If you’re feeling glum because the days are shortening, the temperatures are falling and everything is dying back, take yourself to the Inner Temple Garden without further ado. The High Border is still a riot of colour, and for a few glorious moments you can kid yourself that it’s still late summer.
The border contains many of the plants you’d expect in a late-season garden – grasses, dahlias, rudbeckias, asters, cosmos etc – but head gardener Andrea Brunsendorf puts them together in an original and adventurous way. She chooses varieties for their form, flower shape and colour, and thinks carefully about how they might complement other plants; the centre of one flower might complement the petals of another, for example. And she isn’t afraid to mix colours in combinations that more traditional gardeners would shy away from: orange, pink and red sit happily next to each other in the form of Tithonia rotundifolia ‘Torch’, Dahlia coccinea ‘Mary Keen’ and a red rose (above), as do red roses, magenta dahlias, blue salvias, purple aconitums and yellow rudbeckias (below).
The border also looked pretty amazing when I visited the garden in May. At that time it was filled with alliums, aquilegias and oodles of tulips; oriental poppies then carried it through until June. Andrea admits that the border has a ‘June hole’ when she lifts the tulips and replaces some early flowerers with the tender late season plants such as dahlias. But for a border that powers on until the first frosts (which can be as late as December in central London), that’s a very small price to pay.
By some standards this garden is a bit ramshackle and could do with a good leaf clearing session. But its location makes it stand out – it sits amid blocks of flats, offices and warehouses near Waterloo. Apparently it was unused, derelict land for ages until some locals reclaimed it a few years back and started gardening there.
I’ve never much cared for chrysanthemums but these were positively glowing in the near dark of a November afternoon. And the dahlias were still going strong, as yet untouched by frost in central London.
I think this is what’s known as a ‘riot of colour’.
I once glimpsed an elderly gentleman in the doorway of this unusual house on a busy main road (Lordship Lane), so I presume this garden is his handiwork. It has some spectacular displays in the summer and autumn – mostly dahlias, with some roses, sunflowers and morning glories thrown in. This year there are lots of nerines, too. When the show’s over everything is cut down/dug up – so much so that in the winter months you could walk past it and forget it’s there. Then in spring, the garden consists almost entirely of wallflowers. Look closely and you’ll see that they’re already in place among all the late bloomers.
It’s a bit of an unconventional way of gardening by today’s standards – most of us are going for year-round interest, structure etc etc (not to mention a parking space) – but there’s no denying that it’s pretty special in its own way.
Church plant sales aren’t uncommon but I’ve never seen one in London before, especially in a location as grand as the St Pancras Parish Church. There were all kinds of plants on sale – roses, African violets, dahlias etc – and the man selling them told me that the money goes towards planting the church garden.
I was charged a rather steep £7 for a houseplant for my desk, but we’ll gloss over that as it’s for a good cause.