10 unusual parks or gardens in London – A recap…

Before we commence our next special series, here’s a recap of the series we’ve just run…

1. Kyoto Garden…

2. Brown Hart Gardens…

3. Crossbones Graveyard and Garden of Remembrance…

4. Queen Elizabeth Hall Roof Garden…

5. Tibetan Peace Garden, Imperial War Museum…

6. The Hill Garden and Pergola, Hampstead…

7. Natural History Museum’s Wildlife Garden…

8. Barbican Conservatory…

9. Sky Garden…

10. The Cloister Garden, Museum of the Order of St John…

LondonLife – Greenwich Park restoration…

Looking up to the Royal Observatory in Greenwich Park. PICTURE: mkos83/iStockphoto.

The Royal Parks announced recently Greenwich Park, here pictured showing the view up to the Royal Observatory, was to undergo a three year project to restore its 17th century landscape. The formal landscape of the park was commissioned by King Charles II and, designed by French landscape architect André Le Nôtre (who also designed the world-famous Versailles gardens), features tree-lined avenues which frame the view up the hill from the Queen’s House as well as “The Grand Ascent”, a series of giant, grass steps leading up the hill, and a terraced layout – known as a parterre. Massive numbers of visitors – some five million annually – have, however, seen the landscape features erode and slump while the trees – Turkey oaks planted in the 1970s to replace the elms wiped out by Dutch elm disease – are now in decline. The restoration work, which begins next month, will see the terraces restored and the declining tree avenues recreated with 92 new, more resilient trees. The work is scheduled to be completed by March, 2025. For more on Greenwich Park, see www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/greenwich-park.

10 unusual parks or gardens in London…9. Sky Garden…

The Sky Garden in August, 2021. PICTURE: ian262 (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

While recent years have seen the creation of a number of roof gardens across London, the Sky Garden – located atop the controversial ‘Walkie Talkie’ building (otherwise known as 20 Fenchurch Street) – has the honour of being the highest public garden in the city.

The three floor garden, which was designed by landscape architecture practice Gillespie’s, opened in January, 2015.

Located on the 36th to 38th floors, it was designed to provide 360 degree views across London and features landscaped gardens, observation decks, an open air terrace (named for the late architectural townscape advisor Francis Golding) and five bars and restaurants.

The gardens include flowering plants such as the African Lily (Agapanthus), Red Hot Poker (Kniphofia) and Bird of Paradise (Strelitzia reginae) as well as fragrant herbs such as French Lavender.

WHERE: Sky Garden (via 1 Sky Garden Walk) (nearest Tube station is Monument); WHEN: 10am to 6pm weekdays; 11am to 9pm weekends; COST: Free (but rebooking required); WEBSITE: https://skygarden.london.

10 unusual parks or gardens in London…8. Barbican Conservatory…

PICTURE: Matt Brown (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

Located in the heart of the post-war Brutalist Barbican development is the second largest conservatory in London.

Designed by the complex’s architects Chamberlin, Powell and Bon, the 23,000 square foot steel and glass conservatory – only bested in size by the Princess of Wales Conservatory at Kew Gardens – was planted in the early 1980s and opened in 1984.

It now houses some 1,500 species of plants and trees from areas as diverse as the bushland of South Africa to the Brazilian coast.

Among the species on show are the tree fern and date palm as well as the Swiss cheese plant and coffee and ginger plants.

The conservatory also features pools containing koi, ghost, and grass carp from Japan and America, as well as other cold water fish such as roach, rudd, and tench and terrapins. An Arid House attached to the east of the conservatory features a collection of cacti, succulents and cymbidiums (cool house orchids).

The conservatory is just one of several distinct gardens at the Barbican complex. These include water gardens located in the midst of lake which feature a range of plants growing in the water itself as well as in a series of sunken pods which are reached by sunken walkways.

Since 1990 the estate has also been home to a wildlife garden which, boasting ponds, a meadow and orchard, is home to more than 300 species including the Lesser Stag Beetle and House Sparrow.

