Friday, 27 March 2020
Adieu to Kew and Fulham Palace Gardens
What a shame people couldn't do the right thing and resist flocking in groups to the places that keep us sane. I hope I've scrupulously observed the social distancing but saw packs picnicking in both places. Well, there's still the bike, and the Royal Parks remain open for now - I understand a rumour about enormous Richmond Park closing was a misreading of roads through being closed to traffic (and what bliss it was on Wednesday to cycle up there and see stags in a stream - more Richmond Glen than Park. But that's for another post).
Anyway, I'm truly thankful for catching the onrush of spring while I could. While I made a conscious effort on Sunday to cycle down to Bishop's Park and Fulham Palace Gardens, knowing closure was imminent for all Hammersmith and Fulham enclosed spaces, it was serendipity that not only did I make the effort to get to Kew once or twice a week, and finally on Saturday, when there was no warning of what was about to happen (but again, I can't blame them).
First visit on a bitterly cold, showery, intermittently sunny February day, passing early-blossoming Prunus subhirtella 'Pendula rubra'
and carpets of the Greek Scilla forbesii (glory-of-the-snow) beneath the Temple of Aeolus
was mostly Alpine House, rockery and magnolia grove centric. Irises and Mediterranean tulips were flourishing outside, and these saxifrages
while under glass much was made of the heavenly-scented Narcissus papyraceus
and a couple of anemones were flowering early. Pulsatillas next.
Steps quickened, as black clouds loomed beyond the sunshine, towards the magnolias. Coming from the north, the one you tend to see first is Iolanthe, beautifully budding.
Then there's the grove over the lawn, dominated on that first visit by Magnolia campbellii, the pink tulip tree. Trust the remarkable Joseph Hooker to be behind it. He introduced the tree to Kew in 1848, the information tells us, 'naming it after his friend Dr. Archibald Campbell, Political Resident at Darjeeling, India, as a result of an eventful expedition they took through the eastern Himalayas'.
Around the Big One, others were in various stages of flower and bud.
That ensured revisits. My second trip focused on Magnolia X loebneri, 'Raspberry Fun' (maybe stick to the Latin name)
while there were pearls on a line from Magnolia cylindrica
Magnolia X soulangeana further north
is more or less opposite Iolanthe, flourishing on that second visit.
and here's the other side of the pine, where Acer opalus, the Italian maple, is beginning to flourish.
Third visit was to catch the cherry blossom around the Temperate House, so heading south. The vegetation around the Temple of Bellona had evolved in a fortnight.
There are more magnolias here, including a high-towering soulangeana (understandably sub-specied as superba)
and a tree coming into leaf with which I wasn't familiar, Tilia heterophylla or White Basswood, from south-eastern America.
So to the cherry avenues. The one north of the Temperate House is still in bud, but my absolute favourite, the profuse and fluffy Yoshino (Prunus X yedoensis), was much frequented - it's often used as a background for shots of models. One with her photographer had cleared off by the time I took this.
In the apple-tree groves few were flourishing, but Malus x purpurea 'eleyi' was shining dark-red with the pagoda in the background.
Another glory is Prunus 'taehaku', the Great White Cherry', in front of the Japanese temple.
We have a man as remarkable as Hooker to thank for its survival. Captain Collingwood 'Cherry' Ingram. There's an excellent article about him by his biographer, Naoko Abe, in the latest Kew magazine. 'Taihaku' became extinct in Japan, but Ingram reintroducd it there from cuttings taken in Sussex. Down the slope there's a cherry bearing his name, 'Prunus Collingwood Ingram'.
More cherry trees flourish at the back of the Palm House,
and in 2017 a group from Gifu prefecture in Japan donated 35 Somei-yoshino trees which flourish at the edges of the rose garden.
Heading back to the magnolia grove for the third and final time, I found to my amazement that the fritillary meadow had sprouted. There was nothing but grass the previous week, and here were those most fascinating of flowers with their snakeshead/chess-board patterns, in abundance.
One public asset is staying open for the foreseeable future - the park of Chiswick House. The walk there from home took us along a jogger-laden riverside, admiring the gardens separated by the road from their houses on Chiswick Mall, with the curious little eyot beyond.
There's a clump of bushes and shrubs where I always hear the most vocal of blackbird song, but that day it was robin singing its little heart out.
We did our usual circuit of the lake over the splendid bridge, with bird activity lively as ever, and daffodils opposite the back of the temple.
The cafe was still open then - I had a good distance chat with the Polish manager, who said how proud she was of the staff's adapting to (even) higher levels of hygiene, and how good it was to have the park to walk through on her way to and from work - but the camellia house not, for obvious reasons. Soon the wisteria outside it will be blooming in spring's next stage.
but at least there are splendid specimens outside
and quite a few around Fulham Palace.
My farewell visit was too late for the walled garden of Eden, as I always call it (maybe it hadn't opened that day at all),
but not to walk around the outside, for which I'm grateful not only for different perspectives over walls and through gates
but also for the discovery of what had been done to the former no-man's-land between the churchyard and the entrance on that side, a wonderful planting of daffodils
and, thanks to a couple of feeders, a fine presence of birds. I thought this was a goldfinch, but the colourings aren't quite right. UPDATE: Robin Weiss in a comment has identified it as a chaffinch - very common bird, but I wasn't familiar with it beyond the name.
Horse chestnut in the drive beginning to flourish, and that's a farewell to the roof of the palace for now. We're lucky that this is early spring and not autumn declining into winer, to still have our one-a-day exercise, and to be able to take it - in the case of those who can get there without public transport - in the Royal Parks. There was decent space in Kensington Gardens yesterday.