For garden expert and author Kay Maguire that’s a reality. The green-fingered guru talks to The Resident about family living within the gates of Richmond Park and her new illustrated children’s book, Nature’s Day, out now
Despite Richmond’s theatres, 18th century pubs, museums and river views, the sweeping green expanse that makes up regal Richmond Park takes centre stage in our beautiful area. The park is integral to the borough’s identity and with its vast banks and woodland covering over 2,000 acres, it’s also the grassy spot gardener Kay Maguire and her family are lucky enough to call home. Kay’s partner is a park manager and for the past 13 years, they’ve woken up on the inside of the gates.
Having nature literally on her doorstep very much suits the green-fingered Kay. ‘I have a gardening background and I was trained at Kew Gardens, just down the road,’ she tells us. After a childhood digging up her dad’s allotment, Kay decided to turn her passion into a career, saving up to attend Pershore College of Horticulture in her early 20s.
Kay spent a year at the Botanic Gardens in Bristol, before undertaking a three-year Kew Diploma at the Royal Botanic Gardens. Today, not many of her fellow gardening fanatics can claim they live in a National Nature Reserve, but rest assured, she doesn’t take it for granted. ‘I grew up from not far from here and so I already knew Richmond, before we settled here,’ she says. ‘It’s amazing; we’ve got the park, the terrace gardens, the green, as well as the great transport links into London, it is really lovely.’
It’s also the perfect place to bring up her six-year-old twins. ‘They go to school down in Ham; we walk through the park every morning and there’s a couple of little alleyways which we scoot through. It only takes us maybe 15 minutes to walk to school through the park.’
The family don’t have any direct neighbours — except for the local wildlife, and over 600 red and fallow deer who they share the space with — but walking to collect the newspaper is only a short trip into town. The balance between community and seclusion suits Kay, who enjoys a spot of people watching. ‘The park is closed to traffic at night from dusk to dawn, so as soon as it starts getting dark the pedestrian gates are open so runners, cyclists can come in but apart from that, no cars. It’s a lovely place and I do appreciate that when the cars aren’t here, it’s nice to go for a stroll and not have to worry about the dog being on the lead and the kids can just run.’
The family don’t want for outside space — ‘we’ve got a dog so it’s always a good excuse to go for a walk. There’s a little café 15 minutes up so quite often we’ll go up for a hot chocolate’ — but Kay also has her own gardening domain if she tires of the great outdoors. After years of expert horticultural training, it’s understandably well maintained.
‘We’ve got a polytunnel and a greenhouse and a big veg patch,’ she says. ‘We grow veg rather than flowers and most of the garden is turned over to veg. That’s another thing to do earlier in the year: get out, do a bit of digging, and get everything ready for planting.’
Kay knows the merits of growing seasonally and tries to eat from her labours as often as possible. She’s the author of RHS Grow Your Own Crops in Pots and her gardening background, combined with her journalistic background, both inspired her to create her own beautiful illustrated children’s book.
Nature’s Day centres on discovering the world of natural wonder right on your doorstep. ‘When I worked at Gardener’s World magazine,’ she says, ‘I was in charge of their wildlife pages and used to commission all of those features. Wildlife is just something that I’m really interested in and care very much about. It was a really lovely book to write.’
The larger-than-life book is delicately illustrated by artist Danielle Kroll and Kay calls the writing process a pleasure. Although she has journalistic experience, ‘writing a children’s book was a new thing for me,’ she smiles. ‘It looks beautiful — though I take no credit for that — I’m really proud of it.’
Nature’s Day revisits different locations — the farm, the back garden, the woods — as the year progresses to understand yearly natural cycles. ‘It’s the kind of thing you can dip in and out of and read with the seasons,’ explains Kay, who hoped to make the book an interactive experience for parents and children.
Kay might be in a unique position living in the largest of London’s Royal Parks, but most of us are still only a short commute from greenery. The frost has thawed and spring is officially here, and Kay reminds us that there’s no excuse to not get involved in nature, whatever the season. ‘I’ve been walking — when it’s raining it’s not such a nice thing to do,’ she admits, ‘but just going out in the Park is different every day, whatever the weather. This morning the sun was out but it was really cold, so it’s just about taking the plunge, getting your hat on and getting outside…’
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