WHERE: The Barbican Conservatory, Barbican Centre, Silk Street (nearest Tube stations are Barbican, Farringdon and Liverpool Street; WHEN: Selected days, from 12pm (check website to book tickets); COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.barbican.org.uk/whats-on/2022/event/visit-the-conservatory.

10 unusual parks or gardens in London…7. Natural History Museum’s Wildlife Garden…

A scene from the Wildlife Garden. PICTURE: Kotomi_ (licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

Opened in July, 1995, this garden in the grounds of the Natural History Museum in South Kensington has been found to be home to more than 3,300 species.

A scene from the Wildlife Garden. PICTURE: Kotomi_ (licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

The garden, located on the corner of Cromwell Road and Queen’s Gate, and covering a single acre, was envisaged as a “place to put habitat creation and wildlife conservation into practice”, according to the museum’s website, where visitors can learn about wildlife in the UK and where naturalists, students and museum scientists carry out research.

It features a variety of habitats –  everything from woodland, grassland, scrub, heath, fen, aquatic, reedbed, and hedgerow as well as urban environments – and among the species living there have been hedgehogs, common frogs, ladybirds (Rhyzobius forestieri) and Greyface Dartmoor sheep which are brought in to graze in the autumn.

‘Bioblitzes’ are held during the year by experts and amateurs which involve recording as many species of plants, animals and fungi as possible within a day.

Under the museum’s Urban Nature Project, all five acres of the grounds are being transformed into a fully accessible green space that promotes urban wildlife research, conservation and awareness and according to the museum, the Wildlife Garden will have an integral role to play in that with its overall size doubled (check before visiting to ensure it’s not closed for the renovation work). The new gardens will open next summer.

WHERE: Wildlife Garden, Natural History Museum, Cromwell Road, South Kensington (nearest Tube stations are South Kensington and Gloucester Road); WHEN: 11am to 5pm daily until 31st October (closed during wet weather); COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.nhm.ac.uk/visit/galleries-and-museum-map/wildlife-garden.html

10 unusual parks or gardens in London…6. The Hill Garden and Pergola, Hampstead…

A view of the pergola. PICTURE: Kent Wang (licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0)

Tucked away in the north-west of Hampstead Heath is a Edwardian-era garden and extravagant pergola that were originally created for a mansion but are now open to the public.

The garden and pergola were created on the orders of the wealthy William H Lever, later Lord Leverhulme, who in 1904 purchased a sizeable Georgian townhouse on the Heath called “The Hill”. Remodelling the house extensively, Lever wanted to also create a garden where he could entertain and sought the help of renowned landscape architect Thomas Mawson to design one on what was steeply sloping land.

Mawson’s plan involved raising the level of the gardens by up to 30 feet and creating a series of terraces. This was made possible due in part to the close proximity of the Hampstead extension of the Northern Line of the Tube – Lever paid to have the spoil which had been dug out to make the Tube tunnels transported the short distance to his garden so it could be used to build it up.

An Italianate pergola was constructed on the boundary between 1905 and 1906, providing views over West Heath while at the same time preventing the general public from looking into the garden. The gardens and pergola were subsequently extended after he bought the neighbouring property in 1911 – the same year Lever was made a baronet – and again in with further works completed in 1925 just months before the now-Lord Leverhulme’s death.

A view of the pergola. PICTURE: Kent Wang (licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0)

The property was sold to Scots shipping magnate Lord Inverforth and, on his death in 1955, was bequeathed it to the private Manor House Hospital. Following a long period of neglect, London County Council bought the pergola and the gardens which had once been those of the neighbouring property, Heath Lodge, and opened them to the public in 1963 as the Hill Garden.

The City of London Corporation took over management with the abolition of the GLC in 1986 and restoration work was carried out. When the hospital closed in 1998 and the house was sold for luxury housing, further works were carried out and the public part of the gardens took on their current form.

WHERE: The Hill Garden and Pergola, Inverforth Close, North End Way, Hampstead (nearest Tube stations are Golders Green or Hampstead Heath); WHEN: 8:30am to 8pm daily; Daily; COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/things-to-do/green-spaces/hampstead-heath/where-to-go-at-hampstead-heath/hill-garden-and-pergola.

