Saturday 22 July 2017

Fulham Palace's Walled Garden of Eden

Last time I walked through the old gate to the walled garden of Fulham Palace, a green space-within-a-space in Bishop's Park by Putney Bridge and the river, the greenhouses were dilapidated and broken-windowed, the knot garden still going but scrubby, the rest of what turns out to be an enormous enclosure dating from the 1760s just wild. That must have been four or five years ago, and even back in 1986 the initial view was this (from photos of photos taken on a riverside walk with my Edinburgh friend Ruth). Of course ruins have their own peculiar charm.

And now it's this:

The 'vinery' and knot garden have survived from the 1820s. The wisteria, over a century old, is still going strong. Obviously May would be its peak flowering season but there were some blossoms still on it.

and here you can see how it fringes the glasshouse/knot garden zone.

The gate, with Bishop FitzJames's much-erased coat of arms dating it to the early 16th century, didn't need much doing to it, but it was in danger of collapsing. A rather thin person standing by it in '86

and now (with All Saints Church just over the south-east wall).

Much of the restoration work is due to lottery fund money; the palace, home to the Bishops of London from the 11th century up to 1973 and with main buildings ranging from Bishop Fitzjames' time to those of Bishop Howley (1814-15, the south-east front) and of Bishop Tait (the chapel, 1866-7 - worth seeing, apparently, though it's not been open on my visits), has been a splendid beneficiary. This old map, which I photographed hanging on the walls of the Palace interior, shows the essence of the place with the walled garden clearly defined; the area called The Warren is mostly allotments, generously handed over for that purpose to the public by one of the Bishops, and you see a moat filled with water. Putatively dating from Roman times (!), it's dry now but plenty of work was being done on it when I visited on Wednesday.

At present only a few rooms are open with choice museum exhibits or for rather good refreshments; a further drive for funding will see more visible to the public in the years to come. Already the planting outside the old wing of the palace is a sign of improvement

and within, the offices around the courtyard are to be reclaimed in the further opening-up.

I don't know the proportions for work on the Walled Garden - presumably enough to pay for a head gardener of superlative vision, Lucy Hart, and to encourage the training of apprentices - but the folk I came across all working away in an idyllic setting on a hot afternoon were mostly volunteers. This was the moment of epiphany: ordered glasshouses are one thing, but transformation on this scale, and the evidence of loving human hands on it, brought tears to my eyes.

There are 200 volunteers at Fulham Palace, and I'd like to join the garden team for half a day a week. Fruit and vegetables are sold at an average of £2 per punnet from a 'barrow' just on the edge of the cultivated zone.

I bought tomatoes, a pepper plant, plums and courgettes picked to order. It would have been tempting to pick up and eat the fallen plums from the big tree in the middle of it all, but fair deal - get the folk to gather them for you and pay to support the work.

Returned yesterday, but there was no-one at work, and only baby red onions for sale. So it's a lucky dip. Still, the magic persisted.

Beyond the barrow are beehives - must find out when they gather the honey and put my name down for a couple of jars, if possible, as I used to do at Chelsea Physic Garden before the yield dwindled.

Thousands of dahlia plants with the dark leaves I love line the area, up against the wall and half the way round. Great for the bees, obviously.

I can't resist two more flower-and-bee shots from the central beds.

The cultivation is a mix of vegetable plots and lively planting - marigolds round the edge, obviously, to keep off the pests,

but also gladioli,

lilies (with the early 19th century front of the Palace just visible over the wall)

and more splashes of colour.

They've planted young fruit trees in plots hidden by the long tall grass, but the central rows of mature varieties still thrive

and provide a foil to the garden beyond if you walk round to the quiet southern side.

The greenhouses once lodged more exotic species - in 1853 the head gardener was proud of his grape harvests and his pineapples, while nearby there was a melon pit - but the tomatoes and beans are doing very nicely here, with a flavour you just can't get from supermarket purchase.

What's happened here is even more impressive than the restoration of Chiswick House's gardens - my other nearest haunt on biking breaks along the river from work. The journey itself is treasurable.

On Wednesday the tide was low and a variety of birds including a cormorant next to an Egyptian goose and various gulls were lolling peaceably on the little islands.

Those rather cheery creatures the black-headed gulls, so much more appealing than their bigger, noisy, scary sea brethren, were wading and skreeking in the mud

whereas yesterday, with the tide very much in, they were content to bob along

Sanctuary was now to be found on the old wooden structures mid-Thames

with the cormorants perfectly happy here

while the Egyptian geese (Alopochen aegyptiacus) - please correct if I've misidentified - now gathered together, looking a bit cold and intimidated, at the foot of steps up to a former wharf.

