This weekend marked the welcome return of the annual Open Garden Squares events, which give Londoners the opportunity to explore those green spaces in the city that are sometimes overlooked.
I made two visits over the weekend – the Brunel Museum’s shaft-top garden yesterday, and today the South London Botanical Institute’s garden down in Tulse Hill.
Accessible up a short flight of steps, the Brunel Museum’s lovely circular garden sits over the top of the Thames Tunnel construction shaft. The plantings are split into ‘spokes’ around a firepit at the centre, and the benches placed around the space have moulded symbols and signs that echo the themes of the museum. There are also stuffed birds dotted about here and there, which are a bit odd in all honesty with the stuffed magpie and raven being downright creepy!
Throughout the summer, if you visit the Brunel Museum garden on Saturdays between 4:30pm and 10:30pm you can also avail yourself of cocktails, as the Midnight Apothecary pop-up bar appears every weekend. This is obviously a real draw, as the garden was jammed with people throughout our visit.
My other destination of the weekend, the South London Botanical Institute is located at the northern end of Norwood Road, in a fine double-fronted Victorian house just around the corner from the local Overground station. Established by Allan Octavian Hume in 1910 (who was a civil servant and prominent member of the Indian National Congress during the Raj) the organisation has had its ups and downs over the years…
The fortunes of the South London Botanical Institute reached their nadir after World War II when the gardens fell into ruin. This neglect persisted into the seventies until Frank and Janie Brightman set about reinstating the gardens and breathing new life into the organisation. Happily, the efforts of the volunteers and the two paid part-time gardeners mean that today you’ll find that the gardens contain a wild variety of border plants, ferns, trees and flowers, the likes of which can only be seen in one or two other places in London.
I could regale you for hours about what you’ll find on your visit to Tulse Hill, but I have to say that I was particularly taken by the great number of uncommon British species that are given pride of place, particularly the bed of meadow plants that sits right behind the house (and next to the small conservatory with its outlandish range of succulents and cacti). For those with macabre tastes, you might also want to look out for the sign that warns you to be careful around the poisonous plants in one particular shaded spot…
Inside the building there’s an extensive herbarium which contains over one hundred thousand specimens ranging from lichens to fungi, many of which are over a hundred years old – in fact some were collected by the founder himself. There’s also a vast library of books on a whole range of horticultural matters, with some of the volumes dating from the early 1800s.
If you’re a green-fingered South Londoner the South London Botanical Institute are always on the lookout for new volunteers – members get the regular SLBI Gazette and first refusal on the talks and courses that are regularly held there. To give you a taste of what takes place, next week features a four-day course on herbal medicine and in the middle of the month the regular plant-drawing class meets.
Congratulations to the Open Garden Squares team for pulling out all the stops again this year – I’m already looking forward to my visits in 2014!