Men show their appreciation and affection for their wives in different ways ... sometimes. It might involve a bouquet of flowers, a surprise dinner out or maybe just abstaining from going to the pub for one evening. For Prince Albert however, he came up with something all together a bit more extravagant, when in the 1860's he created an ornamental water garden in Kensington Gardens as a landscaped love letter to his wife, Queen Victoria.
The garden is still there just by Lancaster Gate, having recently undergone a £486,000 restoration programme and overlooks the tranquil Long water, the river which flows through the Royal Park in to the Serpentine. It is quite a lavish affair complete with four basins, fountains, sculptures and urns, many of which have had their ornate carvings re-worked and restored in recent years. As you wander around you might notice five motifs which recur throughout; the swan's breast, woman's head, ram's head, dolphin and oval.
Prince Albert didn't dive in at the deep end, but as a man with 'green fingers' had already created an Italian style garden at Osborne House, the Royal retreat on the Isle of Wight, where he had taken charge of the garden. The pump house to the north originally had a steam engine for operating the fountains and a stoker was apparently employed to work each Saturday night, through the night, pumping water in to the pond, so that on Sunday, the fountains could work with no engine running, as if by magic.
Unfortunately, when I took these photos, it was a rather grey day, but Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens are a wonderful place to go for a stroll, and apart from the distant hum of traffic, you can almost forget you're in London. For film buffs, the Italian Gardens featured in both 'Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason' and another film called 'Wimbledon' (starring Kirstin Dunst and Paul Bettany). Also, you'll notice that all the parks in London have oodles of benches, should you wish to rest your weary legs, but just next to the Italian Gardens is what must surely be one of the most extravagant park benches I've ever seen. It looks like this.
The Italian Gardens are a Grade II Listed English Heritage site, and the care and dedication taken to restore them to their former glory has ensured that many people will be able to enjoy them for many years to come.
If you're visiting London and pick up one of the tourist maps, you'll notice immediately that central London has an abundance of parks. Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens and Regent's Park form the largest swathes of green across the city, but there's Holland Park to the west, Victoria Park to the east and right in the heart of Westminster, Green Park and its neighbour that I'm going to mention here ... St James's Park.
I wandered through St James's Park yesterday on my way to meet Cindy and Mercedes who are visiting from Arizona, and as it was a beautiful day, thought I'd take a few photos and also take the opportunity to talk a little bit about it here.
The park is flanked on one side by Buckingham Palace and on the other, Horse Guards Parade (and the intriguing Citadel building) and Whitehall, whilst the Mall runs down the north side. Westminster Abbey, the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben are all just a couple of minutes walk away.
The park takes its name from the nearby St James's Palace, built during Henry VIII's reign in the 1530's and at that time was a deer park, just one of the many surrounding hunting grounds. When James I became King in 1603 he had the rather marshy area drained and landscaped and used it as an exotic animal enclosure, apparently keeping crocodiles, elephants and camels there, so not the kind of place you'd want to take a late night stroll. There was also a large aviary on the south east side, from which the road, Birdcage Walk, that stretches along the south of the park takes its name. During the Restoration period, Charles II had the whole place landscaped in to a formal garden with a canal cutting through the centre and was opened to the public.
Today, you don't need to worry about bumping in to a crocodile, but the park is home to a startling array of wildfowl. The most famous residents are probably the Pelicans, which have been a constant since the arrival of the first Pelicans in 1664; a gift from the Russian Ambassador. St James's Park has just received three new Pelicans from Prague Zoo, but the ones which arrived in the 1980's caused a bit of a stir when they were seen and photographed eating other birds in the park. In fact, periodically, the Pelican's pigeon eating exploits have on occasion become headline news.
It's well worth walking across the bridge that traverses the small lake as you get great views of Buckingham Palace, which make you forget you're in the centre of London and is more like looking at a stately home set in the depths of the countryside. On the east side, the numerous roof tops of Whitehall appear like some sort of fairytale castle and behind them, and the London Eye looks down, now intersected by The Shard.
I often take people through St James's Park when we're walking around Westminster, as we did yesterday, and at this time of year, the flower beds look amazing, but be warned, if the sun is out and you feel inclined to relax on one of the many deck chairs, they're not free ... someone will eventually come along and try to get you to pay. I'd just sit on the grass if I were you.
Bowl Of Chalk
Bowl Of Chalk based shenanigans.