10 unusual parks or gardens in London…4. Queen Elizabeth Hall Roof Garden…

PICTURE: Courtesy of VisitLondon.com

This garden can be found on the roof of the Queen Elizabeth Hall at the Southbank Centre.

The 1,200 square metre garden, which was created in 2011 as part of the 60th anniversary of the 1951 Festival of Britain celebrations, was developed in partnership with the Eden Project.

It is maintained by volunteers from Grounded Ecotherapy, a group which offers people dealing with issues like homelessness and addiction help through horticulture.

The Garden features more than 200 wild native plants as well as a lawn, paths and paving – and stunning views across the river. There’s also a cafe and bar.

WHERE: Queen Elizabeth hall Roof Garden (nearest Tube stations are Waterloo and Embankment); WHEN: Wednesday to Sunday from noon; COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.southbankcentre.co.uk/visit/outdoor/queen-elizabeth-hall-roof-garden-cafe-bar.

10 unusual parks or gardens in London…3. Crossbones Graveyard and Garden of Remembrance…

The Crossbones Cemetery in 2017. PICTURE: Matt Brown (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

This small walled garden, located in Southwark, for centuries served as a burial site for the poor of the area nd by the time of its closing in 1853, was the location of some 15,000 burials.

The graveyard is said to have started life as an unconsecrated burial site for ‘Winchester Geese’, sex workers in the medieval period who were licensed to work in the brothels of the Liberty of the Clink by the Bishop of Winchester.

Excavations carried out in the 1990s confirmed a crowded graveyard was on the site.

While the site had been neglected for years following its closure, in 1996 local writer John Constable and a group he co-founded, the Friends of Crossbones, began a campaign to transform Crossbones into a garden of remembrance – something which has happened thanks to their efforts and those of the Bankside Open Spaces Trust and others.

Tributes left on the fence outside the graveyard in Red Cross Way. PICTURE: Garry Knight (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

The garden provides a contemplative space for people to pay their respects to what have become known as the “outcast dead”.

A plaque, funded by Southwark Council, was installed on the gates in 2006 which records the history of the site and the efforts to create a memorial shrine.

WHERE: Crossbones Graveyard, Redcross Way, Southwark (nearest Tube stations are London Bridge and Borough); WHEN: Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays 12 to 2pm; COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.bost.org.uk/crossbones-graveyard.

10 unusual parks or gardens in London…2. Brown Hart Gardens…

Looking east in the Brown Hart Gardens with the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral in the background. PICTURE: Kotomi_ (licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

This elevated 10,000 square foot garden, located between Duke and Balderton Streets in Mayfair on the Grosvenor Estate, actually sits over the top of an electricity substation.

The now Grade II-listed substation was built in the early 20th century and the garden, which opened in 1906, was designed by Sir Charles Stanley Peach (also the designer of Wimbledon’s Centre Court) to provide some open space in what was then a working class residential area (not to mention its role disguising the substation below).

The garden replaced one which had formerly occupied the substation site and it was apparently at the insistence of the then-Duke of Westminster that the paved Italian-style garden be created following the demolition of the old garden.

It features a Portland stone domed gazebo and steps at either end.

Looking west in the gardens towards the cafe. PICTURE: Andy Thornley (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

The garden deck remained open until 1980 when it was closed by the London Electricity Board. It reopened in October, 2007. A refurbishment project several years later saw the addition of a glass-walled cafe at the western end and other improvements including new planter boxes, seats and a new water feature.

The surrounding housing blocks were built in the late 19th century to replace the poor housing that had previously existed and since 1973 have been under the care of the Peabody Trust.

WHERE: Brown Hart Gardens, Duke Street, Mayfair (nearest Tube stations are Bond Street and Marble Arch); WHEN: Daily, 8am to 8pm; COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.grosvenor.com/property/property-uk/brown-hart-gardens.

10 unusual parks or gardens in London…1. Kyoto Garden…

The sun’s shining and it’s a good time to get outdoors so for our new special series we’re looking at 10 of London’s more unusual parks or gardens.

First up, we’re looking at a small slice of Japan in Holland Park – the Kyoto Garden.

PICTURE: Ewan Munro (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

The garden was created in the summer of 1991 as a co-operative project between the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and the Kyoto Chamber of Commerce in Japan to coincide with the 1991 Japan Festival that marked the centenary of the Anglo-Japanese Society.

PICTURE: Pedro Plassen Lopes (licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0)

It was opened by the Prince Charles and, Naruhito, the Crown Prince of Japan, in September that year.

Designed by a renowned Japanese landscape architect Shoji Nakahara, it features a large pond complete with a tiered waterfall, a small bridge and stone lanterns. Among the plants are Japanese maple trees and Sakura trees while koi swim in the pond and peacocks roam the foliage.

The garden received a makeover in 2011.

Next to the garden is a second Japanese Garden, the Fukushima Memorial Garden, which was created in 2012 in recognition of the support the UK gave to the Prefecture of Fukushima following the 2011 tsunami.

WHERE: The Kyoto Garden, Holland Park (nearest Tube stations are Holland Park and Notting Hill Gate and nearest Overground is Kensington (Olympia)); WHEN: Daily, 7:30am until half an hour before dusk; COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.rbkc.gov.uk/leisure-and-culture/parks/holland-park.

This Week in London – Marble Hill revived; Harry Kane at the Museum of London; and, golden books at the British Library…

Marble Hill in London’s west reopens on Saturday following a restoration and the reinstatement of a lost pleasure garden. Once home to King George II’s mistress Henrietta Howard, Countess of Suffolk, Marble Hill is a rare example of a home built by and for a woman in Georgian England and is one of the last survivors of the many 18th century villas that once fronted the Thames in the area. Marble Hill was built as a country retreat from London’s crowds and among those entertained here were poet Alexander Pope, Horace Walpole, John Gay and Jonathan Swift. English Heritage has invested £3 million into a major transformation of the house and 66 acres of riverside parkland which also used a £5 million grant from The National Lottery Heritage Fund and The National Community Lottery Fund. This has included the reinstatement of a pleasure garden – an “Arcadian landscape” which was inspired by sketches made by Pope – with the opening up of previously inaccessible woodland areas, the reinstallation of paths and the replanting of avenues of trees that led from the house to the river. Howard’s ninepin bowling alley has been restored and an 18th-century garden grotto has been excavated and returned to its 18th-century appearance. Inside the house, English Heritage has re-instated the paint scheme that existed during Howard’s lifetime in several interior spaces, including the Great Room, conserved the fine collection of early Georgian paintings which includes portraits of Howard’s circle and re-created furniture including an intricate carved peacock motif table and luxurious crimson silk wall hangings in her dressing room. The new display has reframed Howar’s beyond being simply the King’s mistress by also exploring her abusive first marriage and the role deafness played in her life as well as her rise in Georgian society and the social circles she captivated. Entry to the house is free. For more, head to www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/marble-hill-house/.

Harry Kane of England celebrates after scoring their side’s second goal during the UEFA Euro 2020 Championship Round of 16 match between England and Germany at Wembley Stadium on 29th June, 2021 in London, England. PICTURE: Catherine Ivill/Getty Images.

England football captain Harry Kane is the subject of a new exhibition opening at the Museum of London on Saturday. Harry Kane: I want to play football features sporting memorabilia including the shirt Kane, who grew up in Chingford, East London, wore on his debut for England where he scored against Lithuania just 79 seconds after coming on the pitch, Kane’s MBE which was awarded to him in March 2019 for ‘services to sport’ and the 2018 World Cup Golden Boot (Kane being one of only two British players to receive a Golden Boot at a World Cup competition, where he was named Man of the Match three times) as well as family photos. The display also includes a changing room space where visitors can listen to Kane’s pre-match playlist and an interactive area where visitors can learn more about who has inspired Harry and share their own hopes and dreams. A programme of activities for families and children will run alongside the free display. Runs until December. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk.

