Charles I the Digger King Posted on December 9, 2020

Swallows on a wire

I wasn’t at all sure where to find Bushy Park. We went there when I was small; I just remember enormous chestnut trees! And why ‘Bushy’? Was that what it looked like? Then the other day we set out for Hampton Court and I discovered that it comes to the same thing. It is the northern park of Hampton Court, separated by an imaginary line across its unpromising flat terrain.

Christopher Wren, whose house overlooks it, perhaps thought the same. To him wide spaces suggested avenues. Did he plant the horse chestnuts? They were only quite recently introduced here from Greece. They make a magnificent northern approach to the palace, interrupted by the famous Diana Fountain (no, not that Diana), which Wren must have seen being installed there in 1713. It stands at the crossing of the chestnut avenue with the even more ambitious lime avenue, a mile long and maybe a hundred yards wide, with a triple row of trees each side.

The real interest of Bushy for gardeners, though, is in the ‘Plantations’ in the middle of the park. Every garden is a plantation of sorts, I suppose, but here and in Richmond Park it signifies a fenced area where the (newly planted) oaks are protected from the deer. The Waterhouse Plantation is blessed with a wandering stream that, I was surprised to learn, was dug by Charles I – with, one imagines a little help from brawny subjects. The Longford River, as it is called, was I imagine just to improve the plumbing at Hampton Court, an aqueduct from the river Colne twelve miles to the north.

Whoever diverted it into its present lively rivulets and shining pools created an ideal setting for a woodland garden. The usual suspects are all here; the weeping willow, the rhodies, camellias, dogwoods. swamp cypresses lining the stream with hundreds of their bizarre ‘knees’. The last autumn brightness was provided by ginkgos like showers of gold coins. What was truly bizarre, though, was the sight of picnickers sitting on fallen trees at two-metre intervals like swallows on a wire.

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