Great Gardens of London

Great Gardens of London gives an insight into a selection of the horticultural jewels of the capital city of what is probably the greatest gardening country of the world. England is a treasure store of wonderful gardens and it comes as no surprise that the capital city, London, is home to a significant and most beautiful selection of these. Victoria Summerley’s text is wonderful informative, insightful and, quite simply, a delight to read while the photography from Marianne Majerus and Hugo Rittson Thomas compliments and illustrates the text fabulously and beautifully – a perfect combination.

It is unfortunate that most of the gardens featured in this book are not open to the public or are open on a very limited basis, perhaps on one day each year only. However, in a sense, this makes the book all the more interesting as we are granted a view into gardens we almost certainly would not otherwise see.

The statue of Sir Hans Sloane in the Chelsea Physic Garden commemorates the Royal Physician who in 1722 leased the physic garden to the Society of Apothecaries for £5 a year in perpetuity.
The Old English Garden in Battersea Park, with Centranthus ruber ‘Albus’, Lilium regale, salvias and cranebills, designed by Sarah Price.

Given the status of the city it is not surprising that locations associated with the seats of power would feature – 10 Downing Street, the garden of the American Ambassador and Eltham Palace where Henry VIII grew up, for example. Along with these there are other garden groupings: Wild in the City, Gardener’s World, High-Rise Retreats and Private Paradises. It is an eclectic, representative and interesting selection and makes for a very interesting and engaging read.

An excellent example of the wide range of garden types included in the book: Downing Road Floating Gardens, Bermondsey. The gardens are created on seven barges at Tower Bridge Moorings. The barges are planted on top and are occupied below. In this view Verbena bonariensis contrasts beautifully with Robinia.
Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, Stratford, a garden of 227 hectares/560 acres. This view shows one of the iconic pictorial meadows

There is something about books such as Great Gardens of London, books which describe multiple gardens briefly, which causes me to read slowly, to gaze at length at the photographs, to mull over the text almost contemplatively, to put the book down frequently, to think, to reflect and to consider for, thought the descriptions are cryptic and the photographs just the barest necessary selection, the content demands a slow perusal and a deep contemplation. This is a distillation of a city’s gardens, an essence of its horticultural beauty; we are metaphorically drinking a liqueur rather than an ale and it is to be savoured, not gulped, not rushed.

A thoroughly modern garden design – contemporary chic! Designed by Christopher Bradley-Hole.
Of course, we would expect to see roof gardens included in a book on London gardens but this is truly high society: Kensington Roof Gardens which are two and a half acres in extent! This view shows The Spanish Garden and was the inspiration for a show garden at the Chelsea Flower Show in 2014.

Here there is history and layers of personalities and cultures and these stories behind the gardens enrich them and our understanding and enjoyment of them so very much.

[Great Gardens of London, Victoria Summerley with photographs by Marianne Majerus and Hugo Rittson Thomas, White Lion (an imprint of the Quarto Group), London, 2019, Hardback, 208 pages, £20, ISBN: 978-0-7112-4409-2]