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)