England's Not-So-Secret Garden
A French historian went to Regent's Park in 1864 and wrote: "It is a solitary place with no noise of traffic; London is forgotten and you are quite alone." And as my friend Tom explained to me, that's how Londoners like it.
Billy is Tom's American friend.
Set inside a ring in the southern half of Regent's Park, Queen Mary's garden is the perfect place to keep yourself to yourself. First, it's still almost as quiet as it was in 1864...
....remarkably so, given the giant city surrounding it. Maybe it's more accurate to say how few human noises you hear: the ducks in the fountain, scrambling after peanuts, are not quiet...
....and the songbirds are downright noisy.
Second, it's impossibly beautiful. The lawn is like a putting green; the line of the hedge is so straight and square, it looks like it was made in a machine shop; and each of the thousands of flowers seems to be the quintessential example of its type. Queen Mary's garden, known for its roses, is considered one of the prettiest and best-tended gardens in the city -- in fact, in all of England.
John is resting in front of the fountain. He's house- and dog-sitting for a friend who lives nearby, happy to take advantage of his temporary situation to bench-sit in this Eden deep inside London.
Regent's Park, which includes the London Zoo, is about 500 acres -- half the size of Central Park. It opened in 1838 on the spot where Henry the Eighth went hunting, when he wasn't hunting for another wife. Regents is actually a baby in British terms. For instance, our friend John went to Cambridge, which dates to the 13th Century.
Regents Park is only 162 years old. Gordon the gardener has been taking care of it for about a third of that time.
Gordon the gardener is a lanky man lying on his side taking a cigarette break on his precious lawn. He's retired now, but he still helps out.
If Cupid appeared at the end of the 20th century and came to Queen Mary's garden, he might switch his bow and arrows for a rake and a rose pruner. Just after I met Gordon, I ran into the epitome of the little old couple...a man and a woman probably in their seventies or early eighties. The woman leaned toward me, conspiratorially.
These two people, walking down the lane with their fingers intertwined, would have turned the Marquis de Sade into a hopeless romantic.
Finding love in all the right places in London, I'm John Rabe for The Savvy Traveler.
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