A winter garden

A few weeks ago we headed out one grey Sunday for a little explore. We had heard good things about the Eltham winter gardens and given that it's not far away from us, we decided to go and see for ourselves.

I'm very glad we did, because what we found at the end of a rather unassuming lane was this wonderful Victorian glass house, nestled at the edge of a large park with wide open views, its brick red facade and huge domed ceiling bright and bold against the grey skies. 

The winter garden is located in Avery Hill Park which was once the grounds of Colonel John North, a self-made millionaire who made his money exporting guano from Chile. The winter garden was part of the lavish mansion he built on the site. Apparently he also had a spectacular Turkish bath built too, which was the talk of the town, but was very sadly destroyed during the bombing in WW2.

The main room is dominated by a giant palm in the centre, surrounded by beds full of cacti, lush green ferns, feathery palms, aloe, geraniums and all sorts of other exotic beauties. 

The hothouse is now owned and maintained by the University of Greenwich and is open to the public. It is the biggest greenhouse in South London don't you know. 

We spent about half an hour wandering and looking at everything, and you wouldn't need much longer than that. It is a lovely place to spend a little while though. It is warm for one thing which was very welcome on a cold day, and there is also a lovely smell and feel about the place, and a gentle quietness. 

Here and there there are signs of wear and decay which all add to the feeling of stepping back in time, and of nature, slowly, slowly but surely trying to take over from within. 

To the right of the main room there is a smaller, more intimate room in which there is a beautiful marble (replica) statue in a little pond full of lilies. 

This room was also home to a rather lovely delicate mimosa tree whose shadows played across the floor. 

The light inside was soft and dewy, like looking through a slighty smudgy pane of glass. 

I spotted a maidenhair fern!

But my favourite of all the plants was this incredible shrimp plant - can you believe such a thing exists?! 

If you're ever in the area I would definitely recommend a little visit. These places hold a special magic for me, and I am so thankful that they still exist for us to enjoy.