Covering a large area in central London of about two hundred and sixty five acres, Kensington Gardens is a Grade I Listed Historic Landscape and is one of the eight Royal Parks to be found in Greater London, all of which are unique in their own way.
Although most of the park lies within the City of Westminster, due to its large size the western part actually lies within the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. Hyde Park lies contiguously with Kensington Gardens on its eastern side thus forming a huge area of green open space.
Visited each year by millions of Londoners as well as tourists, Kensington Gardens offers its visitors some peace, tranquillity, fresh air and much pleasure away from the hustle and bustle of central London. The park also acts as a huge green lung due to its many trees, thus helping to reduce pollution caused by a constant stream of traffic in this heavily congested area.
The park is open year round from 6.00am until dusk when all the gates are locked. Don’t worry if you get locked in as there are five one way turnstiles gates around the park that you can exit from.
Easily accessible by public transport, Kensington Gardens is surrounded by plenty of bus stops and three tube stations, namely High Street Kensington on the Circle and District Line, Lancaster Gate and Queensway on the Central Line and Bayswater which is on the District Line.
Disabled drivers can find designated parking bays at West Carriage Drive and Queen’s Gate.
With so many things to see and do in Kensington Gardens you will be spoilt for choice and wonder where to begin, so we will take a look at just some of things that are on offer after looking briefly at the history of Kensington Gardens.
A Brief History of Kensington Gardens
Originally most of Kensington Gardens was actually part of Hyde Park and was agricultural land that had, in the 11th century been granted to Geoffrey de Mandeville by William the Conqueror, who then went on to bequeath the land to Westminster Abbey.
In 1536 Henry VIII decided he wanted the land for himself and therefore seized the land by way of a compulsory exchange, promptly enclosed it and made it into a Deer Park.
When King William III and Queen Mary came to the throne in 1689 they decided that they would like to set up home on the grounds of Nottingham House and Sir Christopher Wren was asked to design and enlarge the house. This residence was firstly to be called Kensington House and then latterly, Kensington Palace. The clerk of works was informed that the job needed doing quickly and cheaply and that is why the palace was built using bricks instead of stone!
The gardens were also designed at this time, laid out in the formal Dutch style and apparently had amazing topiary of clipped holly and yew trees. As well as all this and in order to link Kensington Palace to Westminster, the Route de Roi (now known as Rotten Row), was also built through Hyde Park.
Unfortunately neither William or Mary lived long enough to really enjoy their new palace and gardens. Mary died in 1694 from smallpox and William died in 1702 after falling from his horse and breaking his collar bone, death claiming him a few days after the fall.
By 1702 Queen Anne had ascended the throne and expanded the garden still further creating a formal wilderness garden along with a sunken terraced garden. She also took another one hundred acres of Hyde Park for use as a paddock in which to keep deer and antelopes.
New buildings were also constructed at this time and can still be seen today, these include The Alcove and Orangery.
The reign of King George I saw huge amounts of work carried out not just to the gardens but the Palace as well. For example 1718 and 1725 saw Kensington Palace further enlarged whilst 1726 saw the construction of a menagerie, the Round Pond, huge tree planting schemes with formal Avenues being laid out, along with the creation of the Great Bow, a double Avenue of trees which encircled the pond.
When George II and Queen Caroline came to the throne in 1727 the huge and ambitious works continued but they had the menagerie removed which allowed the gardens to be turned back into gardens.
New walks were created in the wooded areas, whilst other walks were made bigger and then planted with lime espaliers, along with the planting of formal lines of oak tree groves and the laying out of formal lawns.
Ponds were linked together in order to create the Long Water (Kensington Gardens) and the Serpentine (Hyde Park) along with the construction of the Queen’s Temple which was set in a grove of trees.
This time in history also saw the start of part of the gardens being very gradually opened to the public, provided they were suitably dressed of course!
1760 saw the death of George II along with Kensington Palace no longer being used as the main royal palace and by the middle of the the 1780s several formal walks along with the sunken garden had been lost.
1819 saw the birth of the yet to be Queen Victoria at Kensington Palace where she remained living until ascending the throne in 1837. Clearly she had a very fond attachment to the palace and its gardens, arranging for a long stream of improvements to be carried out including the South Flower Walk, Italian Gardens and the Albert Memorial, the construction of the latter further necessitating land being taken from Hyde Park. These new improvements started to see Kensington Gardens take on a very Victorian flavour.
From 1837 Kensington Gardens also started to become more and more accessible to the public with toilets, refreshment building and drinking fountains installed in the late 1800s.
1912 saw the unveiling of the now very famous Peter Pan statue along with the children’s playground to which J M Barrie, the author of Peter Pan contributed towards the cost, thus giving rise to Kensington Gardens becoming very much associated with children.
The Second World War witnessed the aristocratic feel to the gardens starting to slip away as the park became ever more popular with the public whilst the many elms that formed the Avenue trees were lost to Dutch Elm disease during the 1950s and 1970s thus the landscape declined still further.
The 1960s were something else – I was still a child back then but were the majority of adults at that time taking mind altering substances, leading them to live by the then well known expression ‘let it all hang out man’, making them have a skewed view of things? I ask this question as it was in the 1960s that the formal tree layout of the Avenues and Quarters were deliberately weakened so that they lost form and structure, wilfully ruining the parks beautiful landscape still further.
Of course the Great Storm of 1987 and further storms since have also seen the loss of many trees in Kensington Gardens. Thankfully attitudes have changed since the 1960s and 1970s and work is constantly being undertaken to ensure that Kensington Gardens original features are restored and maintained to their former glory days.
