Dear Readers, after saying goodbye to the falconer and his Harris hawks yesterday, I made my way across the Strand and into the Middle Temple via a twisty little lane called Devereux Court. Wood describes this as ‘entering another world’, and so it is – the sound of traffic falls away, to be replaced, in Fountain Court, by the splashing sound of the oldest fountain in London, dating from 1681.
The two twisted trees to either side of the fountain are black mulberries – although they look ancient, they were planted for Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee in 1887. I was just a little early to see them in fruit, so a return journey is definitely in order! Although James I is credited with trying to kickstart the British silk industry by importing mulberries back in the 1600s, Wood explains that archaeologists have found Roman-era mulberry seeds in remains in the city, so the berries have probably been on the menu since well before the silk link was established. Incidentally, black mulberries are the wrong species for silk worms, who prefer white mulberries, but black mulberries are apparently infinitely better eating.
The gardeners in the various parts of the Temple are obviously extremely busy people, as we shall shortly see. I love that they have adopted that most insect-friendly of plants, the echium, as a statement in some of their beds – they crop up everywhere, and I am possessed with a need to try to grow one, after my success with my giant angelica this year. Echiums are in the borage family, and viper’s bugloss is an echium, though this plant is probably Echium pinana from the Canary Islands, otherwise known as Giant Echium, for obvious reasons.
On I go, past some more magnificent plane trees and the Middle Temple Hall, said to be central London’s finest Elizabethan building. This is probably where the first ever performance of Twelfth Night was held, and Shakespeare himself is thought to have been in attendance.
I have a quick look at Middle Temple Garden, which is a lovely spot, notable for its splendid acers and a particularly lovely peach-coloured climbing rose.
Then it’s off into Pump Court. I am rather taken by the geometrical branches of the Tree Cotoneasters in this gloomy spot – they seem to be trying to sketch out a Mondrian painting.
I pause briefly at Temple Church (where a barrister friend got married), and am very taken by the pale blue clematis (possibly Blue Angel, but feel free to put me right) growing up the banisters to the Master’s House. This is my kind of garden, and I know how much effort it takes to make something look this informal. However, I haven’t seen anything yet.
Then it’s a quick turn into King’s Bench Walk, which is mostly a car park, though again the London planes are magnificent.
There is a heap of building work going on, and I felt a little sorry for these poor echiums peering out over a hoarding…
But then I entered Inner Temple Garden. Oh my goodness! If you have never been here before, do make time when you come to London – it’s one of the most idyllic, beautifully designed gardens that I’ve ever come across. It has a breezy informality and romanticism that must take a shedload of work. It’s extremely pollinator-friendly which of course keeps me happy, and, as you would expect from a tree walk, it has some magnificent trees.
So, here we go. First up is a hybrid strawberry tree with rust-red bark, which was full of fledgling blue tits when I visited.
Mexican fleabane and ox-eye daisies have seeded themselves in the cracks on the steps.
On one side of the path, euphorbia and verbena and a host of other flowering plants pour over the gravel….
…while on the other side, there is a meadow of mixed grasses, poppies, ox-eye and other daisies.
There is a magnificent Atlas Cedar with blue-grey foliage, and the sound of goldcrests coming from the branches…
…and the bed on the other side of the path as I turn towards the Thames is themed in dark red and white, with the largest scabious I’ve ever seen….
…some amazing white foxgloves with deep magenta centres and a kind of lacy frill around the edge (much appreciated by bumblebees as you can see)…
and some deep purple poppies…
There is a very unusual Manchurian Walnut…
And although the alliums are going over, their seedheads are still very striking.
There is a magnificent dawn redwood….
And then there’s an avenue of London planes. I defy anyone’s blood pressure not to drop as you walk along this green passage, regardless of the traffic belting past just over the wall.
There are 3 enormous plane trees planted in the lawn which are thought to date to the 1770s, but the avenue is younger – Wood thinks that the trees on the northern side (on the right-hand side of the first photo above) are probably nineteenth century, the ones on the southern side (closest to the river) are early twentieth century. When you look at the girth of the trunks you can see that those on the left are clearly still slim and youthful, while middle-aged spread has taken the ones on the right.
There is a lovely little fountain with the waterlilies just coming into flower.
And a splendid view back to the Manchurian Walnut.
The next border is a positive cornucopia of different varieties of hydrangea – it’s not my favourite plant, but some varieties are attracting bees who are after the pollen.
I have just missed the flowering of the tulip tree, but it does gift me with one blossom. This is a very fine tree. Its branches look like a cupped hand. I also appreciate the way that the gardeners have left a wide circle unmowed under pretty much all the trees in the lawn.
I walk past a young woman who has posed a china tea set with a shortbread biscuit on a tiny miniature table with a gingham table cloth against a backdrop of pink hydrangeas, and who is clearly taking a photo for her Instagram feed. I imagine it will be very pretty.
I am rather taken by this enormous plant. The chair underneath it is full-size. It looks a bit like Gunnera but not as spikey – some giant version of Rodgersia perhaps? I obviously have a thing for giant plants currently….
And then there’s this very unusual fuchsia.
A final turn, and I’m heading back towards the gate. It’s like being kicked out of Narnia…..
…because just a few hundred metres out of the garden I come to the Embankment, and this is the sight that awaits me.
Holy moly, what’s going on? Well, apparently it’s the Tideway Super Sewer, which aims to collect and transport more of London’s sewage (the current Bazalgette sewer was built when London’s population was only half the size). Every year, millions of tonnes of raw sewage end up in the Thames and its tributaries, so if this can be cleaned up it can only be a good thing. At the moment it looks a bit of a nightmare, but it will no doubt be great once the carpet’s down, as my Nan used to say. In the meantime, I would stick to the peace and tranquillity of the Inner Temple Garden if I was you. It’s open from 12.30 to 15.00 on weekdays (nb not weekends or public holidays), and I would check before making a special journey as I think it’s sometimes closed for special events. Well worth a look though, and another splendid walk from Paul Wood’s book.
London Tree Walks by Paul Wood is available here.