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Isabella-PlantationAn area first fenced off within Richmond Park in the early 19th century, this ornamental garden remains an enchanting place to escape city life.

It was former Prime Minister Lord Sidmouth who established the plantation in the south-west corner of Richmond Park in 1831 when he was deputy ranger, enclosing the 42 acre site with fences to keep the deer out and planting oak, beech, and chestnut trees with a view to growing them for timber.

It was also he who, drawing on an older name for the area – Isabella Slade (Isabell is thought to have meant ‘dingy yellow’ in Old English and may refer to the colour of the topsoil in the plantation area while Slade meant a shallow valley) – gave it the name the Isabella Plantation.

The garden as we largely know it now was established on the site in the years immediately after World War II with clearings, ponds and waterways (these are today fed from Pen Ponds), thanks in large part to George Thomson, superintendent of the park from 1951-71, and his head gardener, Wally Miller.

Isabella Plantation was opened to the public in 1953 although improvements – including the Bog Garden which was reconstructed in 2000 – continue to be carried out.

Highlights among the flora include the National Collection of ‘Wilson 50’ Kurume azaleas (introduced by plant collector Ernest Wilson from Japan to the West in the 1920s) and large collections of rhododendrons and camellias. The garden also attracts a wide range of birds as well as other wildlife and offers the visitor something to see all year round.

There’s a number of trails you can download free-of-charge from the Royal Parks website which will help you to fully engage with the plantation.

WHERE: Isabella Plantation, Richmond Park (pedestrian access to the plantation from Peg’s Pond Gate, Broomfield Hill Gate, Bramble Gate, Deer Sanctuary Gate and High Wood Gate); WHEN: Daily (check Richmond Park opening times); COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/richmond-park/richmond-park-attractions/isabella-plantation.

PICTURES: © Greywolf/The Royal Parks

St-John's-GateHidden Treasures – the national initiative to celebrate the UK’s museum and archive collections – kicks off for its second year next Thursday, 22nd August, and runs over the bank holiday weekend until 27th August. Among the London institutions taking part this year are the British Library, the British Postal Museum and Archive in Houghton, the Museum of the Order of St John in Clerkenwell (pictured) and Orleans House Gallery in Twickenham. Hidden Treasures is an initiative of the Collections Trust and the Independent newspaper. All events are free but some have to be pre-booked and have limited spaces so make sure you check out the details at www.hiddentreasures.org.uk/?page_id=118.

The programme for Open House London – held over the weekend of 21st and 22nd September – will be made available online from today (or alternatively you can order a hard copy via the Open House London website). It’s important to note that a few of the buildings involved can only be entered by those successful in a ballot – they include 10 Downing Street, The View from The Shard, EDF Energy London Eye and Gray’s Inn. Head to the website – www.londonopenhouse.org – to enter the ballots which close on 13th September.

The Isabella Plantation – a 40 acre ornamental woodland garden located in the south west area of Richmond Park – is celebrating 60 years since its creation and they’ve kicked off a fortnight’s programme of free events community to mark the occasion. The events, which will be focused around the yurt by Peg’s Pond in the plantation,  include guided walks, a showcase of art for young people and a Teddy Bears picnic on the bank holiday weekend. One of the most visited parts of Richmond Park, the plantation is home to the Wilson 50 National Collection of Evergreen Azaleas, more than 150 hardy hybrid Rhododendrons, 50 species of Rhododendron and a large collection of camellias and magnolia as well as many rare and unusual trees and shrubs. While the plantation can be dated as far back as 1771 (then named Isabella Slade), it was planted for timber in 1831, and in 1953 the present garden was established and the old name Isabella adopted for it. For more on the events, see www.royalparks.org.uk.

As Muslims mark the end of Ramadan this weekend, the festival of Eid-ul-Fitr will be celebrated in Trafalgar Square on Saturday. As well as the chance to sample foods from across the Islamic world, there will also be entertainment on stage, exhibitions and children’s activities. The festival, put on by the Mayor of London Boris Johnson, runs between 1.30pm and 6pm. For more, see www.london.gov.uk/eid.

On Now: Take One Picture – Discover, Imagine, Explore: Children Inspired by Willem Kalf. This display at the National Gallery focuses on Willem Kalf’s Still Life with Drinking-Horn (about 1653) and features alongside it responsive works created by children from 25 schools across the UK and as far afield as Turkey with works from other schools captured in a slide-show. Located at the Annenberg Court (Getty Entrance), admission is free. Runs until 12th September. For more, see www.nationalgallery.org.uk.