A Selection of Things to See and Do in Kensington Gardens
There are so many things to see and do in Kensington Gardens that it would be impossible to list them all so here is just a small selection:
The Italian Gardens – this one hundred and fifty year old Grade II listed ornamental water garden is certainly worth checking out just for it’s intricately carved stone urns and statues alone and which have undergone intensive restoration works in recent years.
The gardens were commissioned by Queen Victoria, probably as a gift to Prince Albert a keen gardener and are very much based on the gardens at Osborne House, Isle of Wight. If you visit the Pump House you will see the initials of Victoria and Albert on one of the walls.
Kensington Gardens Allotment – definitely worth a visit if you are a keen vegetable or fruit grower where you are free to wander every day between the hours of 9.30am to 4.00pm and perhaps pick up a few tips. Chickens are also kept at the allotment so this may encourage children to visit too.
Diana Memorial Playground – this should certainly keep the children happy and entertained with its huge pirate ship surrounded by a beach, teepees, play sculptures, an assortment of toys and a sensory trail.
There are plenty of seats so the adults can sit and rest along with a cafe, toilets and baby changing facilities.
Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Walk – for those that like walking and exploring this seven mile walk takes you through four of London’s beautiful parks, namely: Kensington Gardens, Hyde Park, Green Park and St James’s Park as well as within sight of many locations and buildings associated with Princess Diana such as Spencer House, Buckingham Palace and Clarence House. A walk route map can be downloaded from the Royal Parks website.
Park Deck Chairs – if you would rather just sit and chill or read a book or newspaper then hiring a deck chair may be just the ticket. Prices range from about £1.60 for an hour to about £8 for all day.
Kensington Palace and the Round Pond – a royal residence since the seventeenth century, parts of the palace are open to the public and include the Gardens, King’s State Apartments and the Queen’s State Apartments. There are also various different exhibitions, a shop and for refreshments, the Orangery Cafe.
While you are there don’t forget to check out the Round Pond which the palace overlooks. Interestingly the Round Pond is home to the oldest model yacht club in the country dating back to about 1876 which has a very interesting history of its own.
Elfin Oak – children and adults alike are sure to adore this sculpture made from the hollow trunk of an ancient oak tree that originally came from Richmond Park and is carved with figures of animals, fairies and elves.
Peter Pan Statue – no visit to Kensington Gardens can be complete without visiting Peter Pans statue which was unveiled in the gardens in 1912. This beautiful bronze statue has adorable mice, squirrels, rabbits and fairies all climbing up towards Peter.
The park also holds various different events throughout the year such as Scottish Dancing, Bat Walks and the Gorilla Circus Flying Trapeze School.
Kensington Gardens Wildlife
Due to Kensington Gardens being extremely busy and popular most of the year and with a distinct lack of ground cover for protection, the only small mammals that you are likely to see apart from squirrels are those climbing up Peter Pans statue! Birds on the other hand are another matter, providing bird spotters and photographers with plenty of opportunities to enjoy the many different breeds that can be seen in the park.
Here are just some of the birds that either live or visit the park:
families of Little Owls, best spotted in autumn when the leaves have fallen, Tawny Owl, Treecreeper, Great Crested Grebe, Mistle Thrush, Blackcap, Greylag Goose, Mute Swan, Egyptian Goose, Jay, Blue Tit, Reed Warbler, Black Swan, Chaffinch, Black Headed Gull, Mandarin Duck, Little Egret, Song Thrush, Siskin, Goldcrest, Dunnock, Sparrowhawk, Jackdaw, Grey Heron, Coal Tit, Long Tailed Tit, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Wren, Coot, Cormorant, Common Sandpiper, Grey Wagtail, Moorhen, Gadwall and Pied Wagtail – I think this list should keep any bird spotter or photographer very happy indeed.
For those with an interest in invertebrates, various species are supported by the amenity grassland, flowerbeds and herbaceous borders whilst some species of beetle are supported by old oak and chestnut trees.
The Trees of Kensington Gardens
Trees are the core framework that form the parks landscape, with the formal Avenues providing a strong visual link to the various historic layouts, along with various other groups of trees that collectively make Kensington Gardens such a beautifully green and pleasant park, helping to frame views and outline space.
Kensington Gardens has between three and four thousand magnificent trees some of which are fine examples of mature or veteran trees including a number of sweet chestnut trees that are over two hundred years old, whilst it is thought that some of the older oak trees may actually be descendants from Henry VIII’s ancient oak forest.
Most of the Avenue trees are made up of either lime, horse chestnut, sweet chestnut, London plane and oak trees, although several other species can also be found, namely, white mulberry, black mulberry, tulip tree, hornbeam, Indian horse chestnut, Norway maple, common buckeye, common alder, common beech, black walnut, southern beech, hop hornbeam, Lucombe oak and sessile oak.
Other trees that can be found across the park are silver birch, rowan, cherry, medlar, weeping beech and Indian bean tree.
Of course all these trees need careful and skilful management and all trees are routinely inspected to ensure they remain healthy and do not pose a threat to passers-by.
Pruning is only carried out when necessary, for example to remove dying, diseased or dead wood, to reduce the chances of branches falling, to improve a trees crown, or to open up an historic view.
The felling of healthy trees is not normally undertaken although it can be necessary sometimes, for instance when restoring heritage landscapes. In the past unsuitable trees have been planted in gaps where trees have died, without proper consideration to what was planted there previously, thereby ruining and completely changing, for example, the look of an historic Avenue of trees.
We do hope that you have found this information interesting and useful and that you enjoy your visit to Kensington Gardens.
Article was written by Karen Arnold
Article Source: http://www.graftingardeners.co.uk/about-kensington-gardens/