Are You Stumped At This Victorian Term?

Victoria here…to tell you more about some of the wonderful sights Kristine and I saw on our recent visit to London.  I had arrived a couple of days before Kristine and Brooke came, so I had the opportunity to do research at several libraries (see my recent posts). On Saturday morning, June 12, while I waited for the new arrivals, I took in several of the Bloomsbury gardens that participated in the London Open Squares Weekend

I was particuarly intrested in gardens usually closed to the public and used only by the residents of the squares who have keys.  You know the deal — they more restricted the use, the more I wanted to see it!

Bedford Square was one of those usually closed; I headed there first.

Much of the square is devoted to a lawn with graceful old trees.  But as I followed two British ladies to show our tickets, one of them asked the official, “What is a Victorian stumpery?” For indeed the booklet that accompanied the weekend had extolled the excellence of Bedford Square’s Victorian Stumpery. And I was stumped. So I asked if I could come along with them to find the head gardener.

The three of us set off, laughing together at our mutual inability to understand the term though all of us had gardened for many years, as well as having visited scads of gardens, many world famous.

Here is the description: “Built between 1775 and 1786, Bedford Square is the best and most complete Georgian square in London. The elegant surrounding buildings, now mainly offices, were once fashionable town houses and have distinctive Coade-stone entrances.

The large oval garden at the centre is surrounded by iron railings and screened by encircling shrubberies and large plane trees. The garden has benefited recently from a programme of works with new benches and metal edging installed alongside the newly re-surfaced path that circumnavigates the whole garden. Newly planted areas of interest include a Victorian stumpery and pocket planting of a large variety of herbaceous plants. “

At last we reached the area and the  gardener explained: when huge old trees were cut down, the stump was dug out, turned upside down and used as a planter. The three of us ladies looked at each other and burst into laughter. We were all thinking the same thing: who would do this incredibly difficult task?  Certainly none of our husbands!  This was a job that would definitely require a staff!!  So probably not seen much these days.

But the effect is charming and the idea sound if you are either very strong or have lots of help. Because of all the shade, most of the plants were feathery ferns and other greenery.  The plantings are lovely and replicate a deep old forest. One almost expects either some elves to appear — or Robin Hood himself.
Almost all the planting in Bedford Square has to be shade-friendly.  And much of it will remain green in the winter, showing lovely red berries — which also brings birds.  One of the delights of the London Squares, whether closed or open to the public is the sound of birds which seems to make the constant traffic sounds retreat far away.
 Another interesting aspect of Bedford Square  is the beauty of surrounding houses, just about as they were constructed in the late 18th century, though most are offices today, not homes, as is true of so many formerly perfect residential areas of central London.  Boo hoo.
Here is one of the four houses in the center of each row. As you can see from the arched entryways, it was once two houses, with particularly lovely windows overlooking the square.
 The mutual effect of the houses looking inward at the greenery and the effect of looking out of the square at the beautiful symmetry of the houses is marvelous. A triumph of urban architecture and gracious living.
 The entrances of the darker brick houses are surrounded by white and crowned by a head in Coade-stone?  Don’t know what that is?  We’ll tell you about it one of these days.
Many of the houses around Bedford Square boast blue plaques indicating that a person of historical significance one lived here.  Actually, almost all of them shoud be included in the list.  Prime Ministers, scientists and artists all called the square home at one time.
I think I could bear living here. How about you? After all, I have to keep an eye on that Victorian Stumpery.

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