My wife, Betty, and I took a much-needed and long-delayed vacation last month. Our original plan had been a month in New Zealand (where it’s midsummer) but, coming just four months after a total knee replacement, Betty’s surgeon advised against 20 hours on a plane and strenuous hiking.
As it turned out, she made a remarkably swift and full recovery, but we made our January reservations in November. And so instead, we chose a week in London and a week in Paris. The forecast for London was chilly and damp. For Paris, it was chillier and with a chance of Yellow Vests.
Expecting to be primarily indoors, we built our itinerary around a series of special art and culture exhibitions in those two cities. In all, we visited fifteen museums and galleries, several with those ‘once in a generation’ kind of blockbuster events.
Why, then, did we keep ending up in gardens?
|Snowdrops in bloom in January in St. James Park, London|
It started in London. We walked everywhere and, England being England, we kept running into things in bloom. There were unexpected blooming irises in St. James Park. Millbank Garden, a long, narrow park opposite the Tate Britain beckoned with a pocket garden where daphne and camellias were in flower despite the short days and chilly nights.
It became a part of our day: finding small, protected parks where tough, seasoned plants were showing their stuff. Park Crescent, at the southern tip of Regent’s Park, yielded a hedge with a white bottlebrush-type flower we could not identify. A winter vegetable garden valiantly hung on at the Duck Island Cottage opposite the Horse Guards Parade, and a scattering of Galanthus (snowdrops) bloomed nearby.
|A flower market in the Marais District|
Paris provided more unexpected gardens, albeit of a different kind. It was colder in Paris – not Boston-cold, but with daytime highs in the low 40s – and we were even greeted with a burst of sleet our first day. We spotted our first garden on the south side of the Notre Dame Cathedral, where a pair of large raised beds provided homes for cold-weather bedding plants like Stachys byzanta (lambs ear) and hellebores.
Walking along the Seine on our way to the Musee d’Orsay, it seemed every houseboat on the river sported large boxes of brightly-colored flowers. The Marais district sported dozens of window boxes and a large weekend flower market.
Can you really get a gardener out of the garden? I don’t think so. You can go to see art but, in the end, you can’t stop also seeing all the color that nature unexpectedly surprises us with, even in the depths of winter.