Magazine article The Spectator

Quality Control

Magazine article The Spectator

Quality Control

Article excerpt

I never met Diana, Princess of Wales, and know very little about her. I have no idea `what she would have wanted' as a memorial, if anything, and think it impertinent to offer an opinion.

The Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Committee must have a good idea, however. After all, among its members are her sister, her friend, her butler and her solicitor. Having received over 10,000 suggestions from the public for appropriate memorials, the Committee let it be known in late June that, as well as community children's nursing teams, a young people's achievement award and a commemorative coin, it approved, `subject to public consultation', a memorial garden in Kensington Gardens.

The Department of Culture, Media and Sport, to which the Royal Parks Agency is responsible, published the consultation document in July and staged an exhibition, which was a blown-up version of it. The public were encouraged to answer and send back questionnaires on the subject. The results will be put before the Memorial Committee in late September or early October. The Committee, which is chaired by Gordon Brown, has itself chosen to draw up the design brief, invite designers to enter an international competition, and judge that competition. (Thank goodness that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, having laid down the burden of fixing interest rates, now has time to turn his attention to garden design adjudication.) It is intended that 'a significant contribution towards the development and implementation' of the garden will come from the sale of the commemorative coins.

An environmental impact assessment is to be commissioned. In 1995, 2.8 million people visited Kensington Gardens. No one knows for sure how many more will come if there is a memorial garden. Preliminary questions in March established that one in four people put the link with the Princess as an important reason for their visit.

If you walk in the public gardens which flank Kensington Palace to the south, east and north, the first impression is of a green space, and one which is sorely needed. It is less obvious, initially, that this is a very important historic landscape. In fact, it is two historical landscapes, one partly overlaying the other.

It is lucky for the Frisbee-throwing, model-boating, sunbathing rollerbladers that it is the 18th-century `forest garden', with wide promenades and vistas, stretches of unembellished lawn, mature trees and a large expanse of water, called the Round Pond, which endures. It was designed by Charles Bridgeman, George II's gardener, and laid out in 1727. To the south of the Palace, however, this replaced a highly sophisticated and complex garden, by William III's architect, Daniel Marot, and laid out by George London, the royal gardener, in 1691. Marot treated a rhomboidal space very cleverly, so that it looked rectangular. It had grass and gravel parterres a l'Angloise, topiary and hedged `wildernesses'. There was an alcove by Talman and a 'wilderness' in the triangle at the southern end, adjoining what is now Kensington Road.

To the north of the Palace and the Orangery, which Queen Anne built, a garden of 30 acres was executed, in 17014, by London's partner and successor, Henry Wise, under first William and then Anne. It had a wilderness', an orangery garden on five levels and a mount. It is the South Garden, the Round Pond to the east of the Palace and the North Garden, some 27 acres, which have been selected as the possible site for the memorial garden. The enormous size is intended to mitigate the impact of increased numbers of visitors.

The Committee may not have quite anticipated the lively debate which has ensued. Although we can safely assume that some people are in favour, the voices heard locally have mostly been critical. The consultation period was extremely short; it ran for four weeks up to 7 August, the exhibition was open for three. This was an irritation to Kensingtonians already concerned that the garden, combined with the also proposed memorial walking route to Westminster Abbey through the Royal Parks, will significantly increase the numbers of visitors and traffic in the area. …

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