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London’s Best Secret Gardens

London’s Best Secret Gardens

Secret gardens.

They’re the perfect place for turning over a new leaf.

And so to follow our own advice, we thought we’d let you in on the best of London’s hidden green spots, from decadent manor grounds to repurposed urban rooftops. So grab a book, relax, and er, take a leaf through our comprehensive guide to the very best…

NOTE: Just to be clear, these aren’t places that are literally hidden, but one could spend literally years living in London and never come across a single one…

CENTRAL

The Phoenix Garden | Covent Garden

To anyone who was disappointed to realise Covent Garden is no longer an actual garden, we present this verdant, community-managed refuge – home to birds, bees, and the West End’s only frogs. The plants here are left to grow as wild as they like, creating all sorts of shaded nooks and secret hideaways to sit with a good book.

Details: Open daily, 9am – 4pm 21 Stacey Street, WC2H 8DG

Queen Elizabeth Roof Garden | Southbank

A somewhat unexpected garden hidden amidst the brutalist architecture of London’s cultural strip,the oasis atop the Queen Elizabeth hall was built, and is now maintained by a group affected by homelessness and addiction. And like all good rooftