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May and Beyond in The Parks

May and Beyond in The Parks

Kensington Gardens is the star of this blog

There’s a lot going on with trees, flowers and planting, buildings, exhibitions and art all grabbing our attention.

Starting with the South Flower Walk (SFW) at the showcase bed by the Albert Memorial, which we have featured quite regularly and our volunteers tended. I’ve had the advantage of an expert from OCS, Phil Whelan, giving me the backstory of the planning and management of SFW. You may find this interesting, if not, just continue to stand and stare at the flowers. But you could find this useful if, like me, you hold forth to friends and visitors.

This bed, along with the ones which line the S Flower Walk, are split into 33 small separate ones each with plans and its own number. Six years ago the whole area was mostly shrubbery. Each year, some new plants are tried out to see how they do and if they work well (surviving animal and bird attack) they may be taken up, otherwise the basic plan stays the same. Theresa does the design and the gardeners (including our volunteers) plant from the plan.

Seasonal planting takes place in Spring and Autumn, except for ‘Snobs Crossing’ which gets trampled by dogs and feet passing through in all directions, and so needs frequent topping up. Wallflowers, polyanthus, cultivated primroses and myosotis (winter bedding) started coming out on Monday, May 10th.

The summer bedding arrives starting 1st June and planting takes place (2,500 plants in the showcase bed and 15,500 in the rest of the SFW) over a two week period. Look out for a new feature, a snaking line of Foxtail lilies through the middle of the bed and planted very nervously from a plan by Tina and her companions.

Calling all (or any) volunteers

From amongst our new members or longer standing ones, Theresa Short, assistant manager and horticulture guru, would like to recruit two or three volunteers to join our tiny team who tend this prestigious SFW. You will become quite a high profile member, with frequent photo sessions and interviews (and that’s just the passing general public).
Sandie and Tina hard at work

Could you spare some time, between 10.30 and 13.00 hrs, on a Thursday morning? For more information please contact our trustee Tina Higginson by emailing contact@friendshpkg.org.uk

A Gardening Companion

Recently while volunteer gardening in Kensington Gardens I had the pleasure of this little bird’s company. For a very long time it sat perched in the tree just above me singing a joyful and robust song. I was enthralled and felt as if I was being serenaded as I worked.
Photo by Sandie and piece by Jordan, both Volunteers
My colleague told me that it was a robin. Knowing nothing about birds I later read up a bit on robins. Apparently, they tend not to be afraid of humans. And are drawn to activities such as digging. They like to keep an eye out for earthworms and other goodies that may be in the freshly upturned soil.

So…I guess my little friend’s visit was not just social!

Action packed trees

There was drama overnight on 3/4 April when a large Red Oak (Quercus Rubra) fell across a path near to the Italian Gardens.

The tree was closely monitored from 2012 when a root decay pathogen was noted. The heavy compaction (from footfall) along the desire line to the south of the tree is thought to be the cause of the root problems. It was examined again in Feb. 2021 when extensive decay was noted, but it was thought that enough of the root system was intact to retain the tree for another year. These pathogens are difficult to manage as the degeneration is underground. It’s a difficult balancing act to judge when to take down a fine old tree against the possibility of keeping it a little longer.

More recently at the south end of Lancaster Walk, a chestnut tree (suffering from Chestnut Canker) shed a large branch overnight in the Bank Holiday very high winds. Sadly, the rest of the tree had to go as it had become unbalanced.

It’s sad that Kensington Gardens, with its wonderful collection of old and veteran trees, is losing so many to diseases. No cause for alarm, though, are the trees which are apparently leaning at perilous angles. I’m now doing an I Spy spotting exercise as there are a few of them. Look at the “apical growth” upper canopy (the top) and if it’s growing upright, all is well. It’s highly likely that the tree took on a lean in a high wind years earlier and has now stabilised.

“Be assured” says manager Andy Williams “the trees are surveyed regularly and in line with our detailed tree management procedure”.

The Famous Five are being well guarded

They are at the north end of the Broad Walk and are surrounded by a split chestnut and rope barrier. They are chestnuts with a genetic make-up special to the Gardens. Risk of compaction around them, and any other abuse, is headed off. They are Kensington Gardens tree treasures.
Famous Five trees taken with a fish eye lens

Kensington Palace Re-opens

Historic Royal Palaces (HRP) have had a very tough time during the lockdowns. Over 90% of HRP’s income comes from visitors and of these, 60% are from the International market. Distancing means that ticket sales, launched a couple of weeks ago, are sold at a rate of 130 per half hour instead of 250, so more loss of income. They have had to lose a significant number of their staff in a restructuring programme.

The Palace reopens on 26th May and will be open from Weds to Sunday. On 3rd June, a fabulous exhibition “Royal Style in the Making” opens in the Orangery and will run until the 2nd January 2022. It will feature Princess Diana’s wedding dress (last displayed 1996) and will also focus on the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret. HRP has, as have the Royal Parks, had to reassess all projects in the light of drastically reduced income.