A collection of furniture originally belonging to the 5th Duke of Devonshire and his wife, Georgiana, the Duchess of Devonshire, has been returned to the Palladian masterpiece, Chiswick House, in west London. The furniture – which includes four French fauteuils (open arm chairs) by the leading Parisian chair maker Jean-Baptiste Tilliard, four neo-classical chairs with caned backs and seats and a ladies’ roll-top writing desk – was purchased by English Heritage at an auction in 2010 with the assistance of Art Fund. It had been removed from the house to the family estate in the late 1800s. Extensive conservation work on the furnishings was carried out thanks to the support of The Art Fund, Chiswick House Friends and The Pilgrim Trust prior to their being restored to the house. They are now displayed in the bedchamber while a mahogany pole-screen – designed in about 1730 by William Kent, protégé and collaborator of the house’s first owner and architect, Richard Boyle, 3rd Earl of Burlington – has also been acquired and will be displayed in Lord Burlington’s Blue Velvet Room. Admission charge applies. For more information, see  www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/chiswick-house/ or www.chgt.org.uk.

German miniature picture Bibles are the subject of a new exhibition at The Courtauld Gallery. The third display in the gallery’s Illuminating Objects programme, the display centres on Bibles created by two sisters who belonged to a family of printmakers, Johanna Christina (Or Christiana) and Maria Magdalena Kusel, in Augsburg in the late 17th century. While many of the 17th century ‘thumb’ Bibles were created for children, the Kusel sisters most likely made theirs for private devotion. It is believed this is the first time the two Bibles have gone on public display. Visitors to the Courtauld website are also able to turn the Bible’s pages. Runs until 22nd July. For more, see www.courtauld.ac.uk/gallery/exhibitions/2013/illuminating/bible.

Royal Parks are offering free travel to the newly improved Isabella Plantation – a 40 acre ornamental woodland garden in Richmond Park – this Sunday. The minibus service, which will travel from the traffic lights on Ham Common to the plantation, will be running between 10am and 4pm. The plantation, which features azaleas, rhododendrons, camellias, magnolias, daffodils and bluebells, has recently been the subject of a £1.5 million improvement project funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and BIG Lottery Fund. Improvements have included enhancements to ponds and streams and upgrades to the existing path network. For more, see www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/richmond-park.

A display commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Profumo Affair has opened at the National Portrait Gallery. Scandal ’63: The Fiftieth Anniversary of the Profumo Affair looks in depth at the scandal in which Secretary of State for War John Profumo was found to have had a brief affair with nightclub hostess and model Christine Keeler who happened to also romantically involved with Yevgeny Ivanov, a senior Russian naval attache (rather controversial during the Cold War). The display features a vintage print of one of Lewis Morley’s seated nude portraits of Keeler as well as press images of other key protagonists in the matter including her friends Mandy Rice-Davies and Paula Hamilton-Marshall. Also featured is on-set photographs of Keeler taken to publicise The Keeler Affair, a film which was banned in Britain (and later remade in 1989), images of a now lost work of pop art by Pauline Boty featuring four of the key players (it was titled Scandal ’63), and a pastel of Keeler by Stephen Ward (pictured). Admission is free. Runs until 15th September. For more, see www.npg.org.uk.

Covering almost 1,000 hectares, Richmond Park, located by the Thames in the city’s south-west, is the largest of the Royal Parks. We have talked about some of Richmond Park’s history in an earlier post, but here we’ll give a little more detail.

The park’s association with royalty goes back at least to the time of Edward I, who ruled in the late 13th and early 14th century, when it was part of the Manor of Sheen.

It was King Henry VIII who renamed the manor Richmond (after one he possessed in Yorkshire) but it was King Charles I to whom the park owes its existence as we know it.

Charles, who had brought the court to Richmond in 1625 to escape the plague, enclosed the park – then farmland and pastures – in 1637 with eight miles of walls (these still remain, albeit having been repaired) and kept 2,000 red and fallow deer inside. The move didn’t met with universal approval from his subjects but he did pay compensation and eventually give people a right of way and allow them to collect firewood after complaints.

Features within the park – which still contains 650 Red and fallow deer (don’t get too close!) – include King Henry’s mound which features a protected, although tiny, view of St Paul’s Cathedral in the city 12 miles distant – it’s said by some that it was here where King Henry VIII watched for fireworks to be set off at the Tower of London indicating Anne Boleyn had been beheaded although the truth of that remains lost to history (others say it was here he watched hunting parties in the park – perhaps more likely).

The park is also home to White Lodge – it was a hunting lodge built for King George I and is now The Royal Ballet Lower School (complete with ballet museum) – and Pembroke Lodge – this house with stunning views overlooking the Thames Valley, now a restaurant, was once home to Prime Minister Lord John Russell and later the childhood home of his grandson, Nobel Prize-winning philosopher and mathematician Bertrand Russell.

More recently created is the Isabella Plantation – a woodland garden created largely in the 1950s by George Thomson , then park superintendent, his head gardener, Wally Milleron, an area once known as The Sleyt or Isabella Slade. The garden is well worth a visit at any time of year, having been specifically designed to be interesting all year round.

Richmond Park also features a lake divided in two by a causeway – as so known as Pen Ponds – which was dug in 1746 and remains a good place to see waterbirds.

WHERE: The park is located south of the Thames-side village of Richmond (nearest tube is Richmond). WHEN: 7am in summer (7.30am in winter) to dusk; COST: Free to enter; WEBSITE:www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/richmond_park/