Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Painting the Square Red

Maybe it's true that Sir Terry Farrell, designer of the MI6 building and Camden Lock's TV AM studios, painted the doors and windows of Wesley Square red because he found a bargain job lot of the stuff - or maybe it was secretly part of his grand plan to enhance the garden's greenery;  but peek behind the plantings in this tranquil square, and you can easily spot the Wesley Square houses with their distinctive, bright red paintwork. The residents have grown to like the colour and now they repaint in the same red hue after the weather has taken its toll.

Wesley Square was created when a large swathe of slum housing was demolished to make way for new build in the 1970s. The housing is private with joint ownership of the freehold on a 999-year lease.  Managed on a co-ownership basis by a not-for-profit company, the annual rent for the 50 houses in the square covers everything, including window cleaning as well as garden maintenance.

The simple brick houses hide the square from public view.  Reg, its green-fingered gardener, has worked the soil in these parts for the last 30 years.  He started as a postman, and took happily to cutting the grass when he was asked.  He remembers when the main lawn in the centre of Wesley Square resembled a hay field with a big hollow in the middle, which became a pool when there was heavy rainfall.  Jordan is his faithful assistant and they both defer to Hilary, local resident and plantswoman.

Hilary's ideas for planting and Reg and Jordan's skills have transformed Wesley Square. Out went many of the shrubs and now you will find delightful perennials and herbs.  A new bed containing lavender, nasturtium, Swiss chard, sage, horseradish, mint, bay and poppies has recently been planted along a main path. 

The communal central gardens are complemented by the tiny front gardens of houses which lead directly on to the lawns and beds.  

And, reluctant to leave any bare ground unadorned, Wesley Square has also been cheering up its car park, planting Amelanchier trees, snowdrops, hollyhocks and grasses in the spaces between and alongside the cars. 

The various entrances to the square are gradually being adorned with arbours, and trellises have been put on the sides of some of the houses for climbing plants, along which one house sports a mature wisteria.

The site of 10 Rillington Place, the home of John Christie, a notorious serial killer in the 1950s, lies nearby. It belongs to St Andrew's Square.  Having been demolished, the gruesome spot is now appropriately marked by a small, peaceful garden, which Reg also tends.

So successful have been the horticultural efforts of Wesley Square that it has started to win local gardening competitions, beating off several of the prestigious private squares around Ladbroke Grove and Notting Hill.   2015 was the first year that the square opened to the public as part of the Open Garden Squares Weekend, and we hope that this participation will long continue.   The residents are used to a bit of baking for their annual summer fetes, so teas are definitely worth a visit, as well as a chance to savour the smell of garden roses.

Information on visiting Wesley Square on Open Garden Squares Weekend