Part 1 Inner Temple Garden
An aerial view of London shows plenty of green space amidst the urban layout of streets, shops and offices. The expansive royal parks account for much of those spaces- Hyde Park, The Green Park, St James’s Park and The Regent’s Park- as do squares (both public and private), churchyards, private gardens and the gardens attached to some professional bodies. In this and my next post I explore two of the latter: the Inner Temple (commonly known as The Honourable Society of the Inner Temple) and The Royal College of Physicians.
Occupying a site beside the River Thames, from which it is separated by the Victoria Embankment, the three acres of the Inner Temple Garden are surrounded to the west, north and east by the buildings of the Inn, housing barristers’ chambers, judges’ lodgings as well as Inner Temple Hall and the offices of this ancient Inn of Court, one of the four located in this area of London, between the theatres and shops of the West End and the banks and financial institutions of the City of London.
In early September, a kind friend who works for the Inn arranged for me to meet Sean Harkin, the Inn’s head gardener. During lockdown I had watched Sean give an online lecture to the Kew Mutual Improvement Society about Inner Temple Garden and was struck by his enthusiasm for plants and for his work in this unique sanctuary in the heart of the busy city. Sean’s CV is impressive: RHS Wisley, the National Trust’s gardener in residence for the city of Manchester and head gardener at Kensington Palace where he created the white garden in memory of Princess Diana. My friend and Sean took time out of their busy schedules to meet me on a rather overcast and damp day, a contrast to the extreme heat of only a week or so before. Sean explained that over the last couple of years, he and his small team of three gardeners had created a new meadow on part of the lawn in the centre of the garden. Now mown, I can imagine that the meadow added a very natural and contemporary aspect to what might otherwise be expected to be a rather conventional space. But Sean’s vision is for bold planting in scale, form and colour. And this is most evident in the deep herbaceous border along the garden’s northern side where tall grasses and cardoon seedheads jostle alongside blowsy pink dahlias, Salvia Amistad, giant fennel and rudbeckias. A broad-leaved plant I didn’t recognise (resembling a very tall canna lily or a banana) added an exotic accent. It reminded me of the long border at Great Dixter where what at first glance seems informal planting is in fact a carefully woven tapestry of textures and hues. Sean told me the garden is at its best in April and May, and I shall certainly return then, but I loved the late summer colour scheme of pink and gold and was impressed at how well the plants had fared in the recent drought.
Sean reminded me that until 1911, the Royal Horticultural society staged its annual spring show in the garden, before moving to its current venue, the Royal Hospital in Chelsea. The border I have just described was turned over to allotments in WW2 and blitz spoil lies beneath much of the soil of upper part of the garden. A magnificent avenue of London plane trees (Platanus x hispanica) runs parallel with the Victoria Embankment, screening the Inn from traffic and filtering the fumes. In a peaceful spot alongside the avenue stands a large circular lily pond, raised above ground and screened from the surrounding lawn by a recently planted hedge.
Elsewhere pillowy yew topiary forms settle plumply at the corners of a shady lawn. Silvery hued plants such as Mexican fleabane (Erigeron karvinskianus) and a Euphorbia echo the pale stone of an elaborate pillar supporting a sundial.
Tucked to the east of the garden are steps lined with pots containing tender plants including a flamboyant Brugmansia and Cobaea scandens, the cup and saucer vine. A nearby lean-to greenhouse is full of succulents and cacti.
As well as the planes, the garden is home to some other beautiful trees including a Magnolia soulangeana and a dawn redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides). And to some wonderful roses: tall China rose shrubs smothered in loose-petalled blooms.
Inner Temple Garden might be located in the heart of an ancient institution but thanks to the head gardener’s vision and flair, it’s a garden for the twenty first century.
The Inner Temple Garden is usually open to the public on weekdays (excluding bank holidays) from 12.30-3pm. Access is via the main gate opposite the Treasury Office on Crown Office Row, London EC4Y 7HL.
More images from the garden: