Tag Archives: playground

Know your place at the gardens

As a member of the Royal Horticultural Society, I receive a monthly magazine called The Garden.  It’s full of horticultural wisdom and a fantastic letters page.  A couple of years ago, there was a strongly worded letter condemning the ‘free for all’ that botanical gardens have become.  Instead of places for quiet contemplation and the seeking of horticultural knowledge, they have become some kind of shrub and flower theme parks where the unknowledgeable gain entry and children run around in the grassy areas.

Heaven forfend!

I’ve been going to Wisley for years, but we started to go more when we had our son.  As a baby, he was always happiest when being wheeled around outdoors, and it was something we could all enjoy.  As he got older, Wisley has been a great place for him to toddle around, and now, yes, he does like to run on the paths and peer over the bridges to look at the gaping koi.

Like the curmudgeonly letter writer, I too cannot abide children running amok in the herbaceous borders or plucking leaves and flowers.  But her tone suggested that their very presence was an anathema.  I was so offended that I wrote back to The Garden, explaining that I didn’t think that children’s behaviour at Wisley was generally a problem and that I hoped to have  many happy visits to Wisley with my son – helping him to learn about horticulture and the great cultivated outdoors.  Not only that, but I suggested that it would be a great idea if Wisley could introduce a designated play area for children and demonstrate how tough, sympathetic planting could be introduced to playgrounds.  Too often, municipal play areas are barren hardscapes with little injection of the natural world.

Wisley playground

Fantastic climbing frames

Wisley playground

Binoculars at the viewing station

Wisley playground

Den building and blocks

My letter was never published.  But there is now a play area at Wisley.  And it’s fabulous.  No swings or slides, but there are climbing frames and brilliant use of logs and stumps – some carved fantastically with snakes and owls and the Green Man.  There’s a tunnel covered with pine logs, like some kind of insect habitat, and there are frames which children can cover with dead branches and palm leaves from the glass house and other leavings of pruning maintenance.  The planting, isn’t up to scratch yet – but it’s early days – and there are olives and eucalyptus and tough herbaceous perennials which are currently fenced off to protect them from being trod on by tiny feet.

Of course, that doesn’t address the issue of inappropriate behaviour by garden visitors.  I take a very firm line on touching the plants or stepping in the borders.  Sadly not something that every garden visitor is as scrupulous about. I saw a woman in her 50s walking around with an allium seed head yesterday. And garden visitors in England are notorious for filching seed or taking surreptitious cuttings.  I have even heard that there is occasionally some scrumping in the orchards.  And yes, I have seen children out of order in the gardens.  More could be done to help parents (and others) enforce appropriate behaviour of garden visitors large and small.  But surely play areas will help little visitors burn off the energy which might be otherwise be spent on smushing the hostas or picking the hydrangeas.


Bushy Park

We’re regular visitors to Richmond Park, but until yesterday we’d never visited Bushy Park – the other walled royal park, this one a little further to the south and west and across the street from Hampton Court, which must have been very convenient for Henry VIII when he used it as a hunting ground.

It’s a more formal park than the managed ‘wilderness’ of Richmond Park, with planted avenues of chestnut and lime trees and centred around a great round pond with an ornate fountain.  There’s a woodland garden which snakes alongside a slow and shallow stream.  Near the Pheasantry Centre (no pheasants, but a cafe and visitor centre), it was planted with mature bald cypress, one of my favorite tress.  We didn’t explore that in full, but I’d love to go back and see that in spring when the rhododendrons and azaleas are in bloom.

Bushy park

Stream and bald cypress

For us, we had to first get our heads around the scale of the park.  We’re used to the sweeping distances of Richmond Park, and what looked on the map as a long way actually was a short walk.  So even taking the long way, getting to the playground took little time.


The young navigator

We walked through a paved avenue of limes. The name of this tree has always confused me. As these trees don’t produce the kind of limes you can put in your margaritas. As I mentioned this to Simon, he said “You mean they don’t make limes?” Umm, no. One wouldn’t really expect citrus to be produced on an island this far to the north. Instead they are this kind.

Lime tree avenue

This is not the road to Margaritaville

The playground is vast and well-equipped with swings, climbing frames, a sandpit and all risk appetites are catered for with an array of slides.

Bill immediately ran to the scariest slide of all – a behemoth on which kids could (and did) actually hurt themselves (though not badly – mostly bruised bottoms and bruised pride).  He managed it quite well, but an older kid took the slide poorly and landed with a bad thump and there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth. Bill became a bit nervous of the slide after that and demanded that Daddy accompany him.

On the big slide

The big slide


Daddy applies the hand brake

Overall, with less space and what felt like a more people, the park seemed crowded – at least in comparison to Richmond Park.   Both parks have red and fallow deer, but in Bushy Park the deer seem more habituated to humans and we were able to hand feed some young fallow deer.  In late July and early August, the male fallow deer are approachable.   Because of the dry weather, I suspect there’s less grazing and the deer are hungry.  Park visitors were stripping leaves from trees where the deer could not reach, and several of the deer would nibble from your hands.  Some of the visitors were a little less respectful than they ought to have been – as deer can be dangerous.  Although they were grateful for the leaves, they didn’t like being approached or petted from behind and would startle and jump sometimes perilously close to the person who was feeding them from the front.

