Sunday in the Park – Part Two

Victoria here, continuing with a report on our Sunday, June 13, as we tried to get to as many open square gardens as we could.  We made a small detour on our trek from Markham Square to the next garden on our agenda in Belgravia. While we were walking up King’s Road in Chelsea, we came across a Jo Malone shop. Kristine is a devotee of their products and I had my introduction, so we had a brief shopping opportunity sandwiched among our gardens. I was amused by their shades with similar arrangements to their windows.

Properly lotioned and perfumed, we walked on to Eaton Square, that fabled location of Upstairs, Downstairs, exteriors filmed at 65 Eaton Place, appearing as 165 Eaton Place (which does not exist). The houses of Belgravia are beautiful, and almost entirely of this same or similar design of white stucco with balconies outside the principle floor.  The neighborhood was developed on property owned by the Grosvenor family (Dukes of Westminster) in the 1820’s. It remains a posh district, though most of the houses are either embassies, offices and/or apartments.  I could settle for one of the apartments, I think.

Here is the description from the Open Squares Weekend booklet: “Eaton Square is one of London’s premier addresses. Together with Belgrave Square, layout was started in 1826 by Thomas Cubitt (1788–1855) for the Grosvenor Estate. The gardens were named after Eaton Hall in Cheshire, home of the landowners, the Dukes of Westminster.”

One of the six separate squares was welcoming guests and we found it charming and beautifully appointed.

Planters, pools, lawns, many trees and flower borders all add to the comfortable effect.

I love contrasts, such as these plants show. Of course I don’t know their names, but the yellow-green against the orange and dark green is perfect.

Here a bower of clematis vines shade a bench. Perfect for an afternoon settling in with a good book. I would include a couple of pillows in my kit.
Would it be an English garden without roses?  I particularly like these blush-tone beauties — again a perfect contrast to the dark greenery.
They had a Punch and Judy show for the special weekend visitors.
These children were more interested in photographing flowers and insects, though the butterflies seemed preoccupied.
The tree above is usually called a Plane Tree. You find these all over London (and many other European cities) because they seem to thrive on the polluted air in urban areas. In fact, one gardener told me that they had done even better when the air was filled with coal dust in the early 20th C. Plane trees are closely related to the North American Sycamore, aka Buttonwood.
Above, more views of Eaton Square.
Our next stop was Cadogan Place Gardens, again named after a prominent family in 18th C. London. 
Here is the description: At the end of the 18th century this garden was originally known as the London Botanic Garden.
The severe storm in 1987 resulted in the loss of many large trees, which have now been replaced with a variety of ornamental trees, opening up the garden. The 300-year-old mulberry trees on the south lawn are thought to have been grown for the silk trade; an interesting mixed border is planted opposite the mulberries. On the east side, a walk running the length of the garden is being developed for spring interest, along with a fern garden.
Near the tennis courts, a water garden is partially hidden by black bamboo and willows, while the centre south garden displays the Hans Sloane Garden, created for the 2005 Chelsea Flower Show. William Wilberforce (1759-1833), campaigner for the abolition of slavery lived at 44 Cadogan Place.
A few flowers in Cadogan Gardens, above and right.  The Cadogan name is pronounced, according to the official taking our tickets: Kuh-DUG-un. 
Our next stop, and let me tell you, we were dragging by this time, was Belgrave Square, also part of the Grosvenor estate development of the 1820’s. Here is the description:  A 4.5-acre private garden designed by George Basevi, first planted by Thomas Cubitt in 1826 and now restored to its 1867 layout. The latest element in this work has been the re-instatement in 2008 of the original viewing mound in the centre of the garden.
There are many trees, including large plane trees dating from the original plantings, and pergolas covered with wisteria and roses. The square also features a quiet garden, a play area for children and a tennis court.


The statuary around the garden reflects the international nature of the square and offers a rare chance to see a collection of modern figurative work. A 1998 statue of Sir Robert Grosvenor by Jonathan Wylder at the corner of Wilton Crescent features the quote from John Ruskin: ‘When we build, let us think we build for ever’.

