Gardens, Landscape History, London, Parks, Public Realm

The Avenue Gardens Regent's Park

May 4, 2014

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The last several days have been particularly gloomy and damp adding to the sense that the seemingly endless winter will not relent. To add insult to injury it is May, the month when the “sweet April showers….do spring May flowers.” At least in theory.

As an antidote to the capricious New England weather, I have put aside the piece I have been writing to share a brief overview of The Avenue Gardens in Regent’s Park, London which I visited last weekend. The Regent’s Park is one of my favorite public spaces, a verdant refuge in the heart of the city. It is also a horticultural delight where riotous displays of ornamental planting beds, artistically designed, are displayed.

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As I wrote in an earlier post, The Regent’s Park is preserved as public open space by the failure of an early nineteenth century development scheme that sought to build garden villas and a summer palace for the Prince Regent on the site.  When conceived, the development scheme incorporated the park into the design, carefully integrating it within the surrounding residential fabric.  It is possibly one of the first parks to have been created in such a manner, providing an early model for subsequent garden cities. For additional information about The Regent’s Park visit: https://landscapenotes.com/2012/05/08/the-regents-park/

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According to the The Regent’s Park & Primrose Hill Management Plan Draft (2014 – 2024) by Burns+Nice, The Avenue Gardens represent the only formal avenue shown on John Nash’s 1811 master plan for the development scheme that was implemented, part of a concept for “a grand carriage drive through north London linking Carlton House through Regent Street and Portland Place to a proposed guingette (a tavern where friends and families gather to eat, drink and dance) for the Prince Regent’s residence in Regent’s Park and to the villas around and beyond.”

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The Schmollinger Map of 1833 depicts Nash’s formal, tree-lined avenue aligning with Park Square.

The Avenue Gardens date from 1861 when advice was sought from horticulturists regarding the trees planted as part of Nash’s design. William Andrews Nesfield (1794-1881), a prominent Victorian garden designer/landscape architect, whose extensive work includes Castle Howard and the planting beds, radial avenues and parterres outside the Palm House at Kew Botanic Gardens, was engaged to redesign the area. His plan, for a formal Italianate/Victorian garden, set within the framework established by Nash, featured ornamental fountains and urns. Completed in 1864, it became known as the Italian or Avenue Gardens and immediately became a popular sensation.

I pause here for a moment for a word about Nesfield who according to Nina Antonetti in the essay, William Andrews Nesfield and the origins of the landscape architect, notes that Nesfield, “helped initiate the evolution of landscape gardener to landscape architect; redirected Victorian thought and design by instigating fresh ways of articulating old ideas; led his generation in the revival of formal gardens during a great period of modernization; and worked in tandem — as an equal — with the great country house architects of his generation.”

More importantly though, is that according to Antonetti, “Nesfield practiced at an opportune time in landscape history to perpetuate a shift in the focus of the practitioner from the private rural estate to the public urban park.” To read more about Nesfield visit: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/01433768.2012.671037#.U2ZmgyhOt94.

The undated plan of The Avenue Gardens below is from A Family Affair: The Avenue Gardens and Picturesque Shrubbery, Regent’s Park, London by Dr.  Shirley Evans.  It can be found on The Garden History Society’s web page: http://www.gardenhistorysociety.org/post/agenda/3287/

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The design of The Avenue Gardens is strictly formal with a promenade accentuated by vistas and axes bordered by flower beds that contain both annual and perennial plantings. Topiarized evergreens provide visual identity and evergreen hedges create a sense of enclosure from the park.

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There is a rhythm to the planting beds which while formal are not symmetrical. These are ornamented with a series of vases, pedestals and Tazzas, the most prominent of which, the Lion Tazza by Austin and Seeley, acts as a centerpiece to the garden.

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Despite their popularity The Avenue Gardens were not immune to decline and according to Burns+Nice by the early 1990s few of the original elements of Nesfield’s scheme remained. In 1996 The Avenue Gardens were restored reestablishing “the elaborate and exuberant formal character of the gardens with its colorful and ornate bedding schemes.” Twenty-four garden ornaments were recast to their original designs including eight fountains and the lion tazza centerpiece.

According to the management plan,“The Avenue Gardens will be conserved and maintained with their current historic and restored design to the very high standard of maintenance and horticultural excellence demanded.”

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Among other objectives this will be achieved by managing the shrub and tree plantings to ensure they remain in scale and not become over-mature; controlling the design and color-schemes of the bedding to ensure the gardens retain a high and consistent standard of quality whilst allowing for seasonal variation and variation between years to maintain visitor interest and delight; maintaining the axial relationship of Broad Walk and Park Square and coordinating with the Crown Estate Paving Commission to establish a visual connection between the park, Park Square and Park Crescent.

If like me you wonder how a public space can be maintained to such high standards both The Regent’s Park with Primrose Hill Operations Plan and Landscape Management Plan are available at http://www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/the-regents-park/about-regents-park/park-management-plans.

A Landscape Maintenance Contractor, Veolia, plc, provides all of the day-to-day landscape maintenance work employing a minimum of 48 full-time staff with seasonal staff as required during busier periods. R.A. Meredith & Son (Nurseries) Ltd supplies the bedding plants (for all of the Royal Parks) which are grown, the The Regent’s Park on-site nursery, to specific requirements.

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The design of the Avenue Gardens contributes to the essential character and “genius loci” of The Regent’s Park, where a sense of grand internal spaciousness is augmented by the strong formal relationships of the garden elements. It is also a reminder that gardens, gardening and gardeners play an important role in public spaces.

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Frieze London Contemporary Art Fair will take place in Regent’s Park from Wednesday 15 October to Saturday 18 October, 2014.

For a panoramic view of the gardens visit: http://www.panoramicearth.com/76/London/Avenue_Gardens_in_The_Regents_Park

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 Copyright © 2014 Patrice Todisco  — All Rights Reserved

 

 

 

 

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