Oct 012011

Regents Park

Yesterday evening I walked through Regents Park. It was busier than I’ve seen it all year, full of people enjoying the summer we never had. They were quaffing wine, having picnics, playing football and eating ice cream, seemingly oblivious to the fact that in less than an hour it would be completely dark.

I find this time of year a bit difficult. I love summer, and wouldn’t mind autumn either were it not for the fact that it’s followed by winter. We often get some late lovely weather, as we are this year, but there’s no getting away from the fact that the show’s almost over. And yet lots of plants, like the people in the park, seem oblivious to the fact that soon they’ll be nipped by a nasty frost or plunged into darkness, and are still innocently flowering their socks off.

But enough of this doom and gloom. This weekend, I’m going to ignore the fact that it’s October. Apparently there are ripe raspberries and strawberries at my allotment and the forecast is 28 degrees. So I’m going to don my sunnies and flip flops, pretend it’s July and forget all about the predictions of snow at the end of the month.

Sep 222011

People may be tapping on their smartphones throughout it but the Jardin du Luxembourg is very traditional with boules, a carousel and old fashioned swings.

I’d never noticed these traditional beehives before, or the orchard (below), originally tended by monks from the Chartreux monastery. It’s home to over 600 varieties of apples and pears, many very old, all trained as cordons, espaliers, U shapes and pyramids. It aims to show the public just how many varieties can be grown in France. Some of fruits were shrouded in paper bags – to keep them unblemished, maybe?

One pear tree even had its own obituary. A ‘Louise Bonne D’Avranches’ died at the age of 111 in 1978.

Sep 202011


There’s a TV ad in France at the moment which shows everything you can do with an iPhone – do your shopping, check cinema times etc. It ends with: ‘But if you don’t have an iPhone… well, you don’t have an iPhone.’ I can’t remember if we had the same ad in the UK.

On a beautiful autumn day in the Jardin du Luxembourg, some people were busy tapping away at their smartphones or talking on them. Others were snoozing or reading books and newspapers. I’d say the split was about 50:50.

Esther and I had gone for the low-tech option of a snooze in the low, olive green chairs (sitting on the grass is mostly interdit in France). Neither of us have smartphones. Esther reckons she definitely doesn’t want one and I’m wavering. I know it would probably be handy but all that endless tapping and stroking looks a bit tedious to me, and I feel like I’ve got information overload anyway.

As the sun went down, we decided it might be nice to go to the cinema that evening. But of course, in the middle of the park, we didn’t have a clue what was on. But if you don’t have an iPhone, well, you don’t have an iPhone…

Sep 152011


I went to Stratfield today – not to go to Westfield with the masses, but to the Olympic site. I donned a hard hat and hi-vis jacket and was shown around by Nigel Dunnett, who is playing a key role in the planting there.

The planting at the park is not an afterthought – it’s integral to it. In fact, you could say the Olympic Park is an urban park with some buildings in it. After the Games (or ‘Games’ as they’re known to those in the know – without the ‘the’), many of the temporary buildings will disappear, but the park will remain.

Nigel is part of an expert team that really knows what it’s doing and is united in its aim to create something truly groundbreaking. It’s taking controlled risks, calmly experimenting with plant mixes and sowing times, its eye on the 2012 deadline all the while.

This is a modern park that most British people won’t have seen the like of before. There are no rose beds or garish annuals but wet woodland, swathes of annual and perennial meadows and native plants and trees. The highly designed yet naturalistic-looking borders combine familiar and less familar plants in unusual ways – a modern take on the traditional herbaceous border. The site has its own bespoke soils and sophisticated drainage and irrigation systems, and ticks every biodiversity box. Wildlife is already moving in.

The sheer scale of the planting means that it’s pretty showstopping – especially the River of Gold, a long corridor planted with an annual meadow mix of coreopsis, californian poppy, annual chrysanthemum and cornflowers. But it’s not showy or brash and doesn’t feel like a theme park. The plants, even those from far-flung parts of the world, look very much at home.

