Blooms with a view

I AM ALWAYS WARY of ‘must see’ attractions because I dislike crowds and waiting in queues. So, last year when we visited Madeira, I thought it wise to avoid seeing the famous Botanical Gardens. In any case, most of Madeira’s capital, Funchal, is full of exotic plants and flowers – a veritable botanical garden in itself.

This May (2023), we decided to ‘bite the bullet’, and visit the Botanical Gardens high above Funchal. Getting there and back by local bus was easy. At the entrance to the Gardens, there was hardly any queue for tickets. And despite plenty of large tour buses parked nearby, the Gardens were not at all crowded.

Although I once owned a house with a 180 foot long garden in Gillingham, Kent, I am no gardener, and can hardly name any plant accurately. However, I love visiting gardens. The Botanical Gardens of Funchal are on the slopes of a hillside. All of the plants or groups of them are labelled. There are several terraces from which you can enjoy superb vistas of central Funchal, the sea, and the mountainous countryside.

The Gardens, which were opened to the public in 1960, are on land previously owned by William Reid, the founder of Funchal’s Reids Hotel. A bust in the garden commemorates Rui Vieira (1925-2009), a botanist who contributed much to the development of the botanical Gardens.

The highlight of the Gardens for me was a collection of mostly huge cacti, many of them bursting into flower. Everything else was also worth seeing in this well-kept, beautifully arranged garden. I am very glad that we visited this ‘must-see’ attraction on Madeira.

Standing on a bench in Funchal, Madeira

ON THE FLIGHT FROM Stansted to Funchal, I sat next to a young man who was born in Madeira and now lives in the UK. He told me that we were just in time for the grand parade of the island’s annual flower festival. It would be happening on the afternoon of Sunday, the 30th of April (2023) at 430 pm, and that it always attracts large crowds.

At about 2.50 pm on the Sunday, we found an empty bench on the Avenida do Mar. This is a wide dual-carriageway that runs close to the seafront. Our bench was beside one of the carriageways. The parade was due to proceed along the other carriageway. By as early as 3 pm, people were gathering on the grassy divider that separates the two carriageways. They were between us and the route to be taken by the parade. More and more people assembled there, and we wondered how we would be able to see the proceedings.

At about 3.30, an elderly English couple joined us on the bench. We did not speak with them until a few minutes before 4.30. Then, the rather frail looking old lady said to us:
“We’re going to stand on the bench to watch the floats pass by.”
I had thought about doing this but had been concerned about the stability of both the bench and me. But when this older lady and her even older husband climbed on the bench we joined them.

The colourful floats covered with floral decorations and lively girls and ladies moved a little faster than snail’s pace. They were separated by crowds of girls in folk costumes, who were singing and dancing as they proceeded. From our vantage point, we could see the floats easily, but the dancing girls were mostly hidden by the crowds on the grassy divider; only their headdresses could be seen.

After three floats had passed, the lady hopped off the bench, and said to me:
“We’ve got to go now. We don’t want to miss our team, Liverpool, playing.”

All this goes to show that one should never judge people by how old they look. Even some the oldest members of our species can be surprisingly full of life.

Late bloomers in London’s Regents Park

THE BEST TIME to see flowering roses in the Queen Mary’s Garden (‘QMG’) in London’s Regent Park is in the first half of June. At that time most of the 12000 rose plants in the gardens, created in 1934, are likely to be in bloom. So, it was with some trepidation that we took our friends to see the QMG, Although I did not say so, my feeling was that as far as blooms were concerned, this would be a disappointing visit. To my great surprise, it was not such a pointless visit as I had feared. There were a substantial number of rose plants either in bud or in full bloom.

Seeing the roses in bloom in November made me do a little research. I discovered that there are several varieties of rose plants that flower in autumn in the northern hemisphere. These varieties include (according to an American website): Hybrid Tea, Floribunda, Grandiflora, and Climbing Roses. According to another source, some roses have a very long flowering season that can extend into October and November.

I have no idea what kind of roses we saw during our late November visit to the QMG. However, seeing these attractive flowers made me realise that a visit to this garden as late as November need not be a disappointment if seeing flowers is your desire.

A pretty perambulation

LONDON’S KENSINGTON GARDENS is bounded to the north by Bayswater Road and to the south by Kensington Gore (overlooked by the Royal Albert Hall and the Albert Memorial), which becomes Kensington Road.  Within the park and running almost parallel with its southern boundary is the South Flower Walk (also known as The Flower Walk). The Northern Flower Walk, which runs near and parallel to Bayswater Road was once used by royalty. According to a document published on the Royal Parks website, this was:

“… a delicious and appealing place to stroll for the monarch on the way to … the site of the Bayswater ‘Breakfasting House’…”

The breakfasting house no longer exists. I am not sure whether the South Flower Walk can boast of such an illustrious past. However, when it is in full bloom, it outdoes its northern counterpart in colourfulness and variety of its flora.

Although the whole of Kensington Gardens makes for a pleasant place to stroll, a walk along the South Flower Walk provides and exceedingly pretty perambulation.

Queen Elizabeth and the Elizabeth Line

THE VICTORIA LINE began carrying passengers in late 1968 when I was 16 years old. I remember when this happened and how exciting it was. Recently a new railway line opened in London: the Elizabeth Line. Originally named ‘Crossrail’, it began carrying passengers several years after it was supposed to have been completed. It is supposed to convey people from east of London to well west of the city. However, what exists now (July 2022) is not exactly what I expected. In order to travel from, say, Shenfield, at the eastern end of the line to, say, Maidenhead, west of London, you need to change trains at Paddington. Currently one section of the new line runs east from Paddington, and the other runs west from that station. Unlike Queen Elizabeth’s long continuous reign, the line named to honour her has a discontinuity at Paddington.

A visitor from abroad wanted to experience the new line today, a Sunday. He was looking forward to seeing the new station platforms on the line that heads east from Paddington. Sadly the section that fruns east from Paddington does not operate on Sundays at the moment. So, we had to head west. The Elizabeth Line trains are new, but the train follows tracks that were laid down as far back as the 19th century. Apart from being over efficiently air-conditioned, the new trains are comfortable and run remarkably smoothly.

We travelled (on a train bound for Heathrow Terminal 5) to Hayes and Harlington station, and from there headed to Barra Hall Park in the old part of Hayes. There, we enjoyed a picnic before walking to the mediaeval parish church, St Mary the Virgin. We had visited it once before, but were completely unprepared for what we saw this time. The hedges lining the path leading to the south door of the church were decorated with bunches of cut flowers. A cardboard cut-out of Queen Elizabeth II greeted us at the door. The lovely church was filled with attractively arranged bouquets of flowers. Quite by chance, we had arrived whilst the church’s 57th annual Festival of Flowers was being celebrated. We were fortunate because we arrived on the 3rd of July, the last day of the festival. The festival’s theme was “A Tribute to Queen Elizabeth”. How appropriate to have travelled to it on the Elizabeth Line.