From where I live, you can walk for 10 or 20 or 30 minutes and reach some of the nicest parks in South London. It’s one of the reasons I like it here so much and a reason why I chose to move here.
There is one particular green space, though, that has a special place in my heart, because I saw it first the same day I viewed my house for the first time. It was January 2008, and my house-hunting mission in South London had rather haphazardly landed me with two viewings a couple of streets apart, but also several hours apart.
I had the prospect of nothing to do for those hours except sit in a cafe, but with my A to Z to hand, I determined to explore the local area more and headed for the nearest open space on the map. My curiosity paid off and I found myself on a green slope overlooking south-west London and beyond to the Downs.
It was Streatham Common I had been fortunate enough to spot on the map, and when a flock of parakeets flew over my head I pretty much decided then and there that a house 10 minutes walk from such a lovely place had to be worth buying.
I didn’t even discover the best bit of the Common on that first visit – right in the heart of it is a walled garden, The Rookery, formerly the grounds of a long-gone mansion, which has been a favourite spot of mine ever since, and a big influence on my own garden planning.
It’s the kind of garden you might dream of in your best ever dream – stately trees in every imaginable shade of green march down a lawn, beyond that is a formal flower garden with bowers, trellises, a covered walk and wishing well, and even further beyond is a white garden inspired by the famous one at Sissinghurst, complete with cute white wooden benches.
Taking advantage of a brief sunny interlude on Saturday, we went down to the Rookery for a morning stroll, and I was pleased to see the April downpours had left it looking rather splendid. In the formal planted area, wedge-shaped beds were full of the brightest blue forget-me-nots I’ve ever seen (the ones in my garden are anaemic compared to this electric shade of blue) – and to contrast, a couple of beds were planted with pink forget-me-nots instead. I normally sneer at the pink strain as inferior to the classic native blue shade, but here the effect of the block colours en masse was striking.
Apart from the gorgeous forget-me-not display, I was thrilled to find one of my favourite flowers hidden in a corner – London Pride. A variety of saxifrage, I grew it in my first flowerbed at my parents’ house, and have been looking for it ever since (I have a couple of other saxifrage in my garden now, but would still love to have this too).
The flower came by its common name supposedly because it grew easily on Blitz bomb sites during the war – a charming story, but I’ve never yet seen London Pride growing on waste ground in London – usually it’s the rampant buddleia, bindweed or rosebay willowherb which sprawls everywhere given the chance. Either way, I was glad to see London Pride had found a foothold somewhere in the city which gave it its name.
That only gives you a tiny flavour of all the delights of Streatham Common – I haven’t even mentioned the Kite Day, the time I saw a fox cub in the woods, the cafe, or the gardens of Norwood Grove. It just goes to show, buying a house on a whim because you like the fact there is a common nearby can sometimes, whatever sensible estate agents may advise you, be a good idea.