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     Volume 6 Issue 32 | August 17, 2007 |

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London Calling

Kavita Charanji

London is almost always associated with typical landmarks like Big Ben, the Tower, Trafalgar Square, St Paul's Cathedral West Minister Abbey, Buckingham Palace, Madame Tussauds and London Eye.

However at the moment there is nothing to beat nature in its infinite glorydespite a rainy and dismal summerranging from hydrangea, geraniums and daisies, lupins to lavender, lilies and fuchia. London's famed gardens boast an array of colours, shapes and sizes of flowers, plants and trees. Among the attractions are beautiful and unusual trees such as the purple beech tree, ponds and birds. Here's a closer view of a few of London's green spaces.

Kew Gardens

Kew Gardens
The jewel of London's gardens is spread over 300 acres and promises to give the visitor a view 'from palms to palaces, tundra to temples.' With 40,000 plants and 40 listed buildings, it's easy to see why the gardens occupy pride of place.

As soon as one enters the huge premises of the garden the Palm House Parterre replete with Mediterranean vegetables, fruits and herbs catches one's eyes. The flora on display includes a wide variety of food plants such as fig and olive trees, grape vine, sunflower, tomatoes and marigolds.

Next comes the Palm House of this world heritage site. This section transports the viewer to the humid tropical rainforests with their plants, which are not only aesthetically pleasing but sources of food, clothing and medicines. In their ranks are coffee, coconut, ginger, cane and curry leaves. The two regions covered in the exhibit are the Americas and Australasia. Among the plants are Jacartia Spinosa and Madagascar Periwinkle (used therapeutically to fight cancer).

Another useful specimen is the tamarind tree. The extracts from the seeds are used as a stabilising agent in some ice creams while gum is prepared from the ground trees and used as a base for traditional paintings in India. The pots incorporate compounds which increase resistance to infections and the timber is used for tool handles, wheels and panelling.

And what about the fascinating 'living fossils'? Cicadas, around before the dinosaurs, are known as living fossils because they have stood tall for millions of years. In fact they can live for 2,500 years. Mostly pollinated by insects such as weevils and beetles, half are threatened in the world. In fact the tropical rainforests on the whole are extremely threatened and around a quarter of the plants encountered at Kew are in danger in the wild as are more than half the cicadas.

There are many interesting stories about the trees in the Palm Houseas for instance that coconut is also known as trees which grant all wishes or the neem as being of divine origin and used in insecticides, medicines, soaps and cosmetics.

In the neighbouring Water-lily House is a compelling sight of colourful water lilies with huge leaves akin to a mini-boat. The house used to display plants with culinary and therapeutic properties. However, since 1999, a spectacular water lily called Victoria Cruziana has been successfully cultivated at this house and furthers Kews' mandate of discovering, identifying and conserving threatened plant species and fragile eco-systems.

Other must see spots at Kew are the Princess of Wales Conservatory, Temperate House, Kew Palace and the current Mediterranean Summer Festival, which runs till September 9. The latter transfixes the visitor with its Mediterranean Garden and the Rock Garden. It also gives gourmets a taste of the region's cuisine, herbs and chillies.

Hampstead Heath

Hampstead Heath
The nearest glimpse of England's famous countryside is Hampstead Heath, with its wild golden grass, spectacular view and a huge mansion that evokes the glory of the past. Spanning an expanse of 791 acres, the heath has 25 main ponds and areas of ancient woodland, bog, hedgerows and grassland. Setting a section of the 'lungs of London' apart from its other counterparts is its designation as a Site of Special Interest by English Nature (the UK agency that promoted wildlife conservation, geology and wild places spanning from 1990-2006).

A popular spot is one of the heath's highest points, called Parliament Hill from which the visitor can view the gigantic dome of St Paul's Cathedral, the Central Hall Westminster and the London Telecom Tower, among other areas.

An eerie silence falls as one negotiates the lush thicket and numerous trees to get a view of the Kenwood House and Estate. Going through a trellis of leaves, one enters the estate. With a pond and carefully manicured sprawling gardens a huge mansion overlooks the verdant expanse. The Iveagh Bequest Kenwood estate has earned recognition for its rich collection of painting bequeathed to the nation by Edward Cecil Guinness, the first earl of Iveagh. The neo-classical villa is the creation of Robert Adams. Among the notable painters whose works are on display are Rembrandt, Vermeer, Gainsborough, Reynolds and Turner.

