The Garden Guide

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

Sub tropical planting by John Gibson and William Robinson

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It is an object-lesson to show the advantage of avenues and shady walks, too often ignored by modern park designers, or only carried out in a feeble, halfhearted way. The chief variation in Battersea Park was achieved by John Gibson, the Park Superintendent, who made the sub-tropical garden in 1864. His experience, gained on a botanical mission to India, which he undertook for the Duke of Devonshire, well fitted him for the task. This garden has always been kept up and added to, and specially improved in the Seventies, while the present Lord Redesdale was at the Office of Works. A sub-tropical garden was quite a novelty when first started here, and caused much interest to horticulturalists and landscape gardeners. The "Sub-tropical Garden," by W. Robinson, and other writings on the subject, have since made the effects which can be produced familiar to all gardeners; but in 1864 to group hardy plants of a tropical appearance, such as aralias, acanthus, eulalias, bamboos, or fan palms, was a new idea. During the summer, cannas, tobacco, various palms, bananas, and so on, were added to the collection, and caused quite an excitement when they first appeared at Battersea. The garden is still kept up, and looks pretty and cool in summer, and on a cold winter's day is sheltered and pleasant. But much of the charm and originality of the early planting has been lost, in the present official idea of what sub-tropical gardens should contain, which carries a certain stereotyped stiffness with it.