Playing about in Handyside Gardens…

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Meet the snakepit, Handyside Gardens, Kings Cross, London, February 2018

The other Dan Pearson project that I was keen to see in a cold London was the small, but perfectly formed, Handyside Gardens, complete with play park, which slithers between new buildings at Kings Cross to make great use of a little ribbon of land.  I have borrowed 2 photographs from Dan Pearsons own site to show what I mean, thank you Dan Pearson Studio.

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Handyside Gardens, aerial view at the opening, November 5th 2013 photo credit for both images:

All of the planting that was up looked in great shape, especially the flowering Cornus mas hedges which thread their way through the beds and playpark.  The bright yellow open pompoms were very welcome on a cold and wintry day.

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Flowering Cornus mas, Handyside Gardens, Kings Cross, February 2018

There was fun to be had- and not only from the snake sandpit, which I loved.  Pretending to be four years old, I climbed up the slide steps to get a bit of a view, nothing quite as aerial as the Dan Pearson photographs though.

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The swings, the pergola tunnel, and, just, the snake sandpit, rocks for climbing and jumping, soft surface and planting, Handyside Gardens, February 2018

The site sits on top of Underground tunnels and so soil depth was an issue.  Raising the planting up in parts of the site, using warm coppery Corten to make raised beds, also created lots of impromptu seating possibilities, especially near the play equipment.

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The big, bold, pergola tunnel wraps around the circular play area with the sandpit, Handyside Gardens, February 2018

I loved this massive, hefty pergola, underplanted with grasses and, in summer, probably a great play thicket as well as an adult pleasure.

From the aerial photographs, you can see the sinuous, elongated tear-shapes of the beds, which reminded me of the great John Brookes, whose sinuous Modernist design for Bryanston Square, didn’t survive the return of the traditionalists.  The design drawings for this simply beautiful design can be seen in the current Garden Museum exhibition on John Brookes, a man who speaks such clear sense about design.

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John Brookes’ sinuous design for Bryanston Square, London 1965 photo credit:

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Raised Corten steel beds, seating, and half a small water rill, spring planting just coming through, Handyside Gardens, February 2018

Two halves of a sweeping water rill bring you towards the canal end of the Gardens, with winter planting of the stunning Bergenia purpurescens ‘Irish Crimson’ and flowering Hamemelis.  No scent, as I think it really was too cold to be able to smell anything.

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Flowering Hamamelis, not sure which, Handyside Gardens, February 2018

But that Bergenia….well, an outrageous and simply brilliant beetroot red in the little bit of sunshine that broke through.  This variety came from the Irish botanical garden at Glasnevin, was tended and raised by the great Irish gardener, Helen Dillon, who then gave it to the great Beth Chatto, and from the Chatto Nursery, it has made its way into the trade, though it is not yet widely available.  Gorgeous, and who needs flowers?

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Bergenia purpurescens ‘Irish Crimson’, Handyside Gardens, February 2018

The underplanting that had already made it out was doing a very good job, and none better than Helleborus orientalis.  Flowering starts with me around late December, continues right through to late March, and, as the plants warm up, so the flowerheads rise up on growing stalks, so that the look of the planting in early March is quite different from early January.  And the foliage lasts, with a faintly jungly look about it, pretty much right through the rest of the year.  It’s a bargain.

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Hellebores do underplanting so well, Handyside Gardens, February 2018

Race you to the snake…





2 thoughts on “Playing about in Handyside Gardens…

  1. That does look like a fun place to play! I love the underside of the leaves of the bergenia! And I love the jungly foliage of hellebores too – they are such a useful year-round plant, aren’t they?


  2. That looks like it was constructed in a parcel that had once been a utility easement. For example, in Los Gatos, public parking lots are built where abandoned railroad tracks had been removed. In Emeryille near Oakland, a long narrow park was built in a former utility easement, where buildings had not been constructed under all the cables. I do not know where the cables are now.


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