Holland Park is relatively easy for me to reach, being just fifteen minutes away on the tube from where I live, but I still hadn’t managed to get there to check it out. I decided, therefore, to sign up for a guided tour organised by Yannick Pucci, having read about it in a blog post by Sequins and Cherry Blossom.
On Saturday afternoon I met Yannick outside Holland Park tube station. As it turned out, I was the only one there on this particular tour so I felt very important! I was taken past some very expensive-looking houses to the park entrance, where Yannick pointed out the climbable ‘false’ terrace, leading to nowhere but providing an attractive entrance point into the garden. We then moved on to the statue of Lord Holland, after whom the park is named. This particular Lord Holland was Henry Richard Vassall-Fox, the third Baron Holland, who lived from 1773 to 1840. A lifelong Whig (his uncle was the notable Whig orator Charles James Fox), he was an interesting character with an interest in the French Revolution surprising in an English aristocrat. He caused a minor scandal by becoming involved with a married lady he met in Italy (whom he married after her divorce). The pair returned to England and lived in Holland House (built for Sir Walter Cope in the early seventeenth century and originally known as Cope Castle), entertaining a variety of celebrity guests including Benjamin Disraeli and Lord Byron (who was typically chased around the garden by inquisitive young women).
The main focus of the tour was the Kyoto Garden, a Japanese garden which has long been a feature of the park. I’m no Japanophile but I found this fascinating. The garden, landscaped by Japanese gardeners and designed to represent the world in miniature, is beautiful. We entered via the main entrance – Yannick explained that you are meant to move round Japanese gardens in a clockwise direction, observing it unfolding in front of you, though most of the other visitors clearly hadn’t got the memo and kept getting in the way.
I hadn’t realised just how symbolic and meaningful the elements of Japanese gardens are. The water and the rocks in the waterfall represent the contrast of yin and yang. The island in the centre of the pond symbolises a turtle. The number 3 is an important motif in Buddhist symbolism and it is apparent in several places around the garden, including the bridge which is formed of three concrete rectangles.
There are four different stone lanterns in the garden, as well as a fountain and a bamboo fence. A cracked paving stone, representing the Tohoku earthquake from a couple of years ago, lies next to the new Fukushima Garden, which commemorates that disaster.
I spied one peacock inside the garden, though he was rather lazy and spent the whole time lying about, showing no inclination to display his fine feathers to us. There were also several ducks and moorhens swimming about.
Finally we walked down to Holland House, a magnificent building that was sadly almost destroyed during the Blitz. Only the east wing and most of the library (yay!) survived. The remainder of the building is now a youth hostel. Unfortunately the façade was mostly hidden by the Opera Holland Park marquee, so I couldn’t get a proper view or a good photo.
The nearby Dutch gardens (originally known as Portuguese gardens until England and Portugal fell out) were beautifully landscaped, albeit in a completely different manner to the Japanese garden. One area of the gardens is devoted to modern sculpture, while there are attractive buildings and a tea room nearby.
I thoroughly enjoyed my tour and learned a great deal about Holland Park and Japanese gardens. You can book a guided tour here: http://hollandparkwalk.eventbrite.co.uk/, or alternatively you can simply visit the park yourself and explore.