Part of my European adventure this October was visiting London, England. While I did manage to get into the London city-center, I spent most of my time exploring the city’s different parks, gardens, and wooded areas. I managed to visit many beautiful gardens and parks that were awe-inspiring. Here are 3 of my favorites:
Bushy Park is the quintessential English country side in the middle of the London borough Richmond upon Thames. This park covers 1,100 acres, includes walking paths through open, grassy expanses as well as through wooded areas outlined by the Longford River. It became a Royal Park in 1529, and contains the “remains of medieval farmland, a Tudor deer park, 17th century water gardens and wartime camps.” It is also the home of the Arethusa ‘Diana‘ Fountain in the middle of Chestnut Avenue.
According to the Bushy Park website, it “is the second largest Royal Park in London,” and is home to red and fallow deer as well as many other mammals such as hedgehogs, squirrels, water voles, and about seven different species of bats. For me seeing the deer was one of the most remarkable experiences because it was difficult to reconcile the sheer size of these animals with the fact I was in the middle of a bustling city. In the grasslands there are an estimated 320 deer that live and graze. According to the website, the deer’s grazing is essential in ensuring biodiversity because it “does not damage the anthills” and because it gives the grasslands more “character.”
Bushy Park’s landscaping is entirely whimsical and being in the park is much like walking through a wooded area deep in the country side. There are plenty of people walking dogs and taking family pictures, but I did not hear or see a car the entire time I was there (aside from where Diana is at the junction of Chestnut and Lime Avenues). This feeling of seclusion is in part because of the park’s history as a royal hunting ground where the royals of Hampton Court Palace would hunt game and retrieve their water from the Longford River, which was created by Charles I in 1610.
If you’re looking for a place that is not only tranquil, but also historical, I strongly recommend coming for a walk around Bushy Park. Aside from being one with nature, there are plenty of events and things to see around Bushy Park, so you can definitely make a full day or 2 of it. Not to mention that this park is also conveniently located just north of Hampton Court Palace, so you can tour the park and the castle!
Hampton Court Palace
Being in London is a wonderful experience for gardeners as it is a prime place to see gardening through the ages. One of those especially historic places is Hampton Court Palace. This palace was first built in 1256 and was used as a grange, or as an agricultural estate, until the late 14th century when it first became a residence.
Hampton Court Palace was made truly regal in the 16th century by Thomas Wolsey and the Tudors, specifically Henry VIII. The palace’s grounds encompasses Bushy Park, which in Henry the VIII’s time was a deer park and hunting ground. In addition to a deer park the palace is home to 13 gardens that you can explore. According to the website, the gardens cover 66 acres while the entire estate covers 750 acres. Of the 13, I managed to explore 4: Home Park, The Great Fountain Garden, The Dahlia Garden, and a secluded, unnamed garden amid the garden passageways.
When I first entered Hampton Court, I came in through Home Park which connects Hampton Court Palace and Bushy Park. It is a mostly open grassland with copses of trees throughout, which can transition you to many parts of the palace including The Great Fountain Garden and the Maze. This year’s fall was particularly mild, so the grounds were a blend of fall and spring. I got to see a beautiful mix of yellow, red, and orange foliage and confused, bright fuchsia crocuses popping up through fallen leaves as I walked through Home Park to the Fountain Garden.
The Great Fountain Garden was truly stunning in its clean, immaculate design. Believe it or not, this garden was established for William III and Mary II in the 17th century. Originally there were 13 fountains, but today only 1 remains. The trees that decorate the garden are yew trees and were planted by Queen Anne in the 18th century. They appear to be gigantic topiaries, but are magical nonetheless. The Great Fountain Garden is bordered by shrubs and this border is the longest “herbaceous border” in the world.
As you approach the the palace from The Great Fountain Garden, there are gardens that outline the palace walls, which are filled with dahlias. I was stricken by the size of the plants and their color. The palace walls are lined by the Dahlia Garden which had flowers of all colors– red, yellow, pinks, and peaches. The bloom sizes were as varied as the colors ranging from the size of a dinner plate with stalks like small tree trunks to smaller, more modest flowers. There were also camellias, asters, butterfly bushes, and decorative grasses. Walking through these dahlia gardens was truly inspiring. While I was able to grow 2 dinner plate dahlias in my patio garden this year, I can only hope to one day grow dahlias as beautiful and plentiful as these.
Dahlias originally came from Mexico and have since their discovery and importation into the New World has been used in English flower gardens including the ones at Hampton Court. If you’re interested in dahlias and their relationship to English gardening, the Royal Horticultural Society is hosting the Hampton Court Flower Show from July 5 through 10 this year. You can purchase your tickets here. If these pictures of dahlias at the palace don’t get you pumped, you can explore the National Dahlia Collection to get yourself even more excited about the different varieties and how you can grow these magnificent flowers at home.
Only half the fun of going to the palace is exploring the grounds. The other half if exploring and learning about the history of the palace itself. During my self-guided tour, I came across the palace gardens tucked away amongst the many passages and corridors which was a real treat. The borders are painted in the traditional green and white chevrons of Tudor livery. Planted here are not only herbs, but also “fragrant, symbolic flowers” such as the white rose of York and the red rose of Lancaster. Unfortunately when I visited these plants were not in bloom, but the greenery was beautiful nonetheless.