The design team hopes that the Olympic site will change our view of the urban park forever. It might also change the way we garden, too.

Jul 292011

Regent's Park

My lack of a sense of direction is legendary but I excelled myself the other day – I walked all the way around the Inner Circle of Regent’s Park, trying to find a route out, and ended up exactly where I started. And then I had to retrace my steps halfway round all over again, by which point it was almost dark.

So I happened to walk past this garden not once but twice. It’s in front of a building called The Studio. I just googled it and it seems to be home to a company that does ‘event architecture’, whatever that is. I think the planting must have been done to complement the orange door and the orange Smart car on the drive. I rather liked the mix of the dark foliage, orange marigolds and heleniums and towering fennels.

I took a pic, finally got out of the park just as dusk fell and then got lost again, this time around the back of Lords Cricket Ground. Hopeless.

Jun 272011

Hyde Park

I had half an hour to kill before I met a friend the other day, so I thought I’d take a turn around the gardens at Hyde Park. The tube station was heaving and I fancied escaping to some peace and quiet and some greenery.

It all turned out to be a bit, well… weird. The first thing I saw when I walked into the rose garden was a sign saying ‘This area is controlled by police to protect your valuables’, or something like that. I’ve never seen that in a London park before, and it struck me as a bit ominous.

Then a lone man said ‘hello’ to me. Now if you don’t live in London you may consider that to be a friendly gesture, but most Londoners would immediately assume that the person is a creep or a nutter (in this case I think it was the former). The only other person around was a bloke wearing a hoodie, lying on a bench, smoking a joint and reading a book. Weirder and weirder.

Anyway, I went for a wander, hoping to find a nice seat and some plants to look at. I love this part of Hyde Park because it looks like a country garden, with big, blowsy borders.

And then I heard the pounding bass.

The reason the tube was so crowded and the garden so empty was that the rock festival, Hard Rock Calling, was taking place a few hundred metres away. I think I was hearing the Killers, but I can’t be sure as the tune had been lost by the time it reached me.

Anyway, I can confirm that it’s impossible to sit in a beautiful garden on a summer’s evening, in the midst of abundant borders, delicious scents wafting on the air… and not be irritated by a pounding bass. Just as it’s impossible to sit in your own garden and not be distracted the sound of a neighbour powering up a large electric garden gadget.

So I took this photo and left!

Apr 162011

Regent's Park

Since I swapped an overpriced and overcrowded commute for a walk through Regent’s Park every morning, my life has improved no end. Not only do I finally ‘get’ dogs – all enjoying the best part of their day and getting up to all sorts behind their owners’ backs – but I can see the seasons gradually evolve. At this time of year everything is happening so fast that I keep spotting things I’ve never noticed before.

Like this border – how could I have missed it until now? It’s a mix of dark-leaved phormiums, pink wallflowers, dark red tulips and wine-coloured heucheras – a contemporary take on the traditional tulip/wallflower combo.

I’m not a huge fan of bedding, but there are lots of combinations in the park at the moment that are really original. I get the impression that the planting is becoming more sustainable – mixing shrubs such as phormiums and tiny, acid green euonymus into the schemes. I’d love to meet the person responsible for coming up with the ideas.

Mar 162011


I love Paris, of course, but there’s one thing about it that I don’t get: you’re rarely allowed to sit on the grass in a park. A few summers ago my French friend Esther and I tried to sneak in a rest under a tree in the Jardin Albert Kahn. We were moved on within minutes by a scary lady with a whistle and a loud hailer.

The grass in the park beyond the gate (above) wasn’t exactly bowling green standard but nonetheless the sign says that the lawn is ‘having a rest’, and that the quality of the grass is ‘everyone’s responsibility’.

Maybe it was just a temporary sign, but Esther confirms that she can rarely find anywhere to sprawl and read a book or sunbathe in summer and she finds it frustrating – especially as she spent many years in London, where you can lounge pretty much anywhere. Maybe the reason why Paris empties in August is because the population is desperate for an alfresco lie- down.