We often discount or forget about the gardens in our midst – cemeteries. Since the practice of full burial became a rare thing, they have morphed into undisturbed sanctuaries of plants, trees and wildlife that remain peaceful, serene places to marvel at how nature reclaims its ground, left to its own devices. I find them such quiet spaces of contemplation and beauty, not to mention having an abiding appreciation of the art and architecture of bygone eras they are brimming with. Trees are not butchered into stumps but left to stretch out majestically, providing dappled shade. Ivy creeps around and through Gothic homage, and long since carefully planted tributes ramble unchecked. It’s a discovery of infinite tranquility; isolated pockets of wonder and calm in the midst of a bustling city.
In London there are seven major sites, apart from the hundreds of smaller spaces surrounding our many ancient churches. The best known, for its imposing glory and sheer variety of marvelous Victorian invention, is Highgate Cemetery. I’ll leave its wonders until last. Meanwhile, enjoy some unadulterated, if somber, beauty from the rest: Abney Park
By The Hardy Tree in the churchyard of St Pancras Old Church in London, hundreds of old gravestones circle an ash tree. In the 1860’s an older part of the churchyard was designated to make way for the new railway line. Coffins were removed with care and reburied elsewhere. Some of the headstones were placed in a circular pattern around a young ash tree in the churchyard. Over the decades the tree has, inevitably grown and parts of the headstones nearest the tree have disappeared in to its growth.