Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Open Garden Square Weekend 2013

A City Walk 

With great pleasure I accepted an invitation to guide a walk for Open Square Garden Weekend under the auspices of the London Parks & Gardens Trust in association with the National Trust.  It is now in its 15th year and a great opportunity to look into those gardens and squares that are not usually open to the public, a person's curiosity is often well rewarded on this occasion.

Bracken House - London in Bloom Awards
The City gardens are surprisingly accessible if only the public knew it  and this weekend was an excellent opportunity to show them some of the hidden green spots that the City workers enjoy during the week.  Some of the parks and gardens are on the map, so to speak, but it was rewarding to discover later that my group’s ‘eyes were opened’ to their hidden charms, unusual connections and depth of history.

I joined Marion Blair on last year’s City Walk and I can tell you she is a hard act to follow.  We all gathered to be allocated our group at the CIC (designed by MAKE Architects). My colleagues chose to go towards the river first but I headed inland.

English: Fountain, Festival Gardens (1951) by ...
English: Fountain, Festival Gardens (1951) by Sir Albert Richardson, St Paul's Churchyard, London. The gardens were laid out as part of the City of London's part in the Festival of Britain. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Carter Lane and the Festival Gardens were the forerunners of the revival of gardens in London Post World War II and a lot of energy was put into their design for the Festival of Britain in 1951, including the first information centre. Many changes have taken place, including the removal of the coach park!

The Friendship Tree, planted in 1966 to commemorate the visit to London by Mahatma Ghandi is the first of many trees and shrubs to celebrate people and events. The latest addition is a model of the Robert Hooke Diversity Bell, cast from Portland stone, the actual bell will be hung over the Isle of Portland to peal when a species becomes extinct,  a murmur  of sadness from all.

On to happier and grander things! St Paul’s Cathedral Garden has full to the treetops with interesting plants, particularly trees and it is difficult to know what to choose.  The wisteria (Chinese & Japanese) was still blooming around the rose garden, so formal after the modern planting outside the iron railings. The gum tree, the formantedendrohn and strawberry tree, many North American varies (for a reason) including the ironwood, limes and giant plane trees, and one lone Douglas fir. Proved a feat to weave history within the branches of all these beauties.  Also when my tongue tripped over the Latin names my knowledgeable but modest group were there to assist.

Christchurch Greyfriars
On to a favourite site for many, Christchurch Greyfriars  and it was glorious in the sunshine (yes, I forgot to mention it was sunny!). A gasp of amazement.  Drift planting in large sections filled with same beautiful perennials, repeated three times. The irises were magnificent; all had survived the extended winter. I think Gertrude Jekyll would be pleased to see that her ideas are still in the forefront of modern gardening. Did you know you should not cut your Box hedge until after Derby Day? This was a little gem presented by one of my group.

On to Postman’s Park, which is of course the best kept secret as secret parks go, is it not? Reference to the three heroes celebrated in this park, one is obvious but the other two are not! 

On to the Goldsmith’s Hall Garden, this is owned and managed by them, but is open to all. It has recently been restored to resemble its 1950 design by Peter Shepheard, no cultivars or variegated plants.  Have you noticed the bird ‘pied a terre’ in the walls?

Goldsmith's Hall Garden
Giant Planes grow in the old graveyard
Sunken garden originally the crypt

Barbican Moat
Barber Surgeon's Garden
Foxglove Tree
We walked into the cold windy ‘tunnel’ created by Terry Farrell’s air rights building and on to the glories of the Barber Surgeons Physic Garden by the Museum of London.  A fascinating place with herbs and plants, some no longer part of the official pharmacopeia, but interesting to note what is still used in modern medicine today e.g. Feverfew for migraines.  I had  recently learnt about the ‘Doctrine of Signatures’ – like cures like. It was once thought if a plant resembled part of the body it would also cure it. E.g. walnut - to help with maladies of the brain.

Then off to take a look at what a Section 106 can achieve at Aldermanbury Square, when a developer must ensure that the areas around a new build provides suitable landscaping and places of leisure at their cost. We did not linger long, a bit of forward guiding required as the drill hammers of the construction to the right were going ‘hammer and tongs’. We moved on quickly to the relative peace and tranquillity of St Mary Aldermanbury.

Sadly what the Blitz left of the church moved to Fulton, Missouri, USA but the footings of its great piers still remain and the garden is a haven to conservation. You will also find a monument to Shakespeare’s trusty friends Heminge and Condell who ensured his works were gathered together for the enjoyment of the world to come.

We then took a walk via the Guildhall Yard, splendid in the sunshine and hosting two weddings it would seem, saris, hats, dress suits and tails, a double decker bus and a vintage car.  A great photo opportunity, I was thanked by the group for going to such lengths to make the walk so interesting!

We passed St Lawrence Jewry’s beautiful pond garden, and yes the ‘big fella’ , the huge carp was basking just below the surface.   On to St Olaf Jewry garden, tucked in between the Mercers Hall in Ironmongers Lane, sporting  the weather vane of a long gone church, St Mildred’s Poultry, but sadly unseen for the density of the trees.

Introduced the group to a small plot that is often overlooked and was derelict up until 2011 when Studioweave   were commissioned to landscape. It is a mysterious and fascinating spot, St Pancras Soper Lane, once again a church since Saxon times, lost in the fire, rebuilt and lost again! To be recreated as a fantastical space with the option of a ‘treasure hunt’ for interesting carvings.

Guild of Carpenters beautifully carved pews
 at St Pancras Soper Lane
We wended our weary way to the final stop in Watling Street and past the Cordwainer statue, to Fidelity Gardens a horticulturists dream, it is full of glowing and gleaming  trees, shrubs and plants, many of which I cannot name, all planted in just 3 feet of soil!  An immaculate lawn, with a shady cool area to the south and a sunny section towards the north, foxgloves and euphorbia abound.  Privately commissioned by Fidelity Corporation for the use of all.

A rousing applause at the end of the walk confirmed a walk well done!  Before we went our separate ways I recommended a visit to the sixth floor of New Change for a look at the view before going on to other gardens.  Guide note:New Change good for loos on the ground and first floor.

This walk can be booked through http://footprintsoflondon.com/ or contact me direct at missbtakesawalk@gmail.com

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  1. What an excellent walk and beautifully described. I bet your visitors could hardly believe they had just walked across one of the world's premier cities rather than taken a gentle stroll in the English countryside.

  2. For another view of the OGSW see entry Monday 10th June by http://diamondgeezer.blogspot.co.uk/