(Thursday 28 January 2016 )
Just a few paces from the scurrying energy of Portobello road with its miscellaneous junk and vintage, Colville Square Gardens is a narrow rectangle of almost ½ acre, enclosed by dark green railings and overlooked by four and five-storey Victorian terraces with elegant window pediments and wrought- iron balconies. Anonymous 60’s blocks at either end of the square mark out the bombsites of buildings destroyed in the Blitz. This area has revived dramatically since the dismal slum decades of 40 and 50 years ago. The garden was redesigned with new beds, an ornamental urn and replanted with evergreen shrubs, yuccas, monsteras and box hedges. It is an intimate breathing space for the many families living here. A busy playground occupies the middle section of the gardens. Most of the southern third of the gardens are now exclusive to the shelters and play area for Colville Nursery Centre. This has a separate arched entrance with a sturdy leaf design gate (left) in memory of Pat McDonald, with an accompanying plaque reading: “Working Class Heroine. Lived and worked in North Kensington from the 1960s until her death in 1986. She was the driving force behind the campaigns for better housing, more play space and new nurseries. May her fighting spirit live on.”
I found a spot close to an arbour frame with climbing clematis tangling. Looking across the circular planting bed towards the northern garden entrance and on to a side street opposite which reaches up and frames a zigzaggy portion of steel grey sky. I draw between laurel bush and clipped yew, a box hedge close by as support for my drawing things and paint box. Lively toddlers squeal and giggle on the play equipment just behind, accompanied by regular squeak and clash of the playground gate. One or two occupants of the park benches huddle in the chill breeze and read newspapers in the fleeting sunshine.
A posse of four community police officers enter, chatting together. Three go anti- clockwise around the bed, one clockwise and eyes me suspiciously as she passes. Street pigeons perch in tall plane trees then all swoop down together onto the circular bed to strut about and peck amongst sparse winter planting under the box- planted stone urn, only to flap away when another mum pushes her buggy into the park.
In his ‘Sticks in the Smoke’ project, Nick Andrew has been regularly visiting, researching and drawing different publicly accessible parks or gardens in London since January 2016, exploring the theme of city green spaces from the perspective of a rural landscape painter. The first two sketchbooks will be published as a book in late 2018. www.nickandrew.co.uk . Nick is grateful to London Parks & Gardens Trust for their support www.londongardenstrust.org.