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Travelogue I10

July 2, 2016

Beginning in the 1870’s, the parish authorities began to conceive of other uses for the increasingly ragged Mount Street churchyard, by then closed to burials and the public for some twenty years. As the other parish burial ground, St. George’s churchyard, passed through the necessary legal channels and complicated administrative procedures necessary to reopen consecrated ground to the public as an unconsecrated park, a legal mold slowly came to form within the halls of government and, some years later, issued in a new Act of Parliament which greatly simplified the process for the new church gardens. Model in place, plans at last came together such that the Mount Street churchyard might, in 1889, join the growing ranks of London church gardens.

The legend’s final paragraph regaled me with an inventory of the different plant species which called the Mount Street Gardens home. Indeed, the garden found itself ideally placed to support a number of species otherwise unable to thrive in the native conditions of the British Isles. I learned in short order that the garden provided a sheltered space and central London proved several degrees warmer than the countryside, owing to human activity, or so I presumed, to the point that such species as the Australian Mimosa and Canary Island Palm, the Chinese Dawn Redwood and Japanese Camellia could winter on those grounds. I entertained the thought that those exotic shoots drew on the remains below to get themselves above their minimal temperature thresholds.

Pride of place in the legend was, nonetheless, given to what might be considered London’s only true native species, the London Plane, of which I had seen the oldest living examples at Berkeley Square. In truth, all of the city’s oldest, grandest trees belonged to this species, having long since sprung up in the city’s gardens and garden squares to the exclusion of much else. Even provided with a proper set of instructions from the city gardeners, I cannot doubt that I would have been hard pressed to find a member of another species spreading its limbs with such assurance.

From what documentation I could find on the several squares through which I passed that day, it seemed that the London Plane provided a stronger set of vegetal lungs for the city’s sootier times, its thick limbs and sap more resistant, for a reason unexplained, to the city’s pollution. The thought amused me that so inhospitable had the city become that the royalty had had to call upon a subspecies of the plane tree to make its home therein, only so that the gardens might not lack for adornment. Much as the city had forced out its dead through the Burial Act and the living through the high cost of city life, so had the city barred entry to plant life as well.

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