As temperatures drop to freezing here, I am already nostalgic about a recent September trip to London and a few of its local gardens. The British climate, more temperate in every season than ours, cooperated with full autumn displays which did not disappoint. Traveling in high garden season (May/June) is not possible due to work schedules here, but London never disappoints, especially if you’re into gardening.
The Brits have an overall cultural obsession with horticulture, which, of course, I share. Love of plants cuts across all social lines: economic, age and race. Flowers are everywhere: prolific displays at every corner pub are standard fare, and this visit also found them on bicycles, shop carts, soaps and buildings. If seeing flowers is what makes you happy, then London is an excellent place to go. And that’s not including the countryside which touches on a whole other level of brilliance.
Visits to Wisley, Chelsea Physic Garden and Kew Garden were blessed by cooperative weather and showy displays of seasonal plantings. Asters, daisies, grasses, salvias and tropicals were peaking, plus it’s always a treat to see plants that we long to grow here but cannot: passion flower and Italian cypress!
A favorite stop, The Chelsea Gardener, is a retail shop off of Kings Road that stocks an extensive mix of plants, furnishings and garden ornaments. You can wander around displays both inside and outside to admire gorgeous tables of beautifully merchandised potted plants and accessories. I would love to see something similar in New York area but I dream…..
Our favorite day was a trip was to Hackney, a working class section of London where we attended the Sunday flower market. In a claustrophobic, narrow street of buyers and sellers, we delighted in seeing packed displays of flowers, accompanied by lively Cockney vendors barking special offers on their wares. Unforgettable.
On a less positive note, depending on your point of view, the amount of new construction happening in London is discouraging. New tall buildings are rising everywhere on the horizon. It was not uncommon to see 4, 5 or 6 cranes working on different structures in one small area. Old London is fast disappearing, so, as with Venice, you’d best arrange to see it sooner rather than later. (These words, sadly written prior to the recent flooding.)
PS When in England I love noting the business names that combine two words like ‘Bull & Bear’ or something very typically Colonial sounding. The same trend seems to be arriving here with many recent restaurant names, but it’s almost a game in the UK between which is the cleverest! Some notables from this trip: Stoned & Plastered (sculpture), Black & Blue (stationery and pens), Love & Scandal (lingerie), Clarinet & Flute, Pearl & Feather…and my all-time absolute favorite: Slug & Lettuce – for a restaurant. Now that’s a sense of humor! And the British have plenty of that to go around.
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