London Calling Parklife shutterstock_184911035.jpg

London Calling – Parklife

Once again, London’s parks are coming alive this summer, as the weather hots up and people want to get out to enjoy the sun.
An astonishing 63% of the land in London is classified as ‘accessible open green space’ and for the 7.5 million people who call this home, these areas make summer in the city that much more bearable. Green spaces range from the classic formal parks to garden squares and there are some hidden gems if you take the time to look.
The most famous parks of all are the eight Royal Parks – covering in excess of two thousand hectares, these include Hyde Park, Regent’s Park (home to London Zoo) and Kensington Palace Gardens, but also the less obvious places like Bushy and Greenwich Parks.
Hyde Park, which opened in 1637, is the largest in London and another Royal Park, Green Park, was found to be hiding a horrible secret when workers building an extension to the Victoria Line tube in the 1960s unearthed a plague pit with skeletons containing Black Death bacteria, all on the doorstep of Buckingham Palace!
Jumping forward to the 21st century and the fine tradition of establishing parks continues with the former 2012 Olympic site in Stratford, east London, now re-opened and renamed the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and forming the largest urban park in Europe.
Most people like parks to escape the crowds but with 25 million annual visitors to London boosting park populations in the summer months, it pays to look a little harder to find the less well-known spaces.
Try Postman’s Park for example, behind Bart’s Hospital, with its memorials to ordinary people who have done heroic things, or the Chelsea Physic Garden, the second oldest botanical garden in Britain (after the Botanic Garden in Oxford) and home to the world’s most northerly grapefruit tree!
Another oasis of tranquillity is the little-known Phoenix Garden, a former World War II bombsite tucked away behind the junction of Charing Cross Road and Shaftesbury Avenue and a great escape from the hustle and bustle of the West End.
Music festivals have become a very important part of London parklife and 2014 has seen a few changes to regular schedules with Calling and Wireless also moving to different venues this year. Earlier this month the British Summer Time festival took place in Hyde Park and Lovebox at Victoria Park featured veteran rapper Nas (at 40!) perform from his classic Illmatic album. Both events were as popular and sold out as ever.
At no time have London’s open spaces and parks been more valued than today and their enduring appeal is a result of parklife meaning something different to every generation of city dweller and visitor.
By Richard Lamberth