Our unique Garden

Just before Christmas I posed a question for everyone, asking what you think make Charlton House Gardens unique. I had a good number of replies, and I’m pleased to report that most of you DO think they are unique! But I have had a real challenge trying to consolidate them into a single idea.

Here are just a few extracts from your replies:

  • “The gardens are rooted in their sense of time and place, where you can imagine them as Jacobean gardens but where you can also see modern day planting. There is a passion and desire to keep these gardens relevant for future generations.”
  • “The House is an architectural gem, whose early inhabitants played a significant role in the revolutions of the seventeenth century; today, the gardens are an oasis of beauty and peace in the midst of the urban sprawl of London.”
  • “The gardens are small but contain as diverse and exciting planting as you might expect from a much larger space.”
  • “The gardens are public but very community focused, beloved of local gardeners creating fabulous displays and running special events.”
  • “Not unique, but certainly rare, in that they still have the atmosphere of the Jacobean age. Planting with a “nod” to the Jacobean era.”
  • “An unexpected historic oasis in a desert of modern housing”
  • “They play to a sense of history and yet have a contemporary design adapted to change of climate.”
  • “Unique because they are community-run but following professional design principles.”

So, at then end of all that, let’s go with:

Charlton House Gardens: an historic oasis of beauty and peace in the midst of the urban sprawl of London, where local volunteer gardeners work together to ensure the gardens stay beloved and relevant for future generations.

If you can say it better, please let me know!

Kathy

A Unique Question – one for you!

As a Garden Volunteer at Charlton House Gardens, I was recently asked to explain what makes the walled gardens and estate “unique”. The question was born of a genuine desire to understand and perhaps help the gardens become better known. Of course, it’s one of those questions that you go away and carry on thinking about.. and wonder what you should have said. 

I asked our regular Volunteers what they thought (they keep on coming back, so they must love it for some reason!)

Peace Garden in snow
Peace Garden, Winter 2022, by Head Gardener Jason Sylvan

Lots of great ideas came up around biodiversity and pollinators and sustainability. But you could argue that every garden is unique – what makes this particular combination of place and plants so special? We kept coming back to community spirit – particularly as the gardens have had only a tiny amount of external funding – the majority of their transformation has come from community fund raising and effort, and crucially, the use of a professional garden designer.  

A good point was made that if you compare Charlton House Gardens with, say, Greenwich Royal Park, Charlton attracts mostly local people and not your average tourist – so there is an great feeling of ownership and responsibility. They may attract the discerning tourist in future (we certainly hope they do) but for now they are in “our” Trust.

We often call the Old Pond Garden the “Secret Garden”, after Frances Hodgson Burnett’s childrens story, but one Volunteer suggested the Lost Gardens of Charlton (Heligan) might be a better comparison now, as we re-discover and re-imagine the original spaces.

What do YOU think? Send in your ideas of why Charlton House Gardens are unique, we would love to hear from you (anyone, not just members) to cabahshortisoc@gmail.com. We will encapsulate your ideas into one “unique” statement in the New Year – and hopefully answer that question.

Old Pond Garden in snow
Old Pond Garden, Winter 2022, by Head Gardener Jason Sylvan

Kathy

OPG Diary – July / August

Our previous post was all about how well the garden was growing – and it really was – except it then just stopped raining, for ever! At the beginning of July, everything was looking nice and green:

But as the Summer heatwave went on, and ever hotter, the volunteers spent more time working in the shade..

And pretty soon all we were doing was watering. It has been heart-warming to see the volunteers arriving every Tuesday or Thursday, picking up their watering cans and setting off to save many of the plants we planted in to the Old Pond Garden just last year. We have lost remarkably few in the end, and as long as we don’t have a repeat heatwave/drought next year, most should get their roots down and become more resilient for the future. There have been a few casualties, and a few that clearly don’t like where they are. So as soon as Autumn comes, Jason will be directing some tweaks. As August came around, the garden’s colours and textures changed to become Autumnal.

Continue reading OPG Diary – July / August

OPG Diary – May/June

It’s been a while since there was an update on the walled gardens, it’s been busy! The Volunteers are going strong, and the Old Pond Garden is looking particularly wonderful.

Old Pond Garden 26 May
Old Pond Garden 26 May 2022

The Long Border started to run away with us, but is getting under control and looking incredibly full and interesting, even if it doesn’t quite have that “designer” look yet! We are waiting for the quote for works to the vandalised iron gates and hoping to create step-free access to the gardens.

We are continuing to point out a “Star Plant” each week. The latest is Silene armeria ‘Electra’, or Garden Catchfly. The Catchfly group of plants exude a sticky brown substance on their stems, just below the flowerhead, where insects get stuck. Have a closer look next time you pass by!

Silene armeria Electra
Silene armeria ‘Electra’

New ideas: we have started a “What’s in Flower” display in Frilly’s café, to entice visitors to come into the garden and see the flowers in situ. Also an Information table in the gardens (when we are there) showing a bit of the background and pointing out the plants coming into flower that week. Looking for more volunteers to do this, if anyone is interested? It’s a sitting-down job!

What's in Flower - display
What’s in Flower? Examples from the garden.

Kathy was very pleased to be awarded a Certificate of Recognition from the Volunteer Centre Greenwich/ RBG, although she considers that the recognition is for all the volunteers, not just her! Terry accepted the award on her behalf from the Mayor of Greenwich. Thank you to the Trust for nominating us, we do feel appreciated.

And here are some more recent photos from the gardens this month:

Keukenhof

The gardens at Keukenhof in April are quite remarkable. Great rivers of tulips are everywhere. Small exhibitions in the Juliana house give background information to the history and also to the planting practices of this huge venture: 7 million tulips (and other flowering bulbs) are planted each year and each year, at the end of flowering, these are all taken up and crushed to be used as compost around the trees in the garden and made into pulp for the paper which covers the guides to the estate.

As a not-for-profit organisation, in addition to the garden architects, the gardens rely on an army of volunteers. From May onwards the gardens are closed to allow time for the essential work of taking up the tulips and replanting, until reopening for the spring display. The bulbs in each garden area are given to Keukenhof by growers in the Netherlands and the name of the company appears as signage on the beds. For those wishing to make a note of their favourites, tulips are also discretely labelled, although it is easy to feel overwhelmed by the enormous range on display!

Vija

OPG Diary Late March 2022

Charlton House gardens in Spring Sunshine
Old Pond Garden in Spring sunshine

The blocks of Epimedium look stunning at the moment, the flowers show up beautifully – it was worth cutting back the old leaves at the beginning of the month. New green leaves are just coming through, with lovely red markings.

Lots of the existing shrubs are coming into flower now, especially in the Peace Garden.

All Hail to the Volunteers! (Literally in this case, as our session was abandoned due to hail!)

A day trip to Gunnersbury Park

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.

Continue reading A day trip to Gunnersbury Park

OPG Diary March 2022

Winter is over, swing in to Spring! The garden is waking up slowly, with Euphorbia amygdaloides robbiae showing signs of becoming a Star Plant. It’s rosettes of zingy lime green are unfurling and it really shines out in the sun.

These simple, unsophisticated plants, which rarely receive the recognition they deserve for all their efforts in growing and flowering, year in, year out, without asking for any help from anyone or anything, are among many unsung heroes of the gardening world.

Also showing off, Cornus mas or Cornelian Cherry in the Peace Garden, and lungwort, borage, rosemary, to name just a few.