Feature by Lizzie Guilfoyle
KENSINGTON Gardens covers 275 acres (111 hectares) and, until
purchased by William III, in 1689, was part of Hyde Park.
There, unlike other parts of the capital, it was quiet and the
air untainted, ideal in fact, for a king who suffered from asthma.
And so, William commissioned Sir Christopher Wren to design a
home that, when built, was, of course, Kensington Palace; the
redbrick building that even today, has royal connections.
Throughout the ages, however, various Queens set their own inimitable
stamp on the gardens by instigating improvements. Queen Anne,
for example, enlarged them, by 'transferring' a further 30 acres
from Hyde Park and, in 1704, was responsible for the creation
of the Orangery - now a tea-room.
And it was Queen Caroline, the wife of George II who, in 1728,
was responsible for the Serpentine and the Long Water, thereby
transforming the park into its present day form.
During much of the 18th century, though, the gardens remained
closed to the public. Even when access was finally granted, it
was only to the respectably dressed.
Queen Victoria was born in Kensington Palace, where she lived
until she became queen, in 1837. Her contribution to the gardens
came in the form of the Albert Memorial (for her beloved husband
and consort) and the lovely Italian gardens, still a popular feature
Queen Victoria is, in fact, still very much a part of the scene,
for her statue, a celebration of her golden jubilee and sculpted
by her daughter, Princess Louise, stands outside the Palace.
Other attractions came later; the most popular being George Frampton's
bronze statue of Peter Pan which
appeared, as if by magic, on May Day morning, 1912.
And in the year 2000, the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Playground
and a seven-mile Memorial Walk that also embraces parts of Hyde
Park, Green Park and St James's Park, were opened.
There's also the Elfin Oak. Originally from Richmond Park, it's
a gnarled, partially hollow stump, carved with the figures of
fairies, elves and various small animals.
Kensington's Gardens is quieter than most London Parks and keeping
it so is actively encouraged.
Accordingly, birds thrive there and in the 100 years since records
began, 178 species have been identified. Even green woodpeckers
nest in the trees - a rare occurence in central London.
And lastly, but by no means least, the Round Pond is the home
of three-spined sticklebacks, roach, gudgeon and eels.