Hand feeding the deer

Feeding the deer

I think we will go back to Bushy Park, but we probably won’t make it a regular trip.

At the Diana fountain in Bushy Park

The Diana fountain

Tractor week at Wisley

It’s “Mad about machines” week at the RHS Wisley botanical gardens.  We took the boy down today to see a vintage tractor parade, ride in a trailer pulled by a tractor and we queued for half an hour just so he could sit in the cab of a John Deere.  I like tractors as much as the next person, but as someone whose grandfather sold Ford tractors – making any effort to sit in one of those green monstrosities felt just a teeny bit like a betrayal.


Nothing runs like a Deere


Nothing lasts like a Ford

Almost as exciting as the vintage tractors were the vintage lawnmowers.  The boy was thrilled to “push” an 1880 model mower and roller around the field.  (Just out of frame is the man who’s pulling it along with a rope).


But most of exciting of all, at least for me, is the discovery that Wisley has installed play area!  The tractors will only be there til the 30th, but the playground is there to stay – tucked into a less visited area in the arboretum but only just around the corner from the fabulous Piet Oudolf borders and not far from the glass house. And it’s a really good one.  All still fairly new, I’m not overly impressed by the planting scheme (so far) – this could be an opportunity to show how horticultural and children’s play CAN be combined successfully.  But they may have more in the works and I really can’t grumble about the equipment, including giant logs they’ve half buried in pits – some filled with pine cones. (yes, on reflection that doesn’t sound that good and none of my pictures really came out that well – but it was really fun).  There are some great climbing frames and tunnels you can build your own teepees by adding branches to pre-constructed wooden frames.


Horticultural highlights

You might think that we didn’t even look at the flowers, and yes we spent little time this week.  But the hydrangeas are lovely, the summer border is just hitting its stride and agapanthus are brilliant throughout the gardens.

Trying new old things

Our local pub has had many incarnations.  When we first moved to the area it was a neglected outpost of a national chain and called the Freedom and Firkin.   As a foreigner, I didn’t quite understand the 70s tv allusion to the sit-com Citizen Smith which was set in the local area.  A colleague kept saying “Freedom for Tooting!” every time I mentioned the new area I was moving to. (The catch phrase of the eponymous lead.  Freedom for Tooting, indeed.)

On our second viewing of the house, we stopped in and had drinks to escape the rain and reflect on our potential future.  It wasn’t quite sawdust on the floor, in fact underneath the grime of use the pub is handsomely decorated with impressive wood panelling, but the surly, scattered patrons and the barely stirring retriever entangled among the barstools seemed to fit.   We thought “We can drink in this pub,” and we bought the house.

Not too long after, the pub became The George, presumably a free house and taking its name from the nearby St George’s Hospital, and it was essentially unchanged.  Off and on it offered food, deep fried fare, smears of meat on a bun which passed for burgers.  But it was cheap.  It was a good low-stress place to shoot a little pool or have a few drinks.  I liked The George.

Then the pub was bought out and spent a long time in a metamorphosis phase – it emerged from its chrysalis as The Garden House, a chi chi gastropub like you might find in Wandsworth Town.  There was, in fact, no garden – but a brick paved courtyard stacked with disused furniture.  The menu was suitably faffy.  Football was banned, much to the disappointment (I presume) of the loyal patrons and followers of Chelsea FC.   The food was never quite right and the beer prices were significantly higher.  Our visits dropped off and after the birth of our son, we never darkened the door again.

Unsurprisingly, The Garden House did not succeed, and subsequently morphed into its current incarnation The Manor.  The Manor benefits from the refurb undertaken by its previous landlords, but we avoided it until this weekend, despite the fact that it was attempting to establish some good value credentials and the football was back.

Just where does The Manor source its meat?

Just where does The Manor source its meat?

We decided to try their Sunday menu and found that the atmosphere was somewhat similar to The George, but at a slightly higher tone.  The bar menu was largely traditional pub fare, Simon had the roast, I had the burger and Bill had egg on toast with chips.

The food was really good.  Simon felt his roast beef was a little on the cheap side, but very well cooked.  It came with roasted root veggies and a mash made of potato and sweet potato and a little something else.  His Yorkshire pud looked perfectly done and he said it was.  My burger was really yummy, served on a sort of sour dough bap with loads of greenery just like I like.  Bill ate all of his egg, so it must have been alright.  The beer prices were still a bit high, but it was nice having Peroni on tap.   We’ll be back.

Wimbledon Park

The other new, old thing we tried this weekend was Wimbledon Park.  Back in our child free days we walked from our house to Wimbledon Park (it’s a long way) one wintry afternoon and found it all a bit grim.  It’s not a good walking park, hemmed in by two golf courses.  But going again with parental eyes, we saw it in an entirely different light (and we think it’s been refurbed a bit, too).   There are two separate play areas, including some fairly dangerous climbing frames (we saw a couple of accidents while there, nothing serious but plenty of tears).  There’s a fabulous sand area and a water play area with fountains and sprinklers all on a safety impact mat.  We went too late in the day for that to be on.  Bill enjoyed the boating lake populated with Egyptian Geese and a single cantankerous swan.  He loved exploring the track and field area.  We set up the hurdles on the track on their lowest setting (which was probably a no-no) and one parent on each arm lifted Bill over them at a “sprint”.

We had to bodily carry him out when it was after eight and growing dark.  We’ll be back.

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