Near every new place I live in London, I seek out quiet green space, a little slice of nature, a place to go and sit with a book, take a walk, go for a run, drink tea, write, have picnics or just relax away from the chaos of the city. Wherever that is, it becomes a place I return to again and again.
There’s always somewhere near home: In Knightsbridge, it was Hyde Park across the street; in Kensal Green, it was a short walk to Kensal Green Cemetery; in Ealing, it was Ealing Common just around the corner; in Earl’s Court, it was Brompton Cemetery, a two-minute stroll to the gates; in Southfields, it was Wimbledon Common, the trees of which we could see from the living room windows; in Chelsea, it was the meticulously maintained St. Luke’s Gardens in whose rose gardens we got engaged (and which is still my favourite).
Now, in Fulham, it’s Bishop’s Park that runs along the muddy river Thames from Putney Bridge and the attached grounds of Fulham Palace with its pretty walled garden and greenhouses lining the walking path. It has meadows, a moat garden, a lake and even an urban beach on one side of the water.
On Sundays, there’s a small food market that sets up at the center near a playground selling everything from chicken and halloumi wraps to Colombian arepas to honey sourced from UK bees and fresh fruits and veggies. Here, it’s a park full of life: of running laughing children, of joggers, strollers, scooters, dog walkers, skateboarders and yogis.
The best parts, though, are the quieter parts, like the rose garden that’s bursting with colour in the summertime and the woodland walk around one side of Fulham Palace where a massive ancient evergreen Oak tree has sat for some 450 years with long, reaching branches.
The other day I sat in the corner of the walled garden, on “Edmond’s Bench”. In the distance, the church bells chimed 11am and were drowned out by the roar of an airplane flying low overhead. It was a Sunday and the farmer’s market was in full swing, but the walled garden – which was then still in bloom – was (apart from the incessant air traffic to Heathrow and the Battersea heliport) pretty silent.
All around, I listened to the chirp of birds singing in different pitches, a squirrel rustling around in the tree leaves above my head, the buzz of a fly whizzing past my ear. Tranquility has a sound, some background noise.
It’s a beautiful place, this garden with its ragged brick wall, weathered over the years, wrapping around the perimeter, weeds sprouting from its crevices at random. A lawn in front of me that could use some mowing sprouted dandelions. Lining a central pathway, there were apple trees with heavy branches weighed down by green fruits of Autumn (now long gone).
There were flower gardens and vegetable gardens, white-winged butterflies hovering and landing, flitting and flying. There were greenhouses, painted white along one side. Yellow garden hoses were curled up in the grass like long, harmless snakes. Glass bells protected new growth in the soil. On one side, a green cart housed plastic pots with seedlings for sale.
The silence was interrupted momentarily by families out for Sunday strolls along the trails, distant shouts of children chasing each other through the trees, parents trying to direct their attention to some fascinating gardening fact in a myriad of languages – English, French, Italian. On the other side of the wall, they spread picnic blankets in the grass or enjoyed afternoon tea in the drawing-room.
And in the two months we’ve lived a short walk from the park, I’ve gone there more than anywhere else in Fulham. I’ve gone running along the river path, bought fresh meat from the butcher in the market, strolled around the lake taking pictures and sat in the rose garden reading my book.
The photos in this post were taken on several different visits over the last few months and I look forward to taking many more over the next few years.
Being in the park reminds me reminds of this Dale Carnegie quote: “One of the most tragic things I know about human nature is that all of us tend to put off living. We are all dreaming of some magical rose garden over the horizon instead of enjoying the roses that are blooming outside our windows today.”
When I’m in the park, I’m enjoying the magical rose garden in real life, and the breeze in the trees and the shouts of rowers from the Putney Rowing Club across the water and the sound of runners’ footsteps pounding the pavement and everything else that’s calming about the great outdoors even in the middle of a chaotic, noisy city.