The Belgrave Square garden committee seeks to balance the maintenance of the garden’s historic character with the needs and expectations of modern users and the preservation of the square for the future. The result is a garden which offers peace and tranquillity in a busy city and also provides a fun play space for local children.
By this time, I was yearning for a bench to rest my weary — well, which were in worse shape? My aching feet? My tired legs? Or my poor back?  And it was almost five o’clock when the gardens would be locked up again.  So we staggered into Wilton Crescent and flopped down on the nearest bench.
Wilton Crescent is surrounded by more of tho
se stately white stucco houses.  If you look closely at the photo, you will see one of the metal sculptures of a tree that decorate the garden.
Here is the description: Wilton Crescent was an addition by Thomas Cundy, the Grosvenor Estate surveyor, to the original 1821 Wyatt plan for Belgravia. The garden was highly commended in the 2009 London Gardens Society Competition.
 Right is another of the sculptured trees which make a dramatic contrast to the green shrubbery and must be quite pretty in winter too.  We liked the neighborhood.  And it was just a very short walk to our next adventure.
Here is the doorway of one of the houses we picked out as our possible pied-a-terre in London. But on second thought, that topiary on the left is a little crooked. Guess I’ll have to keep looking.  But I’ll stay in this neighborhood so my local pub will be….
The Grenadier!  Yes, our long and winding road through London gardens brought us through this little mews to the pub and the comfort of a nice chair and a cool brew. We were a bit early for our meeting with Carrie Bebris and her dad Jerry, so we sat around and talked to other patrons. Kristine got a chance to practice her French accents with a pair of travelers from Switzerland.
The sentry box seems to be only a storage shed, decorative as it is. It was too light to look for the ghosts. As if we had the energy left to find them!  They never did make an appearance that evening, probably realizing we would only ask them for foot massages and back rubs.
Carrie and Vicky shared a hug in one of the two tiny dining rooms.  Carrie and her dad Jerry were finishing up her research trip to Lyme Regis, Bath and environs with a couple of days in London.  Carrie, author of the Mr. and Mrs. Darcy mystery series,  is working on her next novel in which the Darcys will meet up with Captain and Mrs. Wentworth, of Persuasion fame.
Above, Carrie Bebris and her dad Jerry Morris
We were lucky to s
ecure a table since The Grenadier was packed. Not that it takes very many people to fill its two tiny dining rooms and taproom. We all four enjoyed the Sunday Roast dinner — beef with potatoes, bed and Yorkshire pudding. Yum!
Since the Grenadier is located quite close to the barracks where some of the Duke of Wellington’s troops were housed, it used to be filled with redcoats…but nary a one was there Sunday night.  Above is the mounting block used by the Duke of Wellington after his visits to The Grenadier.
After dinner, we searched for the ghosts, but they eluded us.
 There were lots of pretty flowers. But no ghosts.
We said good-by at the tube stop at Hyde Park Corner. Yes, that is Apsley House in the distance at the far right.  Carrie and Jerry had tickets for a play at the Globe theatre the next night.  Kristine and I had a day of shopping planned. 
And lots more walking!

Mr. Lee of Hammersmith

England has always been a land of gardens and gardeners and so we thought it appropriate to begin a few posts which deal with the subject. Of course, if you’re going to garden you are going to need plants. One of the most respected and most successful nursery gardens was that of Messrs. Lee, of Hammersmith, one of the oldest in the neighbourhood of London, which survived until the early part of the 20th century.

Mr. James Lee, who established the nursery, was born at Selkirk in 1715. When he first came to London he was employed at Syon, and afterwards at Whitton (pictured above), by the Duke of Argyll. About the year 1760 he entered into partnership with Mr. Lewis Kennedy, gardener to Lord Bolton, at Chiswick, and commenced a nursery, in what was called The Vineyard, at Hammersmith. About the middle of the 18th century, the vineyard was producing a considerable quantity of Burgundy wine each year. A thatched house was built in the grounds; with wine cellars beneath. Mr. James Lee and his partner took it and established a most successful Horticultural Nursery, remarkable for obtaining from distant countries everything rare and  beautiful to be obtained. They maintained collector at the Cape of Good Hope, and another in America and enjoyed world-wide celebrity. Every known, rare, or new plant could be obtained there. They once received a letter addressed, “Lees Nursery, England” which reached them readily. They were the first to obtain a China rose (right) in 1787. These roses changed the cultivation of
roses in many ways, including the fact that they broadened the scents of rosesm new blends becoming apparent as they were hybridized with other roses, such as damasks.

James Lee had an encyclopedic knowledge of plants and the greenhouses were quite extensive and almost as old as the nursery itself, offering a good stock of many species with a very full collection of Fuchsias, the best being F. ignea, a variety raised by Messrs. Veitch of Exeter. The flowers are very large, with the colours (crimson sepals and purple corolla) bright and strong, and the sepals reflexed. Other good varieties on offer were striata (Veitch); Don Giovanni, with a fine open corolla; Grand Master, similarly fine; and Prince of Orange, with pale and large flowers, shown at left.

In fact, so well known were Mr. Lee’s Fuchsia’s that there is a legend surrounding his acquisition of a certain variety. This tale has been told and appears in print numerous times, most floridly perhaps in the Ladies Repository of 1871. Here is the version that appeared in Sharpe’s London Magazine in 1846, entitled The Fuchsia Tree:

MR. SHEPHERD, the respectable and well-informed conservator of the Botanical Gardens at Liverpool, gives the following curious account of the introduction of that elegant little flowering shrub, the Fuchsia, into our English green-houses and parlour windows. Old Mr. Lee, a nurseryman and gardener, near London, well known fifty or sixty years ago, was one day showing his variegated treasures to a friend, who suddenly turned to him, and declared, “Well, you have not in your collection a prettier flower than I saw this morning at Wapping.”—”No! and ‘pray what was this phoenix like?”—”Why, the plant was elegant, and the flower hung in rows like tassels from the pendant branches; their colour the richest crimson; in the centre a fold of deep purple,” and so forth.

Particular directions being demanded and given, Mr. Lee posted off to Wapping, where he at once perceived that the plant was new in this part of the world. He saw and admired. Entering the house, he said, “My good woman, this is a nice plant, I should like to buy it.”—”I could not sell it for no money, for it was brought me from the West Indies by my husband, who has now left again, and I must keep it for his sake.”—”But I must have it.”—”No, Sir!”—” Here,” emptying his pocket, “here are gold, silver, copper;” (his stock was something more than eight guineas.)—”Well-a-day I but this is a power of money, sure and sure.”—”Tis yours, and the plant is mine; and, my good dame, you shall have one of the first young ones I rear, to keep for your husband’s sake.” —”Alack, alack!”—”You shall, I say, by Jove!” A coach was called, in which was safely deposited our florist and his seemingly dear purchase. His first work was to pull off and utterly destroy every vestige of blossom and blossom-bud; it was divided into cuttings, which were forced in bark-beds, and hot-beds; were re-divided, and sub-divided. Every effort was used to multiply the plant. By the commencement of the next flowering season, Mr. Lee was the delighted possessor of 300 Fuchsia plants, all giving promise of blossom. The two which opened first, were removed into his show-house, A lady came;—” Why, Mr. Lee, my dear Mr. Lee, where did you get this charming flower?”—” Hem! ’tis a new thing, my lady—pretty, is it not?”—” Pretty! ’tis lovely. Its price?— ” A guinea—thank your ladyship;” and one of the two plants stood proudly in her ladyship’s boudoir. “My dear Charlotte, where did you get it?” —” Oh! ’tis a new thing; I saw it at old Lee’s; pretty, is it not I”—” Pretty! ’tis beautiful! Its price?” —” A guinea; there was another left” The visitor’s horses smoked off to the suburb; a third flowering plant stood on the spot whence the first had been taken. The second guinea was paid, and the second chosen Fuchsia adorned the drawing-room of her second ladyship. The scene was repeated as new comers saw, and were attracted by the beauty of the plant. New chariots flew to the gates of old Lee’s nursery-ground. Two Fuchsias, young, graceful, and bursting into healthy flower, were constantly seen on the same spot in his repository.

He neglected not to gladden the faithful sailor’s wife by the promised gill; but ere the flower-season closed, 300 golden guineas chinked in his purse, the produce of the single shrub of the widow of Wapping; the reward of the taste, decision, skill, and perseverance of old Mr. Lee.

Along with Carl Von Linne, Mr. Lee wrote An Introduction to Botany, published in 1760, which went through five editions, and for many years was in the highest repute. James Lee died in the year 1795, at the age of eighty years, his partner,
Mr. Kennedy, having died previously.

The nursery was carried on by the sons of the two founders till 1817, when they dissolved partnership. It then became the sole property of James Lee, the second, who died in 1824, leaving it to his family. In 1827 John Lee was joined in the conduct of this important business by his brother Charles, who was born at the Royal Vineyard Nursery on February 8, 1808, and died on September 2, 1881. The firm was conducted under the title of John &; Charles Lee till 1877, when Mr. John Lee retired, and William Lee, the Son of Charles, joined his father in the management of the business. In 1881, however, upon the death of Charles Lee, the veteran John again, for a time, accepted harness, coming to the assistance of his nephew, who was very deeply affected by the loss of his father. The firm limped along until the early part of the 20th century and is, alas, no more.

Empress Josephine’s Connection to Mr. John Lee coming soon!

