WILLIAM CURTIS’S Flora Londinensis, published in installments between 1777 and 1798, was the first comprehensive book on the flora of the capital and its environs and one of the first to focus on plants in an urban area. Meticulous hand-colored copperplate illustrations supported a text that described fritillary growing ‘in meadows between Mortlake and Kew’, chicory in Battersea Fields and a rare species of stonecrop on a chapel wall in Kentish Town.
Two centuries earlier, William Turner, ‘the father of British botany’, had noted carpets of bluebells, as well as great burnet and chamomile at Syon. And in his Herball of 1597, John Gerard wrote of clary growing wild around Gray’s Inn, Holborn, and pennyroyal on a common near Mile End.
London’s historic flora is unsurprising. Up until 1745, the fully built-up area only ran from around Westminster’s Horse Ferry crossing to Lambeth and Park Lane in the west and to Shoreditch and Mile End in the east. North of Oxford Street was mainly still fields and there wasn’t much more than a mile or so of development south of the Thames.
Even beyond that time, the city retained rural aspects. Kensington’s market gardens lingered into the 1800s and Notting Hill’s largest farms survived until the 1880s. Wood anemone and lesser celandine grew in Marylebone’s fields in the first decades of the 19th century. Traveller’s joy, or old-man’s beard, still draped the hedgerows of today’s fume-filled Edgware Road and the fragrance of lilyof-the-valley wafted across Hampstead Heath.
The rapid development of London from then, not to mention its suburban overspill in the early 20th century, meant that, by 1939, the soil in many parts of the city had not seen daylight for decades, with inevitable consequences. Yet a 1947–55 London Natural History Society study of the densely built-up Cripplegate area, just north of St Paul’s—which had been flattened by wartime incendiaries— showed what opportunists plants are. By the end of the study period, sprouting up among the deserted ruins were 342 species of flowering plants and ferns, from dandelion and chickweed to spear thistle and perennial wall rocket. Rosebay willowherb took off here and in other bombed areas so prolifically that it became a symbol of Blitz-blighted districts, popularly known as bombweed.
Continue reading your story on the app
Continue reading your story in the magazine
Sail away with me
Our remaining windmills are unashamedly romantic slices of old England. Last spring, those still working went into overdrive to meet local demand for flour, reports Eleanor Doughty
Ode to our wastelands
Losing small patches of scrubby land to new houses might not seem significant, but these little Edens are vital for Nature, contends Mary Colwell
The not so wild west
West Chelsea–the area between Cremorne Road and Sydney Street–is where the fortunes of this famous and much-loved area began, finds Carla Passino
The taste of a mermaid's kiss
Once viewed as a lowly substitute, salt-loving marsh samphire is back in favour in our gardens and on our plates, says Julia Platt Leonard
With fens like these..
Cambridgeshire and Norfolk have a rich history not only in agriculture and ecology, but homes, too
Testament to taste
Quality and quirk will out, as is evident from the contents sales of a widow of the Ford motor dynasty
On the edge - Interview Jake Fiennes
Holkham’s director of conservation on changing farming to feed us and protect wildlife
Sweet child of mine
It took centuries for the ringleted baby Jesus and diminutive royal ‘adult’ to give way to images of the mirth and mischief of childhood on canvas, says Matthew Dennison
Interiors The designer's room
By introducing curves, Irene Gunter fitted a bath and a double shower into this London townhouse
READY, SET, DIVE
Outdoor swimming is the lockdown trend that is here to stay. Rosie Paterson takes a closer look at some of her favourite London ponds and pools
Learn Why These Colorful Plants Thrive in Lake Placid
Learn why these colorful plants thrive in lake placid
Industry Sees Plant Trends Taking a Turn
Expect to see more eco-conscious and unconventional plants in homes and gardens for 2020, according to horticultural experts with the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.
The Joy of Flowers
Transplant rebirths an abandoned home and acreage into a flower wonderland
In The Spotlight: Cooking With CBD
Cooking with CBD How Leah Vanderveldt, author of The CBD Kitchen, harnesses the powers of this trendy plant to create a host of healthy dishes
Your CBD Questions Answered
CBD has gained notoriety for relieving pain, sleep problems, and many other ills, but it’s also surrounded by confusion. To clear things up, here are the answers to some common questions.
Multiply Your Plants
Follow these steps to grow more of your favorites for free.
Fern And Bromeliad Fever
Specialising in indigenous and non-indigenous ferns and epiphytic ferns such as staghorns and imported bromeliads.
Early Summer Superstars
Make room for these May and June flowering beauties
Learning To Love Green
Forget the razzle-dazzle of brazen yellows, blazing reds and shocking purples, the colour of sophistication and quiet beauty is green, says Graham Rice
Getting Your Roses Ready
Planting, pruning and feeding are all done now, says Ruth