Two green spaces in Bath: Sydney Gardens and Henrietta Park

While preparations were under way for the wedding (including the ivy) I took the chance to wander round bits of Bath north of Great Pulteney Street: specifically, two large city gardens.

Sydney Gardens

Of the two sites, Sydney Gardens are the most famous They were a haunt of Jane Austen’s, and the family actually lived near here at a time when to do so was to be considered rather distant from the focus of Bath society! Even now they’re at most twenty minutes’ walk from the train station, so Bath must have felt very compact back then.

The Holburne Museum of Art is at the lower, Pulteney-Road etc. end of the gardens: while it’s an attractive building, recently added to with a glass extension, the roses outside were more interesting, among topiary, trained up walls, and generally clambering away:

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Bedding plants were in transition between poppies and possibly something like wallflower, with underplanted pansies keeping them looking fresh in the mean time:

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The park is criss-crossed by train tracks, the Kennet and Avon Canal, and wide paths in a late 17th century style, but with a confusion of Italianate and Greco-Roman additions in a much later style. This leads to some quite complicated views across the centuries:

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Sydney House, the lodge in the far distance, competes with Italianate bridge work and a green light down on the train tracks!

Sometimes these mixed views work very well, providing perspective shifts and grand lines off into the distance:

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Even the steps down to a path alongside the train tracks are an excuse for an intriguing twirl of stone and shrubs:

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But there’s a lot of slicing-up of space going on. Worse, the divisions themselves are wide, and often divide it up into tennis courts and playgrounds that didn’t feel accessible. A lot of the remaining space was taken up by monumental buildings (I didn’t even photograph of the enormous and ridiculous Minerva’s Temple!) which meant that, overall, Sydney Gardens felt more like a sculpture park attached to the museum, than a garden in any restful sense.

Only occasionally do you get a glimpse of its potential as a more secluded, woodland setting:

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But grandiosity has definitely been rolled out everywhere else. Better than no garden at all, but definitely more a tourist’s curiosity than a place to feel at home!

Henrietta Park

To the west of its famous cousin lies Henrietta Park, less assuming and grand, and perhaps more off the beaten track. It’s not even a green space on Google Maps, but it’s a council-run park as this sign attests:

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The rose above especially drew me into the park, as it was similar to one we inherited from our house’s previous owners, that’s currently doing its level best to cheer me up.

I think this tree was a Lawson cypress:

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With its forked stem, its shaggy bark and those blue cones, it was smashing: like a dawn redwood you could still keep in a smaller garden. Maybe it was actually a dawn redwood, but I just don’t think it was big or entire enough.

The garden had plenty of other trees for shade, and gently curving paths, making it feel much more secluded than Sydney Gardens. Here are two of what could have been birches (from the leaves) or maybe mulberries, in front of a towering pine:

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There was enough light and clearing for Henrietta Park to feel spacious and safe, but enough shade and interruptions in the vistas that someone was comfortable doing yoga, another person sitting on a bench, another few walking their dogs.

However, not only did the more public areas feel that little bit more private than in Sydney Gardens, but almost hidden in one corner was a sensory garden, clustered around the site of the original garden’s dedication stone:

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You rounded a corner of railings, went through a gateway and then ta-da!

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Hotter bedding areas had these cannas and peonies:

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While the more secluded corners had alliums and these things that aren’t Veronicastrum:

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(I think it’s too short) Around the edges of the water feature were long pergolas:

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Planted under and around these were all manner of herbs and roses, and these two big bowers of single roses filled the air around them with a cloud of heady scent:

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Out behind the sensory garden were semi-secret woodland walks:

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These linked up with the rest of the garden, through copses and secluded areas.

I’d happily spend a long time in Henrietta Park. As gardens go, it felt loved, and hugged, and tended to, in a way that only the best gardens can feel. If you’re going to venture north of Bath’s chocolate-boxey, Georgian-spa centre, then it’s the work of a moment to turn the corner off Great Poulteney Street and end up in this park. The work of a moment, then the leisure of hours. I just wish I’d had longer to lounge around in it, maybe with a picnic!

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