WP_20150621_11_23_49_ProWe were staying with our daughter and her boyfriend in London. It was Fathers’ Day and a special day out was planned, incorporating a trip to Holland Park, a quick visit to St. John’s Wood Church Gardens (where we discovered the grave of John Sell Cotman, a well-known watercolourist of the Norwich School and a favourite artist of mine) and a vintage car event nearby. The weather was kind and the day was brilliant.

I really enjoyed Holland Park, which Wikipedia describes:

‘Holland Park is about 22 hectares (54 acres) in area and is considered one of the most romantic and peaceful parks of West London. The northern half or so of the park is semi-wild woodland, the central section around the ruins of Holland House is more formal with several garden areas, and the southernmost section is used for sport.

Holland House is now a fragmentary ruin, having been devastated by incendiary bombing in 1940, but the ruins and the grounds were bought by London County Council in 1952 from the last private owner, the 6th Earl of Ilchester. Today the remains of the house form a backdrop for the open air Holland Park Theatre, which is the home of  opera Holland Park. The green-roofed commonwealth Institute lies to the south.

The park contains a cafe as well as the Belvedere Restaurant that is attached to the orangery, a giant chess set, a cricket pitch, tennis courts, two Japanese gardens – the Kyoto Garden (1991) and the Fukushima Memorial garden (2012), a youth hostel, one of London’s best equipped children’s playgrounds, squirrels and (impressively for a London park) peacocks. In 2010, the park set aside a section for pigs whose job was to reclaim the area from nettles etc., in order to create another meadow area for wild flowers and fauna. Cattle were used subsequently to similar good effect.

The new Holland Park Ecology Centre (2013), operated by the borough’s Ecology Service, offers environmental education programs including nature walks, talks, programs for schools and outdoor activity programs for children.’

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I loved the scale and variety of the park which is broken up into separate gardens and spaces, each with its own character, and including a range of formal, semi formal and wild areas.

There is a delightful series of mural paintings on a wall beside a covered  walkway, which captures the park in earlier days.

I especially enjoyed the Japanese gardens, which use a range of typical design features to great effect in a relatively small space; tumbling water cascades, clipped evergreens, Acers, rocks etc. I think I will try to use some of these in my own pond project here at Old School Garden; e.g the clever use of interlaced thick bamboo poles to form a semi permeable screen. However, it did seem rather open and lacking the sorts of intimate, small spaces associated with ‘quiet contemplation’. Maybe this is down to the relative youth of the gardens- we can expect some of the trees and other planting to fill out with time. It might also be a conscious design feature, bowing to the inevitable demands on such a space in a public park; the many feet and bodies that undoubtedly pass through it.

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This Park is obviously well-loved and well looked after, a true community resource and one which serves an area much larger than its immediate posh neighbourhood in Kensington and Chelsea. Well worth a visit if you can.

Old School Gardener

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