In the latest edition of OverseasJane Atwell, designer of ROSL's garden, discusses making our green space a haven not only for members, but also for the birds and the bees. 

On Wednesday 6 March, I paid my first professional visit of 2019 to the ROSL garden. Having completed my initial check, I sat on a bench to take stock of surroundings and what work I needed to plan. Should I clear all the beds leaving them neat and tidy or should I leave the ‘leaf litter’ at the base of the hedge and neighbouring plants to nurture and harvest wildlife whilst protecting the base of the plants? During that time, the impending joy of Spring was right there in front me. I lost count of the number of blue tits darting in and out of the dogwood, smiled at my redbreasted companion who had followed me around the garden and was charmed by the blackbird singing to me from the London Plane tree. The very next day, I was asked by Mark Brierley if I would write a short piece for the Overseas journal, with particular reference to environmental issues from the garden’s perspective. How could I say no?

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While considering what to write, I found myself going back to my initial involvement with the Royal Over-Seas League and remembering how it has evolved since then. Six years ago, I was invited to ROSL in St James’s, with a view to discussing some potential changes to the garden. While I had been a visitor to Green Park on several occasions, this visit was a first for me to view the park from the other side of the garden fence. Entering the elegant building from Park Place, I knew I had come to something special. But as I walked through the Brabourne Room with the then Director-General, I silently gasped as he opened the door at the top of the stunning wrought iron staircase; looking down on to the garden and out to the Royal Park, my heart skipped a beat as discussions began.

Throughout these six years, I have worn a few different hats to try to create what I hope is a mini oasis in the most beautiful part of London. My potential ‘member’s hat’ guided me to remember that the garden needed to welcome me/members, make me feel special somewhere that is private and sociable at the same time. My ‘onlooker’s hat’ made me view the club from the Green Park perspective, as a passer-by, craning my neck to sneak a view, imagining being the happy couple under the rose arch, or calling in for a glass of Muscadet in the garden, while marvelling at the building. Perhaps, just perhaps, that passer-by might become a member to realise their dream. My ‘designer hat’ has borne all these factors in mind as well as the key physical elements and aspects of the garden and building. The decking area, as well as being a dining space, is also a stage for midsummer plays. A shaded area to sit was needed as well as one for smokers to ‘visit’ while still feeling part of the garden and not ostracised. The contemporary water feature, a gift to the club, needed to be and almost at home but ‘shown off’ sympathetically and to sit alongside the decking area, each element with its own different style but needing to blend as one. The most significant structural change was the addition of the splendid terrace by the Duke of York Bar, and this meant the garden was going to be enjoyed more frequently from an aerial perspective than ever before.

I believe that many garden lovers instinctively seek out plants that will attract wildlife, even if they aren’t working from a prescribed plant list. With the concern over pollination and wildlife heightened in recent years, there is more and more guidance about planting, plant care, soil, leaf mulch, and so on. Creating a planting plan for an established garden can be trickier than when starting from scratch, and this was the case at ROSL. For colours, I was led by the ROSL’s own club colours and from which a more pastel palate has been used. For style, my initial priority was to create a garden that didn’t feel landscaped or too structured, one that felt welcoming and not just to be looked at from a distance. Frequently, when putting ‘planting for pollination’ into Google (other search engines are available), perennial and wild flower plants are the dominant suggestions. Whilst we do not have a wildflower meadow in Park Place, I am pleased to note there are many shrubs and plants that get an RHS tick of approval; lavendars, alliums, verbenas, gaura, sedums, rosemary, ceanothus, pieris, beech (hedge), flowering blackcurrant, skimmeas, geranium, salvias, sorbus, veronica, phlox, verbena bonariensis, ceratostigma, ceanothus, mahonia, dogwood, amelanchier, and veronicas, to name just a selection.

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Last year, the garden benefited hugely from a significant amount of mulching with good-quality, peat-free mulch. We are looking to maintain a good and regular programme of mulching, and to ensure all feeding and nurturing of plant life is done with the environment at the forefront when making decisions of product and plant choice. The hope is to develop the ROSL garden into a floral sanctuary for humankind and wildlife alike. Nature is awesome in the truest sense of the word. As I type these words, the hail heavens have opened to challenge the gardens, soon followed by glorious sunshine. Would we want it any other way?

The garden is now open for summer service; you can enjoy a tasty selection of hot and cold food and drinks everyday, weather permitting. We are also hosting a number of special events in the garden this month, including two garden parties, and wine tastings. Take a look at the full list of events here.

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