The use of gold in embellishing and enhancing the written word across cultures, faiths and through time is the subject of a new exhibition opening at the British Library. Gold, which opens Friday, showcases some of the most luxurious illuminated manuscripts, gold-tooled books, sacred texts and scrolls from the British Library’s collection with objects on display including the Harley Golden Gospels, the Lotus Sutra and a treaty in Malayalam, beautifully inscribed on a long strip of gold itself. Admission charge applies. Runs until 2nd October. For more, see www.bl.uk.

Send all items to exploringlondon@gmail.com.

10 (lesser known) statues of English monarchs in London…3. King Harold Godwinson…

PICTURE: Matt Brown (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

Depicting the last crowned Anglo-Saxon king who famously died at the Battle of Hastings, this statue is located in a niche on the exterior of Waltham Abbey Church on the north-eastern outskirts of Greater London.

The life-sized statue was the work of Canadian-born, Dorset-based, sculptor Elizabeth Muntz and was erected in the 1960s.

King Harold, also known as King Harold II, not only rebuilt the abbey church (apparently after he was healed of paralysis on a pilgrimage to Waltham), the abbey is also a possible site for his grave.

The grave is marked by a memorial stone now located in the churchyard which was erected in 1960. The inscription says the stone marks the position of the former church’s high altar. King Harold is said to have been buried behind this in 1066 after he was killed, according to tradition, by a well-aimed arrow to the eye at the Battle of Hastings (the church was rebuilt in the 12th century which explains why the altar is now located outside).

There are alternate theories for his burial place including in Bosham, West Sussex.

PICTURE: Jim Linwood (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

This Week in London – Tulips at Hampton Court; new Falklands-related displays at the IWM; and, a new garden for The Regent’s Park…

Hoping you have a wonderful Easter break.

PICTURE: © Historic Royal Palaces

Hampton Court Palace’s Tulip Festival – the largest of its kind in the UK – is returning following its successful inaugural year in 2021. From Friday until 2nd May (depending on flowering periods), the palace’s 60 acres of formal gardens are expected to be filled with rare, historic and specialist tulip varieties inspired by Queen Mary II’s famous 17th century collection which was once housed at the palace. Some 120,000 tulip bulbs of 60 different varieties have been planted, including breath-taking floating tulip vases located in the palace’s famous fountains, and floral displays which will fill the cobbled courtyards of Base Court and Clock Court. Visitors will be able to find out all about the links between the flower and the palace’s history with a dedicated Tulip Festival Guide. Included with admission. For more, head here.

New exhibits marking the 40th anniversary of the Falklands Conflict have gone on show at the Imperial War Museum in Lambeth. Among the new items on display are drawings by Linda Kitson, the first female artist commissioned by IWM to accompany troops into conflict, and images of the conflict – many of which have never been seen before – taken by photographer Paul RG Haley who covered it for Soldier Magazine. The museum is also exploring the story and legacy of the conflict through a digital programme of events including a series of short films and a new episode of the Conflict of Interest podcast featuring actor Katherine Parkinson. For more, see www.iwm.org.uk.

The Regent’s Park will soon boast a new 1.5 acre garden at its centre in honour of Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee. The new garden, to be created on the site of a former plant nursery near the Inner Circle, will include design features that reflect the Queen’s “love of trees and nature”. The Royal Parks will be committing £1 million to the project and will seek external funding and public donations. Designs for the new park will be shared as they are developed. Meanwhile, The Royal Parks have also announced they will be creating a new wood in Richmond Park as part of the Queen’s Green Canopy Initiative. The new woodland, which will be located adjacent to Ham Cross, will be planted with 70 large trees, each one to mark a year of Her Majesty’s reign.

Send all items to exploringlondon@gmail.com.

Where’s London’s oldest…public Holocaust memorial?

PICTURE: Matt Brown (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

Amid controversy over plans for a new Holocaust memorial in London and the marking of Holocaust Memorial Day this week, we thought it would be a good time to take a look at where the oldest public memorial to the victims of the Holocaust in London, which actually isn’t that old, is located.

