The force that through the green fuse drives the flower – Dylan Thomas
London is a heady cocktail of chaos, excitement, and inspiration. It is a destination for those wishing to live and work in one of the most vibrant cities in the world. London is an incredibly diverse and beautiful capital. Monumental buildings, palaces, skyscrapers, mansions and townhouses all jostle for space in this vast and cosmopolitan city. Cars, buses, taxis and an amazing network of trains crisscross the metropolis day and night, adding to the confusion and mayhem. One can therefore be forgiven if they underestimate the inclusion of a multitude of peaceful and calming green hamlets. There are vast swathes of greenery here, not only around the peripheries of the city, many parks and gardens are centrally placed.
The city is home to over 9.5 million humans, speaking more than 300 languages. However, more than half of London’s landscape is open land and almost half of Greater London is green. This green is displayed in the 3,000 parks, 142 local nature reserves, 36 sites of special scientific interest, 4 UNESCO World Heritage Sites and 2 National Nature Reserves. Within the city’s limits alone, there are 3.8 million private gardens. These sites are many and varied and include not only royal parks, public gardens and commons but also city farms, converted churchyards, medicinal gardens and private shared gardens. For its size, London is one of the greenest cities in the world. We have visited many of these gardens often on cold and blustery Sundays when only intrepid dog owners keep us company. However once spring heralds in her glorious season these green spaces take on a life of their own.
Every spare space, every nook and cranny is teaming with brand new life. In the springtime the streets are a riot of colour as punchy, bright yellow daffodils carpet the roadside, and weathered old Victorian buildings feature vibrant pots of colourful blooms in a proud testament to the season ahead. Those fortunate enough to have a garden find ingenious ways to fill every square inch with clustered flowers in every imaginable shape and hue. Walking around our west London neighbourhood I spy colours and varieties I never even knew existed outside the pages of English storybooks. What a visual treat. Even those of us without a green space of our own find copious ways to fill our lives with greenery. It seems that the most popular destination at any market now is the plant and flower stalls. Not to mention the delightful florists which adorn every picturesque laneway.
However, it is the plant nurseries which take center stage in spring. The annual pilgrimage for Londoners provides an opportunity to revitalise their depleted gardens after the harsh winter conditions; and to find a little respite amongst the verdant surrounds. In a city which hosts ‘the world’s most prestigious flower show’ it is no surprise that residents here seem destined to garden from a very early age. Some of England’s most beloved children’s books such as The Secret Garden, Wind in the Willows, and Winnie the Pooh all feature nature and gardening at their heart. Ordinary Londoners seem able to recite plants by their botanical names with more ease than I can remember my own shopping list. Alleyways, cemeteries, and even public toilet entryways are festooned with flowers and vines, lending an air of elegance to even the most mundane spots. When residential space is limited, the Londoner, avid gardener or not, will innately plonk a plant or pot in every spare inch.
With each new season we fill our two small window boxes with as much colour and life as possible. The display is constantly overflowing with evergreen ivy whose variegated tendrils creep gently against the windowpane and shower us with greenery year-round. In the new year we eagerly await the anticipation of spring and the chance to buy the first bulbs of the season. Daffodils are a celebration here in the UK, a sign of hope that the coldest months are behind us and that darker days begin to make way for increasing sunshine and copious amounts of life affirming colour.
Last year, while visiting the fleeting cherry blossoms in nearby Ravenscourt Park, we stumbled upon a beautiful garden centre nestled beneath the Victorian brick railway arches at the edge of the greenspace. Perfectly potted English blooms were artfully arranged amongst old weather worn garden ornaments and some of the prettiest terracotta pots I have ever seen. I found myself daydreaming of a terraced garden where I could arrange my own clusters of earthenware vessels overflowing with pungent herbs and pretty blooms. Bold displays of hellebores with their heavy green flowers were pushed up gently beside clusters of bright purple iris and delicate daisies with their happy little faces turning to absorb the tender midday sun. Plaster cast felines languished in the sunshine next to tubs of shockingly pink hyacinths whose intoxicating perfume filled the entire space.
To celebrate the coming of spring this year, we come for the daffodils, and we will not be distracted. We are on a mission – although, there is always time to marvel, and wander, and to dream about the garden we will one day have. Where does one start when one is visually greedy and wants one of everything. I quickly grab a trolley and prepare to fill it to the brim. The W6 Garden Centre, named after the borough postcode it resides in, has not skimped on the array of daffodils on offer. I could easily stand here for hours, growing less decisive by the second. Dan, ever the voice of reason suggests we choose a mix of varieties. With our minds made up, we have time to take in the scenery and meander around the nursery, chatting to the friendly staff who are more than happy to discuss all things plant related. On the edge of the garden centre is a lovely outdoor café selling a delightful array of homemade cakes and light lunches served underneath the shade of the adjacent greenery. With a trolley full of daffodil bulbs tucked beneath the table, we recline under the embrace of a nearby tree to enjoy a cup of tea and a scone topped with lashings of homemade jam and clotted cream, before we head home to plant our new little garden outside on the window ledge.