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In The Winter Garden

February 1, 2024
by the gentle author


A few years ago when the city was shut down and empty, I used to take long lone cycle rides in parts of London that were unknown to me, seeking an escape. One day at January’s end, after cycling around Regent’s Park in the frost to admire John Nash’s terraces, I came to the winter garden.

It was late afternoon, the sun had set and dusk was gathering but, when I came upon the narrow gate leading through a rose arch to the garden, I could not resist exploring. Beyond the entrance lay a large formal garden once attached to a grand Regent’s Park mansion. It was divided by hedges into a series of hidden spaces like a labyrinth. I found the place empty and deserted, save a few lonely blackbirds. In the last light of day, took these photographs.

I intended to publish my pictures and write about my visit then. Yet when I studied the photographs, I grew so enchanted that the experience barely seemed credible anymore. Instead, I kept the evidence of my melancholy pilgrimage to myself. Each year at this time, I revisited the photographs without finding any words to accompany them. On one occasion, I even set out to visit the garden again to verify my experience only to discover it was closed that day.

Contemplating these pictures now, they feel far away and I find it difficult even to remember the lockdown. It no longer seems real to me. Many are still struggling with the after-effects of that time yet when I look at these photographs I realise it is over. My pictures of this cold garden at twilight, with only a few plants showing, are how I shall recall it. The winter garden was where I found solace at the heart of the empty city.



In the Rose Garden

The Sunken Lawn at St John’s Lodge

The Shepherdess Border


The first primroses

‘To all protectors of the defenceless’

The Giant Urn

The Arbour Walk

St John’s Lodge Garden, Inner Circle, Regent’s Park, NW1 4NR

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8 Responses leave one →
  1. February 1, 2024

    Gorgeous and melancholy.

  2. Claire D permalink
    February 1, 2024

    Just wonderful. Thank you.

  3. Jill Wilson permalink
    February 1, 2024

    Stunning atmospheric photos, and a brilliant reminder of that strange time.

    The one positive aspect of the pandemic was that it gave us the chance to appreciate nature, and the time to look and see all the miraculous changes happening all around us.

    Looking forward to seeing snowdrops and the first primrose this year.

    Happy February 1st everyone!

  4. Gilbert O’Brien permalink
    February 1, 2024

    I ‘discovered’ this magic place, in the middle of Regent’s Park, almost 50 years ago when the great house adjacent was a part of some college or other academic establishment. I always called it the ‘Secret Garden’ and in many years of going there seldom if ever saw any other people enjoying the series of green ‘rooms’ as they advanced, ever smaller, as one walked away from the house. Clearly it is still something of a secret retreat which will — I hope — be cherished by anyone who finds their way there as a result of your report and rather haunting pictures.

  5. Annie S permalink
    February 1, 2024

    Very atmospheric photographs!
    I used to work near Regents Park and visit the Rose Gardens sometimes – quite different in the daytime, especially when there were many people around.
    Your photographs give a whole new perspective – thank you!

  6. Kate Bacon permalink
    February 1, 2024

    I’m glad you found the words to publish your photos that perfectly capture what felt like the closing down of the world during lockdown. I too feel like it was a distant dream, and it’s helpful to have this evidence that it’s definitely over.

  7. Terry C Wendell permalink
    February 1, 2024

    Superb, thank you for bringing back such a dark time with such beautiful haunting images

  8. February 2, 2024

    I like Gilbert’s ‘Secret Garden’ evocation; when I was a little girl I always wanted to find a secret garden like Frances Hodgson Burnett’s. It’s a place where there might be no one in the world but you, and you might be anyone… that’s the phenomenon you seem to have captured in these photos. And once you have to go back to being yourself again, the garden vanishes…

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