Discover more from LettsSafari +
Urban Rewilding: London's Holland Park Going Wild!
We explore this patchwork of the very wild with the most formal at London's famous park
There’s something going on at Holland Park, one of London’s most sophisticated parks nestled in amongst the rich and famous between Kensington and Notting Hill. Historically a park for the gentry, it has roots as the former grounds of Cope Castle, a Jacobean mansion. It was famous for its formal gardens, parkland and architecture. Today it could serve as a metaphor for our societal transition to the wider, multi-cultured population establishing itself across West London. It is slowly transitioning to a wilder, more diverse and open park.
Holland Park is an experiment in rewilding still trying to find its feet. We wanted to investigate it to try to fathom the direction of travel for this strange bio-diverse corner of central London. After all, it is quite a showcase for municipal parks - and like many responding to the new demands of the 21st century city - it is mixing wild abandon with traditional manicured gardens and grass meadows. A strange and clearly transitioning mix of the formal with wild, erratic edges as we’ve noticed in other urban park settings. But it feels as though Holland Park is pushing those boundaries further. Keeping the formal structures but allowing them to be planted differently. Less Begonias more wildflowers and grasses in some of the areas that are traditionally replanted every season.
Holland Park is similar in size to LettsSafari’s gardens and park at Exeter’s Mamhead Park (South). The latter is older, harking back to the Domesday book, but there are elements of the somewhat Romanesque-style architecture from which you could draw parallels. It is in the gardens and parkland that the similarities truly reveal themselves.
Mamhead Park was a project carefully planned and designed to develop and enhance the famed work from landscapers such as Capability Brown - extending and blending formal and traditional with the latest in rewilding and wildlife gardening approaches. It is a project constantly ‘managed’ with careful, phased extensions and improvements. It is a carefully choreographed process which today reveals a common eco theme and display.
Holland Park, on the other hand, seems to be taking a somewhat more haphazard approach. At times you wonder whether there is an overall landscape scheme being developed here or whether council cost cutting has meant that certain sections have been left entirely to their own wild devices. Bramble is slowly invading the edges and formal box hedges are gradually dying back as the park attempts to embrace zero-watering techniques. LettsSafari’s Capability Brown gardens at Mamhead Park also introduced zero-watering techniques a number of years ago, but had it carefully set up and integrated by leading experts in the field meaning very little loss of plant life in the transition.
It may be that Holland Park will, over the years, find that difficult, yet ideal blend of the formal and structured, for the more organised activities, while blending in seamlessly the rewilded sections sometimes kept separate and sometimes bleeding directly in - seamlessly meandering from one to the other.
But today Holland Park is rewilding section by section. Where they rewild they are ‘letting it all go’, creating areas of chaotic abandonment alongside tidy, manicured gardens and formal themed spaces such as the The Kyoto Garden which was opened in 1991 - a gift from the city of Kyoto to commemorate the long friendship between Japan and Great Britain.
The Kyoto gardens and ponds with stunning little cascades remind us of the large cascade gardens, streams and wetland gardens at Mamhead Park. In the Kyoto gardens they attract certain more ornate birds (see video below) and some stunning large fish.
The Koi (see video below) at Holland Park are exquisite - truly a sight to see. Koi, or more specifically nishikigoi, (literally "brocaded carp"), are coloured varieties of the Amur carp that are kept for decorative purposes in outdoor koi ponds or water gardens. The Capability Brown lake at Mamhead Park just started introducing Koi and carp a few years ago and now they are growing fast.
The deeper rewilded sections of Holland Park are often closed off from the public and their dogs - a necessary step to drive enhanced biodiversity and protect the wildlife. But, as these spaces mature they will need to be managed to ensure that invasive species and overly aggressive tree canopies do not take over.
Holland Park, like LettsSafari’s Capability Brown gardens, also has a stunning collection of open-air art. Holland Park’s perhaps a little more traditional than Exeter’s bold focus on environmental art!
Overall we were left in equal parts excited and at times confused by our featured coverage of Holland Park. If its fragmented and separate journeys for human kind and wild nature can be somehow united and integrated, then this could become a powerful and inspiring project. It is perhaps a metaphor for our wider, stuttering, stop-start attempts at restoring biodiversity across the much depleted western world. Surely a better planet awaits us…
LettsSafari is helping us build a better planet. When you subscribe we plant trees, introduce wildlife and create new rewilding safari parks. LettsSafari + brings you a front seat.