Every year at the end of May and beginning of June in London, Queen Mary’s rose garden in Regent’s Park springs to life when 12,000 roses - in 85 varieties - start to bloom. Suddenly, an oasis forms in the heart of the city where visitors are surrounded by beauty and buffered from the noises of traffic and construction. It’s a dreamy pastel world that only lasts for six or so weeks every summer.
The first time I entered the garden I was captivated by the diversity of colours ranging from classic reds and corals to yellow, marigold, a staggering spectrum of pinks as well as blues, mauves and purple. There are even ombre toned roses that start off pink and fade to salmon and yellow, looking startlingly modern and trendy for an object in the natural world.
It’s a romantic, almost bucolic scene especially at golden hour and over the weekends, when couples lie in the grass, stylish friends arrange elaborate, Instagram-worthy picnics, and children run and scooter along the inner pathway, circling a bed of velvety Ingrid Bergman red roses.
The rose garden dates from 1932 when Queen Mary (wife of King George V) established a public garden in Regent’s Park. The rose garden portion was completed two years later.
Six years later the novelist Elizabeth Bowen, who lived on the edge of Regent’s Park during the Second World War, wrote: “I had always placed this park among the most civilised scenes on earth.” And more than half a century later, I have the same sense walking through the garden or resting on a bench: there is a stillness and calmness. Perhaps we are respectful or just in awe.
In 1960 Sylvia Plath, at the time living in very nearby Primrose Hill, visited the park frequently and wrote a poem titled In Queen Mary’s Rose Garden, calling the space, “my green island”.
I love to visit the garden over and over again because it changes so much and so quickly. Anytime I’m able to steal into the garden for a quick photo session, a different selection of roses has bloomed and reached it’s peak - while others have faded and begun to die. I always remember that Blue For You - a surprising violet- coloured flower which I first found hard to believe was even a rose - blooms first, every year.
I love how the name of each single variety rose is identified with a little moss-covered plaque planted in its bed. The variety I remember best (and am happy to see every year) is called Norwich Cathedral - which I love simply because I once lived in Norwich. And I always smile at Southern Belle, purely because I’m originally from Texas. In her poem Plath wrote: “The roses are named after queens and people of note or after gay days, or colors the grower found good.”
An anonymous blogger captures it so well when she writes: “To walk past the beds, reading the names on metal plaques, is like riffling at top speed through a series of encyclopaedias and phrase books. Names historic; names whimsical, comic, surreal, and dotty.” So perfectly well put.
I find the literal names the most charming: Free Spirit, Easy Going, Gorgeous and Lucky! (yes, it really is punctuated with an exclamation mark). And who wouldn’t smile at a rose named Singin’ In The Rain.
Today is Sunday the 16th of June, and I most recently visited the roses on Friday. The majority are still in wonderful condition. I hope you can go and enjoy them too!