If you are a gardening type, you might like to know that Chiswick House refurbished it’s historic, 300 ft long, Grade 1 listed camellia glass houses after years rotting in the doldrums in 2010 and is celebrating their 200th birthday with a camellia festival.
For anyone who lives in West London, Chiswick House and its surrounding parkland is a lifesaver for dog walkers and mums with small kids alike. My three sons all caused havoc around the park with scooters and learnt to ride their bikes on the (smoothly tarmac-ed) path. Now there’s a posh new cafe to sit and watch your children falling out of trees and upset the park keepers by running across the flower beds. In my day we took a thermos of tea.
When we used to go, I would walk passed the rotting greenhouses and imagine how wonderful it would be to have them refurbished and full of plants, a bit like a mini-Kew Gardens. The glasshouses were originally designed in 1813 by Samuel Ware, who was also the architect of Burlington Arcade, and they were restored in 2010 with Lottery Funding to be sparkling and beautiful again. Some of the original camellia plants descending from the first 1828 planting still survive and prove that in plant terms, old can still be stunning, although they needed a lot of love and care to bring them back from the brink in the 2010 refurbishment.
This is the third camellia festival since the refurb’ and this year Peter Blake, who lives close by and used to bring his daughter to play in the park, has produced a limited edition signed print of Camellia Japonica Incarnata -yours for £100 -to help rise funds for the Chiswick House Trust. He was at the press launch and was just fabulously dapper in his three piece black suit and fresh baby-pink camellia buttonhole, patiently posing for his photograph but resolutely refusing to smile.
Camellia nerds should note that the Chiswick House collection of camellias is probably the oldest and largest in the UK and (according to the enthusiastic keepers) maybe even the biggest outside of their native China and Japan. They grow easily outside in the UK but when these ones were planted in the 1820s it was thought best to grow them under glass.
The festival is on from today until the 17th March, see the website for more details