Fenton House, Hampstead

There was a cold wind and a few spots of rain but plenty of sunshine too, so members of the Gardens and Gardening Group were not deterred even though the Fenton House gardener had cancelled the guided tour. No matter, between us we knew the names and something about the habits of a good proportion of the plants which were out or starting to appear, demonstrating that gardening can be good for the memory as well our wellbeing in other ways!
There are wide borders either side of the path up to the front of the house, with a formal garden at the back and a sunken Italianate area with high yew hedging, a walled apple orchard and kitchen garden to the side. There’s even a walled hothouse, complete with lemons and banana plants, giving a good variety of plants and styles for a location in a tightly built urban site. It really is a hidden gem in Hampstead. Though early in the spring season there was a good show of bulbs, especially tulips and crown imperial fritillaries, and a lovely spread of the white and plum coloured ‘checkerboard’ fritillaries with bright white wood anemone and vivid blue Scilla amongst the grass in the apple orchard. The apple blossom was just budding, but will be worth a return visit in a few weeks, and in autumn for many different varieties in this well-established orchard. We liked their use of simple bent branches to edge the grassed area, unobtrusive, low cost and eco-friendly, they were effective in discouraging people from walking on the grass and it’s floral display. A huge wisteria clothes the far corner on both sides of the wall, it’s feathery buds still tight in great numbers, but bare enough to see how it has been pruned and tied in, giving valuable learning. Elsewhere, wires along the brickwork support beautifully pruned climbing roses coming into leaf, one in yellow flower already, and clematis shooting up beside them promise a wonderful display later in the season. The kitchen garden was already showing signs of the crops to come.
Some of us admired the impressive composters, fine if you have the space, while others were intrigued by the use of tall steel supports for the beans, interspersing the traditional bean poles. One of our group recognised them as the sort used inside concrete blocks for building, but the groove which spirals up them also looked ideal for bean tendrils, or sweet peas. Fenton House had impressive examples of tender shrubs, tree peonies and echium shooting up already despite the chilly wind, and deliciously scented blossom on the hardier osmanthus and skimmia japonica as well. As the head gardener wasn’t around we took the liberty of critiquing the teasels and asters which we wouldn’t allow in our own gardens, but perhaps with the generous space they’re more relaxed!
Fenton House usually runs a guided tour of the garden from April to September on Thursdays at 2pm, subject to weather conditions. We discovered it’s a short downhill walk from the 210 bus, then down again to Hampstead tube if the uphill route is too steep.

▪︎ How to join the Gardens and Gardening Group