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Blog 13: Bedding in The Parks

Blog 13: Bedding in The Parks

The Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park Flower Show
The last two weeks have been busy in the parks. People have picnicked, protested and partied as the parks remain a vital space for people to relax, play and congregate, all at a distance of course. As the lockdown restrictions continue to ease there is a sense that summer has finally been unlocked, quite literally.

Despite the recent heat wave, Hyde and Kensington have been given an injection of colour and floral delights by the newly planted bedding now on display in various pockets of the parks. Our grounds maintenance team have worked hard to prepare and plant the beds scattered around the park and considering the blazing sun over the last few days must be commended for their efforts and skill.

No, not the type that you sleep under at night, but the seasonal planting displays that form such an important and intrinsic feature of our beloved Royal Parks.

These seasonal displays have been fashionable since the Victorian era, when there was an explosion in the variety of exotic plants bought back by plant hunters from their globetrotting adventures. What better way than to show off all the new introductions than to put them on display, changing them twice (or in some cases three times) a year to retain interest, and ensure that the tender exotics don’t get killed off by the damp, cold British winters.

If you are a regular visitor to either park, you’ll notice that we change our bedding twice per year, in October, for displays through winter and spring, and then again from late May through June. So, being in late June as we are,
it is the summer displays that form our focus this week.

Rose and Exotic bed in Italian Garden

Here in Kensington Gardens, our main bedding displays are situated in the South Flower Walk (or the baby walk if we think back to our J.M Barrie references), and at the Italian Gardens in the north east corner of The Gardens.

I am lucky enough to be able to exercise some design flair at the Italian Gardens and involve our apprentices in coming up with the designs for these areas. The Pump House beds (the ones either side of the Pump House building) and the Rose Bed and Urn (the round bed opposite the Italian Gardens cafe) are my “babies”. The rose bed is so named as it was once exactly that, but I’m too new to The Parks to have ever known it to have roses planted there, so I find the name amusing.

The pump house beds are designed to evoke a sense of a sultry hot summer, using a range of dark foliage set against yellows, reds and oranges (re banner photograph). The Rose Bed has been planted in an eclectic mix of subtropical plants including lots of bananas, cannas, and dahlias. If you’re lucky enough to be able to visit, take a wander down the flower walk and to The Italian Gardens to appreciate the displays laid out for your enjoyment this summer.

The display in the South Flower Walk stretches from the Albert Memorial all the way to Palace Gate (with a few break points), a distance of over 400m (that’s over 1300 feet in old money). At the Albert end it is a zingy technicolour explosion of contrasting colours, designed to reflect the bling of the memorial it sits in the shadow of (remember our Crown Fritillaries being “very fine and showy” back in the spring?).

As you move west towards Palace Gate there are areas of clam subdued cool colours, perfect for reflecting on the day whilst sitting on a bench. These are contrasted with the more exuberant tropical plants as you head towards the exit point at the bottom of the Broad Walk. The Assistant Park Manager has the pleasure of ordering these plants and setting out the plans, and this year, we have run an internal competition between some gardening staff and the park management team to see who came come up with the best design.

EmBEDding colour in Hyde
Over here our inhouse horticultural expert, Phil Newcombe, hand picks an array of annuals, perennials, and even tender sub-tropical plants to fill each area with life.

The Victoria and Banana Bed

The largest section of bedding exists up by Victoria Gate, in the North-West Corner of the park and is certainly looking spectacular (see photo). The commonly named ‘false banana’ plant (Ensete Ventricosum) stands out with its characteristic banana-like leaf blades and adds an exotic feel to the border. The design is, however, much more complex than at first glance, with almost 20 varieties of plant selected for just this one bed. The lantana evita provides a powerful red on top of the orange begonia’s and echinacea, radiating warm hues. A delightful sight if you are passing by.

On the opposite side of the path you can find a small, but by no means inferior, bed designed by one of our own apprentices, showcasing their newly learnt skills and knowledge. The Royal Parks take on a number of apprentices across several of the parks, (including Hyde and KG) each year. Working for the ground’s maintenance contractors while at the same time studying at Capel Manor College they gain both practical and theoretical horticultural knowledge and skills required for the management of a parks and gardens. In the bed designed by the apprentices summer flowering foxgloves stand out among the lower lying cosmos and dahlias, and provide for instant colour and height.

The Apprentice Bed

A focus this summer in the bedding has been on the use of plants that can be reused which therefore reduces the waste and energy required each season to grow and replant. An example of this is over in the rose garden where you can find the beds lined with French lavender This is a personal favourite of mine, and one that will no doubt be making an appearance again in coming years, which I am sure the bees will be happy about!

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