The Garden Guide

Book: London Parks and Gardens, 1907
Chapter: Chapter 7 Municipal Parks in South London

Brockwell Park

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BROCKWELL PARK Those who want a change, from the roar and bustle of streets, can attain their object very quickly by the expenditure of a few pence and fifteen minutes in the train. Getting out at Herne Hill Station, in a few seconds the gates of Brockwell Park are reached. The old trees and undulating ground are all that could be desired, but the chief attraction, and the object that well repays a visit, is the old walled garden. It is a high brick enclosure, with fine old trees peeping above, and festoons of climbing plants brightening the dull red walls. The narrow paths, running in straight lines round and across, are here and there, spanned by rustic arches covered with roses, or clematis, or gourds, from which hang glowing orange fruit in autumn. In the centre of the garden a small fountain plays on to mossgrown stones, and on a hot summer's day the seats, shaded by the luxuriant Traveller's Joy, make a cool resting-place, though not so sequestered as the arbours in the angles of the wall, darkened by other climbers. The rest of the garden is a delightful tangle of herbaceous plants. All the old favourites are there, and a small notice near the entrance announces to those in search of knowledge that the garden contains all herbs and garden plants mentioned in Shakespeare's works. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, and the unwary might not realise that the flowers of Shakespeare's time, although undoubtedly there, only form a small portion of the whole display. The board is literally true, but visitors are apt to go away with the idea that brilliant dahlias, and gaudy calceolarias, or even the most modern introduction, Kochia tricophila, were friends of Shakespeare's! A large number of the plants, however, are truly of the Elizabethan age, that golden time of progress in gardening as well as of other arts, when spirited courtiers and hardened old sailors alike scoured the seas and brought strange plants from new lands. Many of these now familiar treasures from east and west flourish in this little enclosure, and recall the romantic days of the sixteenth century: the Marvel of Peru-the very name tells the delight that heralded its arrival from the West-the quaint Egg-plant (Solatium ovigerum) brought from Africa, and the bright-seeded Capsicums from India. Even the bush, with its wealth of white or purple flowers, the Hibiscus Syriacus, was known in those days, though not by that name. Gerard, in describing it, says it was a stranger to England; "notwithstanding, I have sowen some seedes of them in my garden, expecting successe." That delightful confidence, which is the great characteristic of all these old gardeners, was not abused, apparently, in this case, for two years later, in the catalogue of plants in his garden, 1599, this great tree mallow was flourishing. Many of the gourds, which are grown to great advantage in this little garden, were also known at an early date. Gerard says of them, "they joy in a fruitful soil, and are common in England." Were it not for the conspicuous little notice-board, no fault could be found with the selection of plants which, from early spring till late autumn, brighten this romantic little garden. The Solatium jasminoides is none the less graceful because it has only found a home in sheltered corners in England, for the last seventy years. Cobï¾µa scandens, which festoons very charmingly some of the arches, is certainly an old friend, having been over a hundred years in this country; but it is a new-comer when compared with the Passion Flower growing in profusion near it, and even that did not appear until after Shakespeare's death. It was unknown to Gerard, but his editor, Thomas Johnson, illustrates it in the appendix to the edition of 1633. It had then arrived from America, "whence it hath been brought into our English gardens, where it growes very well, but floures only in some few places, and in hot and seasonable yeares: it is in good plenty growing with Mistresse Tuggy at Westminster, where I have some years scene it beare a great many floures." Mistress Tuggy and her friend would have rejoiced at the sight of the house in the centre of Brockwell Park on a warm October day, thickly covered with the golden fruit as well as star-like flowers of their precious "Maracoc or Passion-floure."