Our lives are not our own – Kennington Park, London

One of the joys of living in London, the forest city, is discovering one of its many parks for the first time. Today I walked into Kennington Park on the way to a garden design job.

The Victorian legacy

We hear the term “right plant, right place” all the time on TV, like it’s a revelation just discovered. It’s not. Humans have understood plants since our time began. Probably more so in every other period than now. A modern reminder of this is the Victorian mass planting of the London Plane tree (Platinus x acerifolia) throughout the UK’s capital.

This was a case of right place, only plant. It was a time after the natural forests of the UK were ripped from the earth to make way for our industry. Pollution dictating what few tough trees would actually survive.

In the time I’ve been alive, the Victorian period feels as though it’s moved from a recent real thing, to myth and fairytale. Yet here, in Kennington Park, the London Plane are the last living children of that age. Setting the park’s structure like stone columns in a cathedral. Surrounded by streets of Victorian mansions and the later working class maisonettes.

A turning point

It’s no coincidence that a beautiful new community led garden sits at the heart of Kennington Park. Up against the harsh fence of the inner city sports ground, it’s planted in a Piet Oudolf style mixed in with the new-wave perennial plant community style.

This style is interesting because it shows a return of human understanding and interplay with plants that for some reason we seem to have lost over the last few decades.

I believe we’re at a turning point. More humans are set to live in cities than in countryside in our lifetime. There seems to be a change happening right now where more of us in urban areas are craving to live alongside nature again.

It can’t be the same. The ancient forests are long gone and besides, they weren’t full of buildings. However, humans are smart and we can bring nature back in new ways that work with our own lives.

We gardeners and nature lovers need to keep working together to help others understand how to grow and care for plants again. To help everyone benefit from nature packed cities and towns in our own ways.

Parks like Kennington Park bring people together. Of all ages and backgrounds, giving everyone a little pocket of nature and freedom. They can give us a sense of belonging and they survive through selflessness and tolerance.

If you live near a park, why not pop down this week in the Autumn light and take a look at it as the leaves begin to turn brown and fall. How long has the park been there? How old are the trees? What will it be like in the future?

“Our lives are not our own. We are bound to others, past and present, and by each crime and every kindness, we birth our future.” – David Mitchell, in the Cloud Atlas

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