In other rooms are paintings of famous aristocrats. Divided into sections, the Suffolk collection captures personages such as Elizabeth Drury, Countess of Exeter, Diana Cecil, countess of Oxford and Ann Cecil, their sister. Other famous works are the portraits of King James II, Queen Mary II and Charles II.

In the next hall are another array of paintings a portrait of a lady by Ferdinand Bol, Princess Henrietta of Lorraine by Sir Anthony Van Dyke.

Recreating the luxurious bygone era are a dining room, sitting room, library and music room. The library, one of the finest 18th century interiors, was completed in 1770. The

Regent Park

Regent's Park
Scantily clad sunbathers soak in the sun as others just walk around and picnic. Spread over 410 acres, renowned architect John Nash designed the park in 1811. A major attraction is the stunning and fragrant rose gardens with more than 30,000 roses of 400 varieties. The park is the largest outdoor sports area in London with The Hub, a community sports pavilion and sports pitches. Another draw is the open-air theatre in the heart of the park. The theatre kicked off with the production of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night in a roof top enclosure in 1932. The current programme includes two Shakespearean plays, a musical
and a children's play.

Enter Queen Mary's garden and one's senses soak inthe fragrance, colour and beauty of a huge array of roses in red, white, yellow and peach. Many have evocative names such as Pretty Polly, Little Bo Peep, Ingrid Bergman and Keep Smiling. An eye catching statue of a huge male reclining figure sets the tone for a relaxed outing.

The park also has a touch of the sub-continent. Quite unexpectedly one comes upon a fountain, which was the gift by Sir Cowasjee Jehangir. A wealthy Parsee gentleman of Bombay, Jehangir presented the fountain to the people of England for the protection enjoyed by him and his fellow Parsee gentlemen under the British rule in India. The fountain is crafted out of stone and is marked with pointed spires.

An inscribed plaque calls for a stop. The plaque sets into the Broad Walk and marks the centre of the gardens. The inscription was carved by Richard Kindersley in 1996.

Herb Garden - Geffrye

Hyde Park
Though better known than the other gardens, the park is at first sight a bit of a disappointment. Apart from its neatly clipped grass, there is little to capture the imagination. However the garden is renowned for its Speaker's Corner, in the northeast corner, where the more adventurous can deliver public speeches. While the police cast a benevolent eye on the proceedings as long as the speeches do not breach the law subjects are not proscribed.

The park has attracted notable figures such as Karl Marx, Vladmir Lenin, George Orwell and William Moriss.

Stretching an area of 350 acres, Hyde Park is contiguous with Kensington Gardens (275 acres). The site has been at the hub of mass demonstrations by the Chartists, the Suffragettes and the Stop the War Coalition. In March 2002 many protestors on the Liberty and Livelihood March began their march from the park.

On the south of the Serpentine Lake is the Diana Princess of Wales memorial, an oval stone ring fountain which opened on July 6, 2004. Another path worth taking is on the Princess of Wales Memorial Walk.

Younger people and some elders have thronged in large numbers for a series of rock concerts ranging from Jethro Tull (1968), The Rolling Stones (1969), to Eric Clapton (1996), the Foo Fighters (2006) and White Stripes (2007). Among the most recent shows are those of Peter Gabriel, Chris Cornell to Aerosmith and Crowded House.

Geffrye Museam

Geffrye Museum
Geffrye's on Kingsland Road is a delightful and cosy museumunlike others which maintain a hands-off approach to their exhibits. Here one can sit on the antique chairs and view the stunning artefacts ranging from 17th century furniture, the marvel of the Georgian period and the refined Victorians, right up to the 20th century. The museum is set in elegant 18th century almshouses. The focus is on the urban middle class and the changing domestic interiors through history.

Vividly displaying life as it was in days gone by, is the depiction of a parlour in 1695 where the mistress will do household accounts in the evening on an ornate writing cabinet. Later in the evening, her husband will read to her from the London newspapers such as the London Gazette, making the most of the warm hearth before retiring to bed.

Then through various points in time, the museum homes into the 20th century. Here the interiors are more open, functional with less furniture and plain walls.

Other works are splendid paintings with chairs from various points of time, objets d'art and old newspapers and periodicals. Another important stop at the museum are the attractive gardens, including an award-winning walled herb gardens which chart the major changes in town gardens from 1600-1900.

The herb gardens comprise of medicinal, cosmetic, household, salad and aromatic herbs. Another feature is the changing styles of gardens, ranging from the relaxed Georgian and Edwardian gardens to the picture pretty Victorian gardens.


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