La Promenade du Paillon, Nice

When I was a language student in the early Nineties, I lived in Nice for a year and worked as an ‘assistante’ in a secondary school. I drank a lot of café au lait and cheap rosé, learned how to eat better food and live well, and marvelled that I was living in a place that was almost permanently sunny.

I haven’t been back for many years, and I wondered how the place might have changed. The answer, to my surprise, was: not that much. It’s like the Nice I remember, but better. The population seems younger and more cosmopolitan (it was mostly old ladies in fur coats when I was there), and the dog of choice is no longer the poodle but the pug. The skateboards on the Promenade des Anglais have been replaced by Segways, restaurant menus are in Russian, and they’ve gone in for sushi and organic food in a big way. But the sea is still as blue and sparkling as ever, and the Old Town is still vibrant. The ubiquitous dog poo that blighted every street has long gone, the buses are fast, frequent and ridiculously cheap, and there’s a snazzy new tram system that’s still expanding.

There was one major addition, on the site of the old bus station and a multi-storey car park: La Promenade du Paillon. This new 1.2km ‘coulee verte’ (green corridor) opened in 2013. It was designed by the landscape architect Michel Pena, and cost 40 million euro. That’s a hell of a lot of money, but I’d say it was worth every euro.


The park stands on the course of the river Paillon, which still trickles beneath. Everything has a subtle watery theme, from the water jets to the giant wooden sea animal sculptures for children to play on. It is home to 1,600 trees, 6,000 shrubs and 50,000 plants.


The planting is planted in waves, in a contemporary prairie style, and themed by areas of the world. There is very little bedding – something that’s echoed in the rest of the town. The planting is much more sustainable these days, and no pesticides are used, either.


Interestingly, there is no cafe – a British park would definitely have one – but in a town that is brimming with them, I guess it doesn’t need it. We didn’t see a scrap of litter, and there are lots of park guardians, sadly lacking these days in Britain. Apparently it’s forbidden to sit on the grass (common in French parks) but we saw plenty of people doing it.


Nice doesn’t have much in the way of parks, despite having a very green feel – there is planting everywhere, and lots of trees. It’s something I didn’t notice that when I lived there – life is lived outside, on pavement cafes, and at the beach and promenade. But what is abundantly clear is that this park was needed. Locals and tourists sit on the many benches, watching the world go by, couples take an evening stroll, kids play in the play areas, and teenagers snog. If you wanted to create the perfect public space, it would be hard to do better than this.



Imperial Gardens

Miscanthus sinensis 'Kleine Silberspinne'

I work in Cheltenham a couple of days a week, and the last leg of my long journey takes me through a park called Imperial Gardens. I love walking through it, and often have the place to myself. It’s laid out in the traditional Victorian style, with thousands of bedding plants, and always looks always immaculate. Come the evening, when I do my journey in reverse, the park is full, with groups of people lounging on the grass.

The planting around the statue of Gustav Holst is a complete contrast to the bedding displays – it’s mostly grasses, predominantly (I think) Miscanthus sinensis ‘Kleine Silberspinne’, with some Stipa tenuissima in there too. They’ve been steadily getting better and better since early summer, and are really coming in to their own now.

The park is currently one of the venues of the Cheltenham Literature Festival, and much of it is covered by festival marquees. I don’t think the lawns will look quite as immaculate when the festival has finished.

Winter grasses

Radstock, Somerset

I first passed this garden in Radstock in late summer. It’s bold planting for a public space, stuffed with grasses and late-season perennials. I passed it again a few weeks ago and the grasses were at their winter best.

I’d love to know more about this garden – who designed it? Does anyone know?

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Summer solstice

It hasn’t really felt like summer yet, but this meadow proves that it’s here.

You would be forgiven for thinking that I’ve been tripping through the countryside, communing with nature and celebrating the solstice.

Actually, we went to St James’s Park after work to catch a few rays and make the most of the light. This pic was taken a stone’s throw away from the Houses of Parliament.

Regents Park

Regents Park

I walk through Regents Park several times a week but I never get bored of it – the planting schemes change quickly and it’s big enough for there to always be something new to discover. I’d never seen this area before – it’s up near the theatre. It looked stunning in some rare late evening sun last week.

Yes, sun! Remember that?

Keep smiling

Regents Park

After some pretty wild weather last week, Friday dawned bright and calm and felt positively spring-like. I saw some marigolds on my way to work, followed by a camellia in flower, and then a daffodil. Summer followed by spring in the space of a few footsteps.

At lunchtime I went to Regent’s Park to see what was happening there. Half the beds in the Rose Garden had been cut right back, but the rest of them were flowering their socks off. This article in the Telegraph implies that roses have come into bloom early this year as they’re confused by the weather, but I’d assumed they just hadn’t stopped since last summer.

It’s quite an odd sensation to sniff a rose in January, but you’ve got to get your kicks where you can at this time of year. This was the very aptly named ‘Keep Smiling’.

Back in time

The City

In case you were thinking I took this pic a couple of months ago and am sneaking it in now, I can assure you that it was taken on the grey and chilly day that was 11 November. I nearly did a double take when I saw it, because a) it’s such an incongruous sight amid office blocks and roaring traffic and b) it seems like autumn never happened. Hardy geraniums, gauras, day lilies and clematis were still flowering their socks off.

It’s called the Christchurch Greyfriars Garden and covers a burial ground on the the site of a church designed by Christopher Wren. Its design matches the layout of the nave: the box-edged beds reflect the original positions of the pews and the clematis- and rose-covered obelisks represent the pillars. It looks romantic, wild and a bit abandoned, and not at all the kind of public space that you generally see in London.

I walked past quite early in the morning, and a girl in last night’s party clothes, looking rather worse for wear, was tidying herself up on a bench – combing her hair, putting on makeup etc.

A few minutes later, I saw her sitting in the reception of the building I was  also waiting in. She looked perfectly demure and was discreetly sipping a can of Red Bull.



I do like a bit of serendipity. No sooner had I read about Vegmead, a community veg garden in the middle of a park in Bath, than I walked straight past it. A former flowerbed, it was created by a group of volunteers as part of the Transition Bath movement in Hedgemead Park. It was planted in six days – you can watch a lovely video about its creation here. I’m not sure who gets to eat the crops…

Meanwhile Bath has won a silver gilt in the Britain in Bloom Awards. Bath in Bloom gave support to the Vegmead project, which shows that the competition isn’t all about immaculate flowerbeds like the one below. Apparently the Britain in Bloom judges saw much more veg displays around the country this year – I bet we’ll be seeing more of them in the future.


Bath Botanic Garden


I lived in Bath for three years when I was a student, and never knew it had a Botanic Garden. I wasn’t interested in gardening then – at the time the University offered a BSc in Horticulture and I used to think that all the glasshouses looked a bit boring. Mind you, I thought the boffins in labs tapping away at something called the ‘World Wide Web’ looked a bit boring, too. Thank heavens I didn’t embark on a career as a trend forecaster.

Anyway, I’m not a huge fan of botanic gardens as I’m not that interested in plant collections as such – more how plants are put together. But Bath Botanic Garden was set up (over 100 years ago) with the aim of being an attractive garden with botanical interest, rather than a garden that is purely of botanical interest. So it has an interesting layout and lots of nice features such as a scented walk and some surprisingly contemporary herbaceous borders.

Apparently it looks its best in spring but it was looking pretty good at dusk on an October day. The borders were still looking good and there was lots of autumn colour, berries and grasses, plus some amazing scents from the likes of a huge Abelia x grandiflora.