Unveiled in 1983 in Hyde Park at site just to the east of the Serpentine, it consists of a grouping of boulders surrounded by white-trunked birch trees. Designed by Richard Seifert and Derek Lovejoy and Partners, the largest of the boulders is inscribed with a text, in Hebrew and English, from the Biblical Book of Lamentations. It reads: “For these I weep. Streams of tears flow from my eyes because of the destruction of my people.”

The Holocaust Memorial Garden, which was actually the first such memorial dedicated to the victims of the Holocaust in Britain, was erected by the Board of British Jews.

Plans for a new memorial to the victims of the Holocaust – to be located in Victoria Tower Gardens, just to the south of the Houses of Parliament – were approved by the government in the middle of last year following a controversial public inquiry. But a High Court judge subsequently granted the London Historic Parks And Gardens Trust permission to appeal that decision.

This Week in London – Faberge eggs; Royal jeweller Garrard; and, Christmas at Kew…

The Alexander Palace Egg, Fabergé. Chief Workmaster Henrik Wigström (1862-1923), gold, silver, enamel, diamonds, rubies, nephrite, rock crystal, glass, wood, velvet, bone, 1908 © The Moscow Kremlin Museums

• The largest collection of Faberge’s Imperial Easter eggs to be displayed together in a generation go on show at the V&A from Saturday. Fabergé in London: Romance to Revolution is the first major exhibition devoted to the international prominence of Russian goldsmith, Carl Fabergé, and his little-known London branch. Divided into three sections which cover everything from the techniques and detailing synonymous with the Faberge name to his time in London, the royal patronage he received, and the impact of the Great War and Russian Revolution on the business. The display features more than 200 objects with highlights including a prayer book gifted by Emperor Nicholas II to Empress Alexandra Feodorovna on his Coronation Day, the only known example of solid gold tea service crafted by Fabergé, a rare figurine of a veteran English soldier commissioned by King Edward VII, and a “kaleidoscopic display” of 15 of the Imperial Easter Eggs. The latter include several that have never before been shown in the UK including the largest Imperial Egg – the Moscow Kremlin Egg – which was inspired by the architecture of the Dormition Cathedral, the Alexander Palace Egg – which features watercolour portraits of the children of Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra and contains a model of the palace inside (pictured), the recently rediscovered Third Imperial Egg of 1887 (found by a scrap dealer in 2011) and Empress Alexandra Feodorovna’s Basket of Flowers Egg. Runs until 8th May. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk.

The Royal Family’s relationship with the jeweller Garrard is the subject of a new exhibition which has opened in Kensington Palace’s ‘Jewel Room’. Going on display for the first time are examples of the firm’s ledgers which document royal commissions dating back to 1735 while other highlights include Queen Mary’s fringe tiara which was made in 1919 using diamonds taken from Queen Victoria’s wedding gift to Queen Mary and which was subsequently worn by Queen Elizabeth II on her wedding day. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/kensington-palace.

Botanical illustrations from the archives at Kew Gardens are brought to life on a canvas consisting of a selection of spectacular trees from the arboretum as part of this year’s Christmas display. Christmas at Kew also includes Spheric – a 15-metre-wide dome of light covered in more than 2,000 individually controlled LED pixels which sits on a reflective water pool and allows visitors to fully immerse themselves in a unique mirrored illusion as they cross the lake, a new installation for Holly Walk which will illuminate the night sky for over 200 metres overhead as it replicates the enchanting visual phenomenon of the Aurora Borealis, a vibrant rainbow tree illumination which brings to life the 12 Days of Christmas, and the ever-popular Fire Garden. The display can be seen until 9th January. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.kew.org.

Send all items for inclusion to exploringlondon@gmail.com.

LondonLife – Record-breaking at Kew…

View over the Palm House at Kew Gardens. PICTURE: Oliver Needham/Unsplash

Kew Gardens was last month recognised as holding the world’s “largest collection of living plants at a single-site botanic garden” by Guinness World Records. The 320 acre site in west London, which is home to 16,900 species of plants from all over the world, is actually no stranger to Guinness World Records. Its plants include the world’s largest waterlily species – Victoria amazonica (found in the Princess of Wales Conservatory), the world’s smallest water lily species – Nymphaea thermarum (also found in the conservatory) and the plant with the world’s tallest bloom – the titan arum (Amorphophallus titanum) which also holds the record as the world’s smelliest plant. In 2020, Kew was also home to the world’s longest Nepenthes plant trap which measured 43 centimetres from the base to the lid. For more on Kew, head to www.kew.org.

