Garden tourism: 'Is London the World's Gardening Capital?'

I am a Londoner – and with understandable bias regard London as the capital city of world gardens, garden design and gardening. As argued in the above video, the reasons for this are both geographical and historical. Britain was emerging from the Pleistocene when horticultural techniques were devised (about 12,000 years ago) and they did not reach Britain until c3,800 BC. The art of making pleasure gardens came to London with the Romans, ended when they left and resumed when the Normans invaded England in 1066. Since then, there has been a steady advance in the popularity of gardening. Long may it continue! Britain is always likely to have a hard time competing with the Mediterranean countries for beach holidays – but it has very considerable opportunities for developing garden tourism. We were delighted to hear of the 2013 Garden Tourism Conference to be held in Toronto, Canada, in March – and have entered the Website in hopes of receiving an award in the Garden Tourism Website category. Further information on the London Gardens Walk – and free routemaps.

15 thoughts on “Garden tourism: 'Is London the World's Gardening Capital?'

  1. Christine

    The UK has an excellent claim to be the Garden Kingdom.

    In Australia, Victoria lays claim to the title of Garden State [ ] as does New Jersey. [ ]. While Canberra, the capital of Australia, is known as a Garden City.
    [ ].

    The Gardenvisit website is certainly deserving of an award in the Garden Tourism Website category! Best of luck!

    1. Tom Turner Post author

      The Dutch word tuin means garden and is cognate with the Anglo-Saxon word tun - which became the English word town. This is because gardens and towns were both enclosures and both had horticultural space. Perpahs it would not be an exaggeration to say that towns were gardens and gardens were towns.
      London is the midst of a building boom in which there is a real danger of the typical home changing from a house+garden to an apartment with some wishy-washy Corbusian green space visible from the picture window if you are lucky. Soon, it will not be The Unique City in Rasmussen’s sense – and I regret it.

    1. Tom Turner Post author

      It is good to have healthy competition between cities for the title of World Garden Capital – much better than sporty competitions between hunks of sinew and meat.

      Among the advantages London has over Hangzhou are (1) London has many exhibits relating to the first 4000 yeas of garden history in the British Museum (2) London has more houses with private gardens, and garden-mad owners, than Hangzhou. But, having both cycled round the West Lake in Hangzhou and crossed it by boat (the water did not look clean enough to swim it), I can confirm that it is one of the world’s great exemplars of garden and landscape design – much pleasanter than Bejing. I would put it in the same category for scenic and historical importance as the the Domain of Amun, the area outside Florence, Kyoto, Agra, the Dessau-Wörlitz Gartenreich, the Ville of Versailles, what’s left of Isfahan and the area covered by the London Gardens Walk. Kaifeng, I believe, was buried by flood-borne silt, though a later garden exhibition makes it still an interesting place for the garden enthusiast to visit. It remains regrettable that the Song Dynasty was hostile to Buddhism and, in the interest of fairness, I can compare it to the anti-Catholism which survives in sections of the UK (notably Glasgow and Belfast) – and you still can’t be king or queen of Britain if you are a papist (to the regret of Prince Charles, it has to be said).

  2. Christine

    Jerry, Anglo-saxon London is older than the late Song Dynasty Hangzhou. However, it is interesting to note that during the decline of the Song dynasty (which was hostile to Buddhism as a foreign religion prefering Confusianism) the Emperor paid tribute to Tibet. The Song dynasty was ultimately defeated by the Mongols.

    It is interesting to note that:
    “The great world cities in the year 1000 were Constantinople, Bagdad, Cordoba in Spain, Angkor Wat in Indochina, Tollán in Mexico, and Changngan and Kaifeng in China. In 1020, Kaifeng was home to around a half million people and featured tores that remained open all night, named streets and powerful merchants.”

    Kaifeng was the early Song Dynasty capital. Amongst the Song Dynasty achievements:
    “Chinese engineers developed the spinning jenny and the steam engine, two inventions that were key to England the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century. Improvements in crop yields through innovations, improvements in techniques and intensification produced what has been described as the world’s first green revolution.”

    It is believed that Kaifeng was the largest city in the world from 1013 to 1127.

  3. jerry

    When I came to the UK, I was told that British is mad for Gardening, I believe it. Before the 20th century, it was true, but now, do the british young generation is the same? It is certain that the british houses were built with a front/back courtyard, but whether the occupier could make it in to a garden is another problem. Garden is not only about planting herbs and vegetables and trees at all. Gardening is to create inspire space. Anyway, when I will tell you in the future, Tom. Also, a Garden city is not about: how many private gardens this city has, which is more about the ‘natural striation of a city’-Shan Shui Structure, Maybe, it is difficult for you to understand. We could discuss some time when I am free.

    1. Tom Turner Post author

      老外 (foreigner) I may be, but is it not the case that residents of the 中国 (Middle Kingdom) make an important distinction between 山水 (shan-shui, mountain-water, landscape) and 园 (yuan, garden)? I think this is similar to the English distinction between garden and landscape. A garden is enclosed and a landscape is unenclosed. I do not think London is the the world capital with the highest landscape/scenic quality. In fact my hometown (Edinburgh) has this quality to a much higher degree than my adopted town.
      It is sadly true that London is building many more apartments than houses with private gardens. Many of them are for imigrants who do not have the ingrained love of gardens. Only 45% of Londoners are ‘white British’. However, houses with ever-smaller private gardens continue to be built in large numbers. I guess they are a lower proportion of the new housing than in some other capital cities (Canberra?). I do not think this is affecting the popularity of gardens and my hope is that roof gardens and decently sized balcony gardens will, one day, become the norm in London.

  4. Jerry

    Tom, I hoped your country had sent you to China to study for couple of years, then we could probably communicate about garden. Anyway, I was shocked you were at desk in such a nice weather. Please go out to meet some new-born flowers. Sometimes, even one flower belongs to you, you could feel that is a whole garden- a whole world.:)

  5. Jerry

    Good, please, go, go and go out to meet the sunshine before it finished and do not forget to build a garden in your heart:) The real garden capital is not London, not Hangzhou… it is in people’s heart.

  6. Liz Logan

    I think adding an audio soundtrack was a good idea Tom – but the psychedelic fade-editing to Greensleeves at the end was far too long and should be cut out.

    1. Tom Turner Post author

      The comments on the most-modern ending have been split 50:50 love:hate. My excuse is that the ending is preceded by a warning that it adds nothing to the story.

  7. Emily

    Love this idea of London being the green city :) My favourite place to stroll is Kensington Gardens and this blog helps draw attention to the greener, more picturesque side of London! Great blog


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