The expansiveness of this palace and its grounds is far too much to explore in a few hours or even a day, especially for avid gardeners and history buffs. If you’d like to plan a visit, you can explore their website. For my next visit, I plan on visiting The Wilderness during March to see the daffodils; The Great Vine, which is a grape wine that was planted in 1768; and The Kitchen Garden, which is a replica of an 18th century kitchen garden; and The Lower Orangery and Terrace, which was Mary II’s exotic and rare plant garden that includes lemons, oranges, and cacti.
My most favorite place in all of London, and really in all of my traveling, was Kew Gardens. It is one of the most fantastic, enchanting places I have ever had the pleasure to visit despite the drizzle and mild cold. More than anything, I wish I had planned more time to explore every inch of it. Of the things and gardens I saw, these are the 4 places I loved the most.
The Princess of Wales Conservatory
I began my journey in Kew Gardens at the Elizabeth Gate on the east side of the garden where I walked to the Princess of Waled Conservatory. The green houses that make up the conservatory recreate 10 climate zones. The conservatory was “commissioned in 1982,” and was “named after Princess Augusta who was instrumental in founding the botanic gardens at Kew.” The garden was then opened in 1987 by Princess Diana of Wales. The conservatory is remarkable not only in the number of climates that are sustained here, but also in its complexity. It is the most complex conservatory in Kew as it contains 10 computer controlled climate zones.
As you walk into the garden, you are immediately greeted by the first climate zone: the “dry tropics.” This section of the garden was my absolute favorite! Echiums, silver agaves, yellow spiked barrel cacti, rock-like lithops, opuntia, yucca trees, baobabs, Madagascar palms… It was truly a sight and treasure to behold. It was amazing to see the variety of plants with succulents, cacti, and trees from central and south America, the Canary Islands, and South Africa. The second area of the conservatory that impressed me was the tropical climate zone. There was a plethora of air plants including tillandsia, bromeliads, and orchids. In this part of the garden there were also cycads, palms, and a large aquaria that contained a giant waterlily Euryale ferox that you can view from above and below. One of the most interesting things about this conservatory is that there is a “time capsule” containing seed of food crops and endangered plant species that Sir David Attenborough buried there in 1985. If you’re planning on attending the exhumation, it’s slated for 2085.
The Waterlily House
According to the website, this waterlily conservatory is 36 feet in diameter and was completed in 1852 “specifically to showcase the giant Amazon waterlily (now called Victoria amazonica), first encountered by European botanists in [Bolivia] at the beginning of the 19th century.” Today, it still houses waterlilies and lotus plants, as well as ferns and tropical climbers, but it is no longer home to Victoria amazonica. It is the “hottest and most humid environment” found at Kew, and I can surely attest that my glasses immediately fogged the second I walked through the door and remained fogged throughout the entirety of my experience. The heat and humidity were a blessed relief coming from a rainy and cool outside, but I can’t imagine spending too much time here in the summer.
The Rose Garden
In 1845 the Rose Garden was designed by William Andrews Nesfield and was included in his plan for the Palm House. Nesfield originally created intricate walkways marked by roses and evergreens. The remnants of the original rose beds and gardens no longer exist with the exception of the sunken areas behind the Palm house. The holly hedge is the only original plant remaining. Interestingly enough Nesfield’s garden”was converted to a rose garden and planted with 6,000 roses in 113 beds in 1923.” The Rose Garden I saw was a replanting that celebrated its 250th anniversary. This replanting was inspired by Nesfield’s original designs.
While I came to the Rose Garden too late to enjoy the full splendor and affect of the roses, seeing a mixture of life and decay was uniquely beautiful. Pictured to the right is a section of the garden behind the Palm House. As you can see the roses are in various states of decay, which include rose hips in red at the bottom most section. According to my cousin, during WWII Britain used rose hips in place of citrus fruits for vitamin C. Apparently, Kew identified the English and Scottish roses that had rose hips richest in vitamin C to help in the war effort.
The Palm House
The Palm House is one of the most beautiful Victorian structures at Kew that was considered a “pioneering project” because it used wrought iron and glass to span large breadths without supporting columns. In all, the Palm House contains “16,000 panes of glass.” Not to mention that it also contained a heating system that was originally sustained by basement boilers that carried heat through water pipes beneath the iron grates running the expanse of the greenhouse. There was also a tunnel that ran between the Palm House and a smoke stack that allowed sooty fumes to be released from the chimney and coal to be brought to the boilers. According to Kew, “Today, the glasshouse is heated using gas, and the tunnel houses the Palm House Keeper’s office” instead soot and coal.
The Palm House is home to many palms and cycads as well as to many tropical plants that are not only medicinal but also culinary such as Mexican yam and cacao plants. The most interesting and the COOLEST part of my entire experience was visiting a cycad that is the oldest potted plant in the world. It was first uprooted from South Africa in 1773 and made it to Kew in 1775. This cycad has since lived through the French Revolution, the invention of locomotives and cars, both world wars, Armstrong walking on the moon, and the invention of the iPhone. It was one of the first plants to be moved to the Palm House in 1848, and it has remained there ever since. What I find completely remarkable is that cycads have a lifespan of 2500 years, and this plant may yet outlive many more generations and amazing world events. This plant is truly a must see!
Have you visited the Bushy Park, Hampton Court, or Kew Gardens? Are you planning a trip to visit London? Is there a part of my experience you would like to know more about? Leave a comment below or feel free to contact The Garden Generalist.
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