A visit to the Royal Pavilion Gardens in May allows you to explore one of the major regency garden principles – the cult of exoticism.
In the early part of the 19th century plant hunters were introducing new and previously unseen species from far flung parts of the globe. Plants, which we see as common now, were wildly exciting then and much sought after by the great and good.
If you start your walk through the Gardens at the Indian gate (opposite the taxi rank on North Street) and follow the main path towards Brighton Museum you will pass a small lawn on your left, and come to ‘Margaret’s Beds’, where the paths intersect in the centre of the garden. Here you will see peonies flowering beautifully. Peonies are native to the Far East, southern Europe and North America. The peonies in the garden echo the fashion for chinoiserie, which the Pavilion interiors celebrate. This was the embracing of all things oriental: furniture, artefacts and decoration especially. Several of the Pavilion wallpapers feature peonies in some form.
The ones in this bed are Paeonia officionalis var rubra plena– large bowl shaped double flowers in a crimson/fuchsia colour. They have lovely ruffled petals.
As the month progresses others open throughout the garden:
Paeonia peregrina – open, bowl shaped single flowers with a pronounced boss of pale yellow stamens
Paeonia lactiflora -(literally ‘white flowers’), the Chinese peony, or shaoyao meaning ‘ most beautiful’
Paeonia daurica– native of Crimean woodland, strong pink open single flower with a look of oriental poppy in its upright habit and boss of stamens.
Also not to be missed at the moment is the lovely laburnum on the right of the main path near the entrance to the Pavilion, with its miniature ‘woodland edge’ planting scheme, and dappled shade beneath. Another time we will talk about the dichotomy of naturalism running alongside the exotic, but for now – revel in the oriental.
Volunteer Gardener, Royal Pavilion Gardens