Architecture: Guarding the glories of green London: Todd Longstaff-Gowan urges support for a new group set up to champion and safeguard the capital's rich horticultural heritage

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The Independent Culture
John Loudon, the gardening writer, declared confidently in 1826 that 'the love of gardening is so natural to man as to be common to children, and the enjoyment of a garden so congenial to our ideas of happiness, as to be desired by all men of all ranks and professions, who toil hard in cities'.

Loudon, who lived in Bayswater, west London, made considerable efforts to interest people in the benefits and pleasures of 'city gardening', equating the cultivation of a garden and an interest in the 'vegetable kingdom' with a healthy and balanced domestic life. London was at the time the source of nearly all garden improvements. It boasted the latest in garden and vegetable culture, production and technology; it was the source of the largest out- pourings of garden and horticultural literature, and the home of the most celebrated emporia of 'garden intercourse and novelties'.

Not that Loudon's London was all floral gaiety. In Charles Dickens's Nicholas Nickelby (1839), Ralph Nickelby gazed with mournful abstraction through dirty windows to his melancholy garden, 'fenced in by four high whitewashed walls and frowned upon by stacks of chimneys, in which there withers on from year to year a crippled tree, that makes a show of putting forth a few leaves in late autumn, when other trees shed theirs, and drooping in the effort, lingers on all crackled and smoke dried till the following season, when it repeats the same process, and perhaps if the weather be particularly genial, even tempts some rheumatic sparrow to chirrup in its branches'.

Yet, whenever and wherever possible, Londoners still indulge their furor hortensis. We still seek to stir vegetable life from the formal prettiness of our prim, starched and pruned gardens, or if denied a garden, stroll through the leafy glades of Hampstead or Richmond Park.

London has inherited a vast mosaic of urban parks and gardens. Despite the way we treat many of them, they provide us with an enormous source of comfort. Plants and gardens are unique landmarks within our urban geography.

The Museum of London's exhibition and book London's Pride (1990), like the Victoria and

Albert Museum's The Garden (1979), marked a turning point in the appreciation of the capital's parks and gardens. The aim of London's Pride was to remind us that the development of the capital was not just a story of the proliferation of bricks and mortar, but a rich history of vegetation and open space.

The exhibition revealed key periods in the development of London as a 'green city', from the laying out of the royal parks to the first public pleasure gardens, residential garden squares, and the modest green patches that redeem even the humblest inner-city estate.

London's Pride was an invaluable contribution, but such an ephemeral event alone could not have a sustained impact upon our appreciation of city gardens. And while there have been scores of disparate local initiatives to protect, restore or research our garden heritage, there has not been a means to date by which the views, desires and anxieties of thousands of garden enthusiasts could be assimilated and broadcasted to like-minded Londoners. Not until the London Historic Parks and Gardens Trust officially opened its doors at Duck Island Cottage, St James's Park, last month.

The trust is an independent charity, the aim of which is to promote education and awareness about historic parks and gardens in London, and to seek to conserve, enhance and recreate these for the delight and education of the public. Unique in Britain in being the first metropolitan garden trust, it is among the most recently-formed of the county garden trusts and a member of the Association of Gardens Trusts. No park is too extensive nor too small to be of interest to the new trust, which has cast its net to include most gardens within the M25.

By drawing together a wide range of knowledge, expertise and interest from professionals, amateurs, individuals, organisations and societies within London, the trust aims to promote projects, influence decision-making on the protection and management of historic garden land and provide a network for information. It will provide education, information, research and creative projects for the improvement and conservation of London's extensive fabric of endangered historic parks and gardens.

The trust is currently supporting a range of projects including the restoration of an area of Victorian bedding in Battersea Park, the refurbishment of the churchyard garden of St George in the East at Shadwell, and the conservation and restoration of Gunnersbury Park in west London.

It provides practical assistance for specific projects in a variety of ways: support to promote local projects; the identification of possible sources of funds for appeals; historical research; the compilation of a data base of historic parks and gardens in London and advice on conservation, restoration and management of historic parks and gardens. The trust works alongside local groups, borough councils, the National Trust, the royal parks and garden and conservation societies.

There are plans to run an active programme of events including illustrated lectures, private visits to places of special interest, study days, school projects, opportunities for research or practical work in connection with specific projects.

Such an ambitious remit and programme of events requires substantial resources. The trust depends for its funding upon contributions, grants, sponsorship and subscription income.

Membership is vital. The annual subscription at pounds 12 is set at an intentionally low level so as to encourage people to join. The trust relies on active membership support, and seeks volunteers to help with clerical assistance, practical gardening projects, education, review of development proposals, staffing of the trust's offices, research and participation in working parties and sub-committees. The greening of London lies in your green hands.

Further information from the Secretary, London Historic Parks and Gardens Trust, Duck Island Cottage, c/o The Store Yard, St James's Park, London SW1 (071-839 3969).

The writer is a garden historian, and a member of the Executive Committee of the London Historic Parks and Gardens Trust.

(Photograph omitted)

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