LondonLife – 5,000 haikus take flight…

PICTURE: RBG Kew

One Thousand Springs, an artwork by internationally renowned artist Chiharu Shiota, is the centrepiece of the Japan festival taking place at Kew Gardens in west London. The work features 5,000 haikus submitted by members of the public which have been suspended on red threads in the Victorian-era Temperate House. Says Shiota: “The Japanese language was formed by a culture that cherishes the natural world. Many cultural practices like ikebana, bonsai and hanami are based on the contemplation and enjoyment of nature. For One Thousand Springs I chose to focus on the haiku. The traditional haiku mentions one of the seasons and many haikus are based on observations in nature.” The installation can be seen throughout the month-long festival along with horticultural displays including a specially commissioned Chalk Garden, a contemporary response to a Japanese garden showcasing native plants including grasses, shrubs and trees. For more on the festival, including after hours events, see www.kew.org/kew-gardens/whats-on/festival-japan.

This Week in London – Japan at Kew; Young V&A; a Blue Plaque for Diana’s flat; and, a new Lord Mayor of London…

Visitors to Kew Gardens are being invited to immerse themselves in the art, plants and culture of Japan in a month long celebration of the Asian nation. The Japan Festival kicks off this Saturday in Kew’s Temperate House and features at its heart a large-scale artistic installation by Japanese artist Chiharu Shiota entitled One Thousand Springs which is constructed of 5,000 haikus submitted by members of the public. There will also be a specially commissioned Chalk Garden – a contemporary response to a Japanese garden showcasing native plants including grasses, shrubs and trees – as well as a display showcasing six different chrysanthemums, Japan’s national flower, and an immersive soundscape by sound artist Yosi Horikawa featuring the natural sounds of the rivers and waterfalls of Kagoshima, atmospheric soundscapes from the Cedar mountains of Gifu and bird calls set across the waves of the Philippine Sea. The Temperate House will also be illuminated for Japan: After hours featuring a varied programme of dance, theatre, and live music performances as well as traditional flower arranging and sake sipping. The festival, supported by Daikin UK, runs to 31st October. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.kew.org.

Sky Brown from Great Britain during women’s park skateboard at the Olympics at Ariake Urban Park, Tokyo, Japan on August 4, 2021. PICTURE: Ulrik Pedersen/NurPhoto via Getty Images.

Thirteen-year-old Olympian Sky Brown’s skateboard, children’s garments created by sustainable fashion designer, humanitarian and artist Bethany Williams, and Open Bionics’ 3D printed prosthetic, The Hero Arm, are among new acquisitions to be displayed at what was the former V&A Museum of Childhood. Now renamed the Young V&A, the Grade II* Bethnal Green institution is undergoing a £13m transformation ahead of reopening in 2023. The new interior fit-out, by firm AOC Architecture, will include three new galleries –  Play, Imagine and Design – as well as interactive collection displays, a suite of dedicated learning workshops, an in-gallery design studio for visitors, and a new café and shop.

• The late Princess Diana has been honoured with an English Heritage Blue Plaque at her former flat in Kensington. Flat 60, Coleherne Court, Old Brompton Road, was her home between 1979 and 1981 during her courtship with Prince Charles. She shared it with three friends including Virginia Clarke who was at the unveiling ceremony this week. Diana, who died aged 36 in a Paris car crash in 1997, described her years at the property as “the happiest time of her life”, according to biographer Andrew Morton’s book Diana, In Her Own Words.

Vincent Keaveny was this week elected as the 693rd Lord Mayor of the City of London. Alderman Keaveny succeeds Lord Mayor William Russell, who served a second year in office after his term was extended to ensure continuity of leadership during the current COVID-19 pandemic (the last time a Lord Mayor served a second year in office was in 1861 when William Cubitt was re-elected). The annual Lord Mayor’s Show is scheduled for Saturday, 13th November, and will be followed by Lord Mayor’s Banquet at Guildhall on 15th November.