The Garden Museum, London

Victoria here.  On two occasions, I have had the privilege of visiting the Garden Museum in London. It is located in a small building, St. Mary’s Church before it was de-consecreated, and stands next to Lambeth Palace almost on the Thames.

The small knot garden was designed by the dowager Marchioness of Salisbury, a well known and expert gardener.  It occupies part of the graveyard of the former church and includes the graves of John Tradescant, one of history’s first and most important plant collector from distant shores.  Another large memorial is for Captain William Bligh, of Mutiny on the Bounty fame.

The interior of the church has been adapted with a prize-winning plan to offer more space for displays without compromising the old walls and windows of the 14th century building.

My first visit was for an exhibition on Gertrude Jekyll (1843-1932), one of the gardening world’s most distinguished practitioners. Of course, everyone immediately wants to know if she had anything to do with Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.  The answer is maybe. Her brother was a friend of the author. But I have always heard Miss Jekyll’s  last name pronounced as GEE-kull.

Gertrude Jekyll is best known for the country gardens she designed, many in association with the distinguished architect Edward Lutyens (1869-1944).  They collaborated on the famous house Greywalls, 1901, in Gullane, Scotland, now known as the club-hotel at Muirfield Golf course on the Firth of Forth, near Edinburgh, sometimes home of the British Open Golf Tournament. Greywalls was often the vacation retreat of Georgette Heyer, one of my favorite authors.

I was visiting in Dirleton Scotland, a village just down the road, when a group of us decided to have tea in the Jekyll Gardens at Greywalls. Despite the emphasis on visitors interested in the golf course, they welcomed us and fed us a lovely tea.

Jekyll designed her gardens in “rooms” of various color combinations and design themes. I suppose we think of her herbaceous borders more than any other specific technique, but she never stopped experimenting with new and different arrangements of color, texture and scent.

The official site is here. You can learn even more about her here where there is information about her own garden at her house Munstead in Surrey.

As long as we are talking gardens here, I will drop in a picture of the Chelsea Physick Garden. This is one of the most interesting places in London if you love gardens. I can’t pretend to have visited here long enough to know it well, but someday, I’ll go back and spend more time.  Isn’t that always the way when visiting places we love?  Tempus fugit.

As Kristine and I are going to be in London for the Open Garden Squares Weekend (see right sidebar), we are hoping to pop our heads into a number of gardens that are usually closed to the public. Do click on the link at right to find out more about this event. Also, this post will serve to officially kick off a series of garden posts that will begin on July 5th was a post from Kristine on “Mr. Lee of Hammersmith.”

Beatrix Potter Rose Unveiled!

You may not know that actress Patricia Routledge, better known to us all as Hyacinth Bucket, is the Patroness of the Beatrix Potter Society and as such she was on hand at the Chelsea Flower Show to unveil the new Beatrix Potter™ rose, or Beatrix Potter a, seen below and grown by Peter Beales Roses in Norfolk. The rose was named in honour of the Society’s 30th anniversary.

The rose is a delicate creamy pink coloured shrub rose with a subtle fragrance, reflecting a rose which Beatrix Potter herself painted. “This highly perfumed rose is a truly beautiful tribute for such a merit worthy name” says the breeder, Amanda Beales. The flowers are of the softest pink shade, shapely, with many petals. The rose continues to flower well into the autumn. Growth is upright and tidy to approximately 1.2m and the shrub is well endowed with dark glossy foliage.

You can watch a video of opening day at the Show here.  
               And here’s a video of the Queen Mum at the 1952 Show. 
Victoria here, chiming in to talk about Beatrix Potter. Since I live on the 26th floor and the wind blows the petals off any flowers I try to grow on my balcony, I don’t know much about roses except that I love every single one of them!!  So my comments refer to the inspiration of this lovely new rose variety, the wonderful author of children’s stories, artist, and dedicated conservationist, Beatrix Potter herself. My grandchildren adore the DVDs of all her stories and they even let me read the books to them — sometimes.
Here is a link to a wonderful site with lots of material on Beatrix Potter and her work. And here is a link to the Beatrix Potter Society.
As an avid traveler in the Lake District of England, I especially appreciate Potter’s efforts to preserve forever as public land the beautiful region in which she lived. In her will, she left about 4,000 acres to the National Trust. Beatrix Potter lived from 1866 to 1943, bringing happiness to millions. A film, Miss Potter, was made in 2006, staring Renee Zellweger and Ewan McGregor, about her early life. Here’s the trailer.
I can’t say that it was the best film I’ve ever seen, but for fans of Potter, Zellweger, or Victorian England,

 what could be more perfect?
It is entirely fitting that a beautiful rose be named in 
 honor of Beatrix Potter.

Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire – Part One

Blenheim Palace is one of England’s most famous buildings, a sprawling edifice of honey-colored stone surrounded by spacious parks. Residence of the Dukes of Marlborough, the palace is located in the village of Woodstock, near Oxford. Despite its beauty and idyllic grounds, I found an air of melancholy permeated the property.

Blenheim Palace was a gift from the British nation and a grateful Queen Anne to John Churchill, first Duke of Marlborough, after his 1704 victory over the forces of Louis XIV. When Anne died before the house was finished, the royal purse closed. The Duke and his descendants have been paying for the Palace ever since. Blenheim was a nightmare to build and is a monstrosity to maintain. Take a look at this statement from the Blenheim education page: “The 11th Duke has devoted his life to the preservation of the Palace. He has had a difficult task of balancing the needs of the modern day visitor with the necessity of maintaining a World Heritage site. He said that ‘Although the Battle of Blenheim was won in 1704 the Battle for Blenheim continues in the unceasing struggle to maintain the structure of the building and to obtain the finance for the future.’”

Sarah, the first duchess, fought with architects John Vanbrugh and Nicholas Hawksmoor from the very beginning. She wanted a comfortable residence. They, after creating the baroque magnificence of Castle Howard, wanted a splendid national monument on the order of Versailles. The subsequent story of Blenheim is an indiscriminate mix of the acquisition and dispersal of great art, the antics of peculiar family members, the real and imagined obligations of the aristocracy, and curiosity of the public.

Though Sarah bore the duke six children, both sons and one daughter did not live to adulthood. The eldest of the three remaining daughters, Henrietta, became the 2nd Duchess of Marlborough in her own right. Sadly, her son did not survive her and the 3rd Duke of Marlborough was the son of her sister, Anne, wife of Charles Spencer, 3rd Earl of Sunderland. This is the connection to the Spencer family, ancestors of the late Diana Spencer, Princess of Wales.

above, tomb of the Duke and Duchess

and their sons


The fourth duke, who succeeded to the title in 1758 at age 19, was actually the first to make Blenheim his family’s principle residence. He found the place cold, forbidding and rundown, never properly completed. He assumed the great honor and burden of rejuvenating its grandeur and surrounding it with an appropriately sublime setting, a park designed by Lancelot “Capability” Brown. George III, on a visit in 1786, is reported to have said, “We have nothing to equal this!”

Family of the 4th Duke of Marlborough by Sir Joshua Reynolds

Never plump enough in the pocket, the fourth duke spent millions of pounds on the mansion and grounds. By the 1780’s, he was fading into reclusiveness, his obsession with the house nearing insanity. When Admiral Nelson visited in 1802, with Lord and Lady Hamilton, the duke refused to receive them. Upon the fourth duke’s death in 1817, his son succeeded.

George Charles Spencer-Churchill, formerly the Marquis of Blandford, lived an extravagant life as fifth duke, dissolute yet brilliant and eccentric, qualities that seem to run in the family. He revised Brown’s landscape and sold off non-entailed treasures to finance his high living, even charging visitors by the hour to shoot and fish on the property. The fifth duchess, Susan, daughter of the seventh Earl of Galloway, like her predecessors, sank into the same enslavement to the house. After years of near-bankruptcy, the fifth duke died in 1840, his duchess the next year. When the Duke of Wellington and his friend, diarist Harriet Arbuthnot, visited Blenheim in 1824, Mrs. Arbuthnot wrote, “The family of the great General is, however, gone sadly to decay, and are but a disgrace to the illustrious name of Churchill, which they have chosen this moment to resume. The present Duke is overloaded with debt, is very little better than a common swindler and lets everything about Blenheim. People may shoot and fish at so much per hour and it has required all the authority of a Court of Chancery to prevent his cutting down all the trees in the park.”

Thus, the pattern was established, dukes and duchesses sacrificing themselves and their families to a symbolic vision of Blenheim Palace more important than mere humans. Another famous victim was Consuelo Vanderbilt, who married the 9th duke in 1895, a social coup for her mother, but a lesser triumph for her father, who provided millions to restore and maintain Blenheim. Consuelo later divorced and eventually achieved happiness as Countess Balsan. Right, the 9th Duke and Duchess of Marlborough with their heir and spare, painted by John Singer Sargent in 1907.

The Red Drawing Room
In a future blog, I will take you on a tour of Blenheim and tell more of the story of how a family has had the lives of generations absolutely dominated by the care and maintenance of a home that is also almost a national monument.  Imagine needing a new roof!