Inspired by Melanie’s wonderful talk to members about the various Rothschild gardens, Sharon & I accompanied her on a trip to see the restoration project at Gunnersbury Park. We had our volunteer project at Charlton House & Gardens firmly in mind throughout the day, and were pleased to find parallels – albeit on a much grander scale there! Gunnersbury was bought by Ealing & Acton council in 1925 (Charlton was bought by Greenwich Council in the 1920s) and used as a public park in much the same way that Charlton Park has been.
In 2018 the “Large Mansion” was restored using Heritage Lottery and other funding and opened as a Museum housing the borough archive. Major parts of the park were included in the funding, the Orangery, lake and orchards for example. The Friends of Gunnersbury Park were instrumental in the restoration effort, and volunteers clearly play a large part in the day-to-day running.
We arrived at Acton Town underground station on a lovely sunny March day (perhaps only members who attended Melanie’s talk will appreciate this landmark!).
The Park is a short walk away, approached via wrought iron railings, covered in advertising banners showcasing all the events coming up, very good PR. The Noticeboard at the entrance includes an advert for more Volunteers! The first area we saw, on approaching the mansion, was a wooded glade edged with logs – our volunteers will know all about our attempts with this kind of thing at Charlton gardens. Lovely planting everywhere with wood anemones, crocuses and daffodils.
We were met by Head Gardener Chris Ellis and spent the afternoon with Val and James from the Friends of Gunnersbury Park. We were entertained royally, given a tour of the park and insights into some of its colourful history
The orchard is a little oasis between the original 1600s walls and the edge of the Park, with the A406 North Circular road literally the other side of it – although you forget that when walking through it. It is planted with heritage fruit trees and the grass is never mown – instead it is scythed regularly! The clippings are left in piles for wildlife, and there are many cut branches made into deadhedges for the same reason. In fact everywhere this Park has been planted with wildlife and nature in mind. A parallel there with our Charlton volunteer scheme.
Their community garden uses “no-dig” methods, and their tool shed is new but in marvellous old Anderson-shelter style. A real talking point I should think, as perhaps we all need one of these!
The Stables and Japanese garden are still in the process of being restored. Sadly, they lost a huge tree in Storm Eunice which damaged other trees in the Japanese garden. In typical up-beat style, the Friends of Gunnersbury think the mess this has caused will encourage more donations for the eventual restoration!
The Gothic wall that was constructed when the Rothschilds lived here includes pockets for planting – an early “green wall” idea. Maybe we could contemplate taking the occasional brick out of the walls in the Old Pond Garden to emulate this (I’m joking!).
Chris said they have had huge help from volunteers and Capel Manor students to plant a lot of native hedges in the Park, as screens, for wildlife, and also to guide the many visitor and dog-walkers in a direction so they don’t damage planted areas. There are hedgehogs and bats in the wooded areas, so it is working.
A recent project has been planting the 80 Sakura Cherry trees donated by The Japan Society and which came as bare rooted plants last November. They look happy in their new home and we can easily imagine what this will look like in a few years’ time when they are all in blossom.
The team are developing a cornflower annual meadow in front of the cherry orchard, and a perennial meadow on the other side.
We went back to the house via the beautifully restored Orangery and lake, and saw the formal “rose basket” beds, first created by Hannah Rothschild after the Rothschilds acquired the estate in 1835. Chris and Capel Manor students have converted them over to perennial planting instead of costly annual bedding schemes. This idea could certainly be copied for the municipal planting beds on the front lawn of Charlton House.
And here they are in their heyday:
We have come away bursting with ideas! The Gunnersbury Friends website records their achievements over decades of support. On the Visit Gunnersbury website, Chris has a series of short videos about the gardens which are well worth a browse.
Gunnersbury is some distance away from us, but easy to get to from our side of London (Cannon Street then district line to Acton Town) and we can highly recommend it for a great day trip out.