Send all items to exploringlondon@gmail.com.

LondonLife – Lost ‘garden snug’ recreated at Red House…

The new garden snug with the Red House in the background. PICTURE: © National Trust/Chris Davies

A lost ‘garden snug’ has been recreated at 19th century designer William Morris’ Arts & Crafts home, Red House, in Bexleyheath. Inspired by the original notes of architect Philip Webb, the design draws on an ordnance survey map from when Morris and his family were residents at the house between 1860-1865 which shows outdoor spaces separated into different ‘rooms’. Photos of the garden from the 1890s were also used to guide the project. The 100 square metre garden is enclosed with traditional hazel and hawthorn and the planting inside its bounds references some iconic Morris & Co designs like ‘Trellis’, ‘Daisy’ and ‘Fruit’. At the centre is a Tibetan cherry (Prunus serrula) and the garden also features traditional cottage plants like Shasta daisies, columbines, honeysuckle, irises, peonies, jasmine and mock orange. Around the central tree are specially commissioned wooden seats from Scottish craftsman Angus Ross with distinctive two-metre high arches designed to echo the house’s medieval-inspired architecture. For more, see www.nationaltrust.org.uk/red-house.

The Red House and lawn seen from the south east. PICTURE: © National Trust/Andrew Butler.

London Explained – The Royal Parks…

Green Park, the smallest of the eight Royal Parks. PICTURE: David Adams

One of the most beautiful features of London are its Royal Parks.

The Royal Parks signage in The Regent’s Park. PICTURE: Elliott Brown (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

The parks, which covers some 5,000 acres, are owned by the Crown and managed by a charity, The Royal Parks. They include eight of London’s largest open spaces – Hyde Park, The Green Park, Richmond Park, Greenwich Park, St James’s Park, Bushy Park, The Regent’s Park, and Kensington Gardens – as well as some other important open spaces such as Brompton Cemetery, Victoria Tower Gardens, Canning Green and Poet’s Corner.

All eight of the Royal Parks have historically been owned by the Crown with St James’s Park considered the oldest (while Greenwich Park is the oldest enclosed park).

Under an Act of Parliament passed in 1851, the Crown transferred management of the parks to the government. These powers were originally vested in the Commissioners of Works and later transferred to the Minister of Works in 1942. They now rest with the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport.

The Royal Parks charity was created in 2017 when The Royal Parks Agency – a former executive agency of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport – and the Royal Parks Foundation came together. It is governed by a board led by chairman Loyd Grossman.

Deer in Richmond Park, largest of The Royal Parks. PICTURE: David Adams

The largest of the eight Royal Parks is Richmond Park which covers some 2,500 acres in London’s south-west (it’s followed by Bushy Park which is just over 1,000 acres). The smallest of the parks is Green Park at just 40 acres.

Interestingly, Hampton Court Palace gardens, which are open to the public are not part of The Royal Parks but instead are under the care of Historic Royal Palaces.

Here’s one fact about each of the eight Royal Parks.

  1. Cardinal Thomas Wolsey gave Bushy Park to King Henry VIII in 1529 (along with Wolsey’s home, Hampton Court Palace).
  2. Green Park was initially known as Upper St James’s Park after it was enclosed by King Charles II in 1668.
  3. The Royal Observatory, designed by Sir Christopher Wren, is located in Greenwich Park.
  4. Hyde Park became the location of the first artificially lit highway in the country when King William III, who had moved his court to Kensington Palace and found his walk back to St James’s rather dangerous, had 300 oil lamps installed upon a route which later became known as Rotten Row.
  5. Queen Caroline, wife of George II, gave Kensington Gardens much of its present form when, in 1728, she oversaw the creation of the the Serpentine and the Long Water.
  6. Horse Guards Parade is considered part of St James’s Park.
  7. Architect John Nash designed a summer palace for the Prince Regent which was to be located in The Regent’s Park but was never built.
  8. Prime Minister Lord John Russell was given a home in Richmond Park (Pembroke Lodge) by Queen Victoria in 1847.