Oonagh Gay of Crouch End Walks and I were joined by a very interesting group of walkers for our Ada Salter – Beautifying Bermondsey walk for Open Garden Squares on Saturday afternoon. Instead of our usual circular route that takes in all aspects of Ada’s fascinating life in Bermondsey, we concentrated on her horticultural achievements.
For the first time since we started the walks in the Spring we were able to use the grasp in Ada’s left hand, carefully crafted by sculptor Diane Gorvin, for some of her favourite dahlias. These long-stemmed imports, though are not as hardy as the seed-grown, single flowered Coltness variety favoured by Bermondsey Council nurseries in the 1920s that provided the Borough’s famously colourful displays in parks and window boxes. Bermondsey’s planting was rightly famous and Mr Johns, Superintendent of Gardens had three new strains of dahlia confirmed by the Royal Horticultural Society: Coltness Purple, Yellow and Salmon. The salmon-coloured was renamed Bermondsey Gem and the yellow, Rotherhithe Gem. Coltness mixed dahlia seeds are available from many suppliers – but I haven’t been able to track down any Bermondsey or Rotherhithe Gems.
Mr Johns’ favourite street tree was the flowering cherry and we saw cherries in abundance.
The Cherry Gardens of Samuel Pepys day are long gone, but the present Cherry Gardens, a small stretch of garden between River and housing on Bermondsey Wall marks a tussle between the local community and developers that Ada would surely have approved. Originally ear-marked by the local authority for low-density housing the land was compulsorily purchased in the 1980s by the London Dockland Development Corporation who threatened to obscure the River view and access with high rise blocks. Cherry Gardens today is part of the compromise reached when local people won out against the LDDC and Southwark Council regained half the land.
I don’t think the sculptor intended Ada and Alfred’s daughter Joyce to be embellished but when we visited on Saturday she was shaded from the sun by a distinctly contemporary baseball cap and fishing with the local lads. On a previous visit she was listening to music in a way unforeseen at the time of her tragically early death in 1910.
And further along the river wall at Providence Square, as Oonagh and I made our way back after visiting the wonderful floating gardens at Garden Barge Square, we met another young person fishing. This Banksy is much faded and it’s hard now to see the syringe on the end of his line.