that it is, as she says now, in ‘maintenance mode’ is credit to her steady persistence and dedication and some gardening ‘by stealth’ – whereby new plants are introduced to just one or two beds, in the first instance, to preserve an overall harmony.

As with so many of London’s gardens, Crescent Garden has a fascinating history. Before the elegant stucco-fronted houses which border the garden were built, in the mid-19th century, watercress was grown in this area. And, during the First World War, four houses on the bordering Warrington Crescent were destroyed, with many fatalities, when a German bomber pilot mistook the canals of Little Venice for the Thames. Today, at ground level there is evidence of just one air raid shelter, its circular shape protruding from the lawn and studded with crocuses in a ying-yang design; but the garden holds many others, long since buried and filled in. Crescent Garden is now the venue for many events throughout the year organised by the residents, from summer parties, to Bonfire Night and carol singing.

As we crunched over persistent patches of snow, there was the strong sense that this garden is resting and biding its time until the summer. We can’t wait to explore its plants and trees in full bloom and also to see our Weekend visitors enjoying this majestic, tranquil space, when the black door is unlocked for one very special day this June.
Crescent Garden in its summer splendour (photo: Sarah Jackson)

Saturday, 28 January 2012

A Medicinal Garden

The Medicinal Garden at the Royal College of Physicians, close to Regent's Park, has to be one of the world’s most interesting and intriguing cultivated spaces. Recently, on a bright winter morning, Duck Island Cottage was very lucky to have been given a tour by the college’s Garden Fellow, Dr Henry Oakeley and the Head Gardener, Jane Knowles.

The College building itself is the RCP’s fifth home, and was completed in 1965. It is still thrillingly modern and provides a brilliant contrast with the nearby formal Regency terrace of St Andrew’s Place. The Garden is not one single space, rather a collection of growing areas: each of the eight Regency houses has its own small garden square, there is another garden at the end of the terrace and more flower beds lie close to the College buildings.

One of the small gardens on St Andrew’s Place 
photo: Sarah Jackson 

The Medicinal Garden in full bloom
during Open Garden Squares Weekend 2010
Photo: Gavin Gardiner
 The Garden’s focus is on its individual plants, around 1,280 different species in total, all of which have been used in medicine over the past two thousand years or still are, and plants named after physicians. The fascination here lies in the plants’ uses and dangers, the history and the folklore surrounding them and the influence they have had on the English language.

The eight small and beautifully laid-out terrace gardens each contain plants from the writings of Nicholas Culpeper (1616-1654); for example, the seed heads of the English corn poppy were brewed in a tea as a sedative for children, its effectiveness due to its opiate content. And carnation flowers were used against the plague, and also to ‘strengthen the heart, liver and stomach’.

It would take many years as well as a lot of care and passion to match Dr Oakeley’s great understanding and knowledge of medicinal plants. However, in a few minutes he opened my eyes to the dual nature of medicine, that it can be potentially poisonous and also curative. He stressed that herbs can contain useful chemicals for science, but they are just one of many medical resources, and they invariably have to be toned down and adapted.

At this time of the year, the Garden is at its most quiet, but, come early June, it will be full and rich with its varied and fascinating medicinal plants and herbs. There will be tours over the weekend, and for me this is one garden I cannot wait to see again.

Duck Island Cottage will be back next month with another one of our super gardens!