Strolling through residential neighborhoods, from time to time I came to park-like fenced gardens in squares surrounded on four sides by identical townhouses. Only the residents of those homes had keys to open the gates to the gardens, but looking through fences, past trees and shrubs, I could see spring blossoms ranging from tulips and iris in the ground to climbing clematis and roses to waterfalls of purple wisteria, lilac, and white jasmine. Some of the white-painted houses displayed their own window boxes of spring flowers. Beyond the quiet squares, the sounds of city traffic rumbled, almost like mountain streams.
The people of London take spring seriously. The big event each spring is the Royal Horticultural Society’s Chelsea Flower Show, where for five days gardeners from across Britain display their best blossoms and most brilliant garden designs. Each year, the show sells out, forcing those who didn’t plan ahead to buy tickets from scalpers. Displays in shop windows around the city celebrate the annual event. This year, the Queen’s Gallery in Buckingham Palace celebrated spring and the show with its own exhibition, “Painting Paradise: the Art of the Garden,” presenting room after room of paintings, illustrated manuscripts, drawings, and artifacts depicting gardens through history, from the Garden of Eden to an Indian Mughal garden and Chinese plantings, to Dutch tulips and the formal gardens of Versailles and Hampton Court.
One day, we walked through the sprawling garden at Kensington Palace, admiring the wide lawns bordered by beds of tulips and pansies, wandered through the famous sunken garden, and rested by the Orangery, where Queen Anne’s orange trees once were protected from winter frost, but now is a restaurant. Another day, we strolled along some of the narrow streets of Hampstead, admiring the small but elegant front gardens of the old brick houses. The fresh green color of the trees showed that they had only recently come into leaf. Tulips, wisteria, clematis, and lilac brought the hillside neighborhood alive with color and perfume. Even the earth of this hectic city opened itself to springtime.
Simone Martel's collection of garden-themed stories,