The Garden Associates
Garden report for St James’s Square
It was back in 2012 that Robert Player and Garden Associates first became involved with St James’s Square. It was then a very different place than it is today. It was rather overgrown with very few particularly interesting plants, and although precious green space within central London, it lacked flair and identity.
Greg Koen was appointed Head Gardener and together with Robert Player began to develop and plan the rise of the gardens within this historic square.
It must be said at this point that any garden plans would be worthless without the support and backing of the Trustees. They totally supported and enthused the gardening team and together the garden progressed.
One of the first and certainly the largest undertaking was the redesign and replanting of the central beds by Greg. The unattractive beds with amenity planting, that lacked colour and interest were replaced by tightly clipped Buxus parterres and filled with soft informal herbaceous plants, providing colour, movement and a longer season of interest. All eight of the central beds are very different in their aspect. Some are in deep shade from the huge mature Plane trees, whilst others are in full sun. Quite a challenge!
The beds needed to be linked with an air of duplication and continuity to carry the eye without too much disruption. Colour, together with leaf and flower, texture and scale were all used to unify these spaces. Versatile plants such as Persicaria amplexicaulis and the golden daisy flowers of Rudbeckia herbstonne which can tolerate both full sun and part shade, were important planting ingredients to achieve symmetry within the beds. Height was required in these central beds and this was achieved by the use of three fastigiate beech trees. These importantly did not cast excessive shade and together with the mature London Plane trees ‘framed’ views of the garden from all angles and vistas.
Another great success is the north-west quarter of the garden, the tropical corner, which is divided into two areas. Taking advantage of the square’s sunniest aspect coupled with inner London’s ability to create micro-climates, has enabled exotic plants from all over the globe to be successfully grown. The warmth and free draining soil made this area an ideal environment for growing many Australian and South African plants. Plants such as Protea, Banksia and Cycad are all thriving here. The massive leaves of the Paulownia and Ensette complimenting the bright yellow columns of the bamboos certainly stops you in your tracks. Yet the dry garden opposite with its large palms, unusual Leucadendrons, spiky Agave and other exotics make you doubt you are half a mile from Piccadilly Circus!
In contrast to this rather lively exotic corner the rest of the garden reflects the Square’s very English historic roots. Shrub roses pump out their wonderful musky scents and colour is provided well into the autumn by hydrangeas and fuchsias. As they fade it’s time for the giant illuminated Christmas tree to take centre stage. Come twelfth night when the tree is removed it is merely less than a month before the first of the Spring bulbs begin to flower with narcissus ‘February Gold’ taking centre stage. Crocus, snowdrops, dog’s tooth violets, grape hyacinths, camassia and tulips follow on through the spring season.
There truly is never a quiet time in the gardens of St James’s Square.