Tuesday 2 June 2015

London’s Little Villages

The film 'Notting Hill' captures a romantic London of the not-too-distant past and a beautiful, classical London garden square, Rosmead Garden, is the star of the show. There is a famous scene when, one moonlit evening, Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant climb over the railings beside a tall, locked gate to wander inside the garden where they kiss and fall in love. Hugh Grant, an impecunious travel bookseller, William Thacker, explains to Julia Roberts, playing the American film star, Anna Scott, what these gardens are, saying:

“All these streets round here have these mysterious communal gardens. They are like little villages... They’re like private villages, only the people around the edges are allowed in.”

And he’s right. Notting Hill is a rabbit warren of private garden squares. Different developers in the nineteenth century built large estates and provided well for green space for their residents.

Rosmead is part of the Ladbroke Estate, originally conceived in Thomas Allom’s plan of 1823. This garden is part of the outer crescent of the Ladbroke Estate and dates from the 1860s. It used to be called Elgin and Lansdowne Gardens, but was changed to Rosmead, after the name of the nearby road.

It is a very generously sized garden which is actively used by its residents. Children play on the expanses of lawn, just as they did in the film, and Rosmead is amongst the few garden squares who allow them to play ball games and bring their dogs along.

There is both private and social housing along its borders, which co-exist happily and enjoy the benefits of their private, communal garden.

Rosmead is nearing the completion of a major restoration project to restore the beautiful original railings, the wall (using original London bricks) and the gate on Rosmead Road, using as much of the original materials as possible. When I first visited the old gate (on the left), which Hugh Grant struggled to scale, was being removed from its foundations. The top of the gate has now been altered to match the railings. Although film buffs may be sad to see it changed, the new gate, railings and wall are beautiful. Susan Walker is the architect overseeing works, with a foundry in Tottenham (MetalCraft) restoring all the metalwork. A very small amount of the metalwork and the coping had to be recast in Scotland. One and a half metres of vegetation and undergrowth bordering the old gate have been removed, giving a great opportunity for replanting. There is a plan for the rejuvenation of the garden’s planting in accordance with a common horticultural theme. The project is entirely self-funded, on budget and on time. Visitors on Sunday 14th June will be able to see the completed building works.

There is one gardener, Paul, who manages this garden on a part-time basis, and Nicola, a volunteer who co-ordinates the garden planting committee. When I visited, the quince and camellias were in bloom, the magnolias in bud, with hints of grey, blue, lilac and terracotta themes. The square cherishes its four old horse chestnut trees, which now require regular pruning and maintenance by The Tree Agency. Their lovely candelabra flowers may be over by mid-June, but there should be a good show of colour in the borders to enjoy.

In past years at the Open Garden Squares Weekend, refreshments have been served in one of the adjoining house gardens like these above. Rosmead has been faithfully supporting a charity in Kenya, the Kipungani Schools Trust, which helps schoolchildren there.

Finding your way to Rosmead from Notting Hill Tube takes you past the tourist haunts, still selling memorabilia from the film, and then through a delightful array of streets with houses painted in pastel colours

Some visitors search in vain for the original bench where Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts kissed. Search instead for the long, low, stone megalith, which marks the spot and enjoy a romantic moment.

Information on visiting Rosmead Garden on Open Garden Squares Weekend »

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