The Grade 1 listed Orangery is undergoing external conservation improvements. This work is now on hold to reassess the necessary funding. Meanwhile essential restoration to the fabric of the building has continued.

Paul, our photographer, and I didn’t dare climb the green screening barriers for fear of being shot, but we did reach very high to take the photo of the Flemish Bond brickwork (that’s stretcher and header in a line) and fine feathered pointing. Together with the stonework, it all looks wonderful.

While the Orangery is open for exhibitions, the Pavilion will provide the catering and as this sits on part of the Orangery gardens, they will remain closed as their planned restoration is necessarily delayed. It can’t be emphasised enough, how badly organisations like this have been hit by the pandemic.

Following the unveiling of the statue in remembrance of Princess Diana , the Sunken Garden will reopen to the public on 2nd July.

Meanwhile at the East Albert Lawn, ‘Van Gogh Alive The Experience’, is just starting to be constructed and will open on June 4th until September 26th. It is totally accessible to all and has been arranged with safety in mind. Yet another thing to come and see, do bring visitors and perhaps combine with the Palace and the Museums in Exhibition Road. We will give this more coverage I’m sure.

Some home tourism to support HRP is called for. Have you got any UK visitors coming to stay with you over the summer?

……and Kensington Gardens keeps on giving!

The Serpentine Gallery never fails to give us something to think about. The Pavilion is taking shape, with a structure already visible promising an ambitious scheme to enjoy over the summer. Less showy is the flat paved area set in the grass to the south of the gallery, and sadly empty for some time. The gallery has presented, over a number of years, an engaging and thought-provoking series of sculptures here.
Sculpture on the square of the Serpentine gallery

At the end of June an ethereal creation by Sophie Al-Maria will be the latest, and very welcome offering, to join this impressive group.

Eating Out …The Roof Top

Over to Hyde Park because we can’t keep away and anyway we’re hungry.

In my last Blog I mentioned this latest addition at the Lido.

My information was a bit shaky, Rob Colicci has given me more details. The Roof Top is open after 3pm on Thursdays and Fridays, and from midday at weekends.

It’s not very busy at the moment but will open for longer as customer numbers pick up. It will be there until mid-June when the Lido reopens for public swimming.

But what about lunch?

It was delicious, mine was the HG Walter beef burger, photographer Paul’s was the chicken burger (in batter which he says was crisp). No, he didn’t eat two. And the chips with skins on and Himalayan salt and Rosemary ….delicious!

Eat fast though, birdie eyes are on you all the time and have devilish cheek when it comes to stealing a few bits and pieces.


We are very sorry to learn of the deaths of two valued members:

Daniel Hearsum: A life member since 2014, was more closely associated with Richmond Park where he had done a fabulous job in restoring Pembroke Lodge to its present glory. He ran a very successful business there as a location for weddings and events.

His Hearsum Collection held a significant number of items associated with the Royal Parks, including hundreds of Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park. He very kindly mounted a display of some of his treasures for our members at one of our AGMs a few years ago. He was very generous to The Friends as well.

He also promoted and contributed to exhibitions at the Mall Galleries, “Phoenix Park, Dublin” and in 2019 at the Garden Museum with “Play Protest and Pelicans: A Peoples’ History of London’s Royal Parks”. He will leave a big hole, especially in the Richmond Park community.

Eileen Menzies: A life member since December 1994 and one of the very first of this group. She loved the Parks and particularly the trees and was our first volunteer gardener in the South Flower Walk wroting about her experiences in our newsletter. An enthusiastic member who had lots of ideas and held strong views which were always in defence of the Parks.

They will be greatly missed and our commiserations to their families.

Members Meeting (via Zoom) Weds 26th May at 5pm

Guest speakers:
Tom Jarvis, Director, The Royal Parks
Andrew Williams, Manager, Kensington Gardens
Jason Taylor, Manager, Hyde Park

This is a chance to look at illustrations and hear news and views from our insiders in the two Parks along with an overview of all the Royal Parks. There will be a Q and A session at the end.
A link will be sent to members email addresses shortly before the meeting.

Dates for the diary:

All details and how to book a time slot in the next Blog

Butterflies and moths
A very small group with expert help and guidance, to look and identify species in two private gardens in Hyde Park at lunchtime.
15th June, 17th June and a reserve day, in case of total wash out, 24th June

Plant Sale
Once again in the Hyde Park Super Nursery, with all proceeds to the Royal Parks charity. Surplus plants for your own gardens and window boxes.
Tuesday 29th June

With grateful thanks to all who provided information and photographs

Photos by (in order)
Paul Shelley
John Foldes
Serpentine Gallery
Rob Colicci
Sue Price

Sue Price