Tuesday, June 10, 2008

London Open Garden Weekend Prize

The prize for best garden I have ever seen in London based on the combination of : use of space, leaf and colour in plants, sympathy with surroundings, wildlife habitat, community involvement and participation, and overall beauty and enjoyment, goes to the Culpeper Community Garden in Cloudesley Road, Islington.

To say the least, this garden blew everybody's minds. It is superb, and definitely a sunny June garden, which lived easily in the hot sun we had on Sunday. Plants are abundant, diverse, some surprising, all used seamlessly in the garden scape, flowing into each other, yet each one given its space and chance. The only bare soil to be seen are in the micro-allotments that are given over to people to learn and practice growing vegetables. There is a fair sized pond, and a bit of lawn, plenty of paths, angles, different flowering times, and it is simply amazing how they have achieved so much in their small space. This is a 2008 English garden , and in the light of the glut of humanitarian philosophy that smothers this planet, this is what the English humanitarian dreams of doing with people. See the garden, and see what they wish they could do with civilization.

Only one other garden in London comes close to this quality of gardening, and that is the Phoenix Garden north of Covent Garden near Charing Cross Road. To put one against the other is neither possible nor profitable. The Phoenix Garden is the miraculous struggle of a very few people, and the one gardener, amidst the poison of Central London urban commercial development. It is the last vestige of the Covent Garden community before it became obliterated by packaged commercial tourism. The Culpeper, however, is simply joyous, a gem, a total surprise, founded on the very best of traditional Islington community values which is inevitably supported by one of the most expensively run Labour councils in the country.

Second prize for the Open Garden weekend goes to the Lillington Estate Grounds and Gardens in Pimlico. Here is what can be achieved in any council estate consisting of tower blocks. All over the country, estates like this usually only have grass, dog shit, and maybe one or two trees that are half dead because the contractors at some point have strimmed the roots and bark. But at Lillington, ten years ago, when it was run by a Tenant Management Organisation, some of the residents decided to take control of the gardening of their own estate. This is the result. This is what everybody else in the country needs to do.

These miraculous gardens have been happening in Westminster and Islington for many years, yet up and down the country, they are not even aware of anything other than that Charlie Dimmock is now over the hill, and Gavin Diarmuid is a bore.

Also mind-boggling, for its history, its botanical knowledge, and its on-going value is the Chelsea Physic garden, which I have wanted for decades to be visiting, and at last have done so. I am the ultimate procrastinator.

And now for the bitch and the blooper. The weekend's worst garden is also the least deserving garden I have ever seen in my entire life in London, in Britain, and maybe the world. This is the SOAS roof garden. I shudder to think how forgiving the Japanese must be, if they can hide their derision for this token and blatant prostitution for patronage. I shudder to think what sort of fantasy life the SOAS elite must live in , if they have the audacity to list this garden at all. Raked gravel? We know. Granite? Yes, so what. Kanji character? Where was it, and if it was for giving, why was there so little for taking? This was a garden with not even the minimalist requirement of living plants, in a roof micro-climate that becomes baking hot in the Globally Warming London Summer Sun. There was no water, no life, and not even any art. The SOAS roof garden is rubbish.

And back to moderation: on my way home, exhausted, I decided to stop at the Royal Victoria, and treat myself to a pint of Fruli (a Belgian fruit beer), which I infinitely prefer to champagne. Well, it now costs £4.60 a pint, and I nearly died at the shock of my extravagance, and will have to say goodbye to the frosty trendy staff at this Victoria Park pub, as they struggle to establish their ghetto of North London sophistication in East London. Indeed, at £4.60 a pint, Fruli IS more expensive than some supermarket champagnes. I shall just have to join a Belgian monastery and learn to make my own. There's an idea....

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