Let's end on another historic contrast: Ruth by Butler's Wharf in 1986

and how it looks now, gentrified into a gated set of flats, with Richard Rogers' Thames Wharf conversion beyond.


David Damant said...

It is strange that the palace of the Bishop of London should be so far from St Paul's. How long would it take in a carriage? And if I remember the Church owned vast estates in that part of London. There was a bit of a discussion about the use to which some of the properties were put.

David said...

Good point. That crossed my mind, too. Maybe they commuted by the river? Maybe it was seen as a kind of summer residence? I know the estate to the north of the palace is entirely pub-free; curious to know how that came about.

Liam said...

Mr damant , do you remember our luncheon there? A long way by bus from Berkeley square!

Howard Lane said...

Not only vast secular estates but also, at the time of Henry Compton, a successful botanist as well as Bishop of London, the palace had enormous spiritual influence as its parish included - America!

David said...

Indeed, Howard, as the palace history has it: 'He [Bishop Compton] arranged for Reverend Banister, himself an able botanist, to be sent to Virginia as a missionary in 1678, and to send back seeds and cuttings, which Compton then grew at Fulham. Consignments were sent in 1638 and 1688.'

I need to check out the big trees too. Had a good look at the huge black walnut (Juglans nigra) the other day. Also spotted the three 15th century 'bee boles', niches in the wall for placing wicker hives.

Have you all been recently? If not, a meet-up with the family is in order.

Messrs. Mansfield and Damant, where did you eat? The cafe has a limited but rather good and fresh lunch menu (I had asparagus soup with the godson yesterday).

Liam said...

It was a private luncheon arranged by a friend of David who worked in the catering area. He has since left.

David Damant said...

Liam and I ate in the restaurant but it was not a test of the place, since the most excellent meal was cooked by a splendid and excellent young man who had been........ a friend.

Anonymous said...

you remember of course when you lived in that flat on the river in 1986 with that odd woman whom you called the hygiene queen -"David, I don't know what you have been cooking today but right now this place smells like Brick Lane" - "Wrap all fishbones up in newspaper" and other aanal retentive exhortation

David said...

I do (that you, John?) - hence the visit with Ruth. Irmgard was her name, 9 Ruvigny Mansions the address (great flat with stunning river view, shame about the landlady, who looked after it for a rather sexy South African ballet dancer called Brian). I'll say no more. Though I look back on it now through Hausfrau consort's eyes and am made to feel that perhaps I was a bit sloppy... Also that summer sang 'We're called gondolieri' in the little open-air theatre space of Bishop's Park - now a play area - with Khosrow Mahsoori in Beaufort Opera's summer showcase - Anglo-Iranian Italian brothers...

I remember clearly three of the dozen or so points outlined in the note: 'I don't know what it is you cook but when I come home after work I am hit in the face by a nauseating smell' (in the right zone - curried lentils, couldn't afford much more then) and 'don't leave the cardboard rolls from the end of the toilet paper left on the side for me to clear up' were choice. Probably fairer, since my washing-up is still done with mind on other things, 'plates have backs as well as fronts. Immerse everything in hot soapy water and scrub thoroughly'. And it was 'at least three layers of newspaper'. These dicta are used to beat me up at home regularly.

John Graham, Edinburgh said...

Yes I remember the lovely river views, though I thought the hygiene queen's behaviour just DAFT, and likely to inspire rebellion and mischief in the most compliant of flatmates(I would delight in subverting things surreptiously and with most annoying effect). Heard your interesting Proms Extra last night, nice you felt relaxed and laid-back enough to hum and sing musical ideas to chair and audience. Have enjoyed Bychkov/Czech Phil/Tchaik 6th (bought 2nd hand), earlier today and am mightily impressed. Have you heard this?

John Graham, Edinburgh said...

I have also been most impressed at Semyon Bychkov's remarks and views in radio and newspaper articles, interviews etc., very articulate and wide-ranging in his thoughts and ideas. I heard that he has written books on the subject, but can find no reference to them in ABE books or other search sources. Would you know of any?

David said...

John, huge apologies, I have no idea why I didn't answer your questions at the time. I'm afraid the answer is a 'no' to both. Sorry that the public didn't vote for Bychkov's Schmidt Second Symphony as the best orchestral disc of 2017 - I would have been inclined to make it best CD of the year. That or Sean Shibe's English guitar music. You must know his parents Paul Tebble and Junko Shibe in the Meadows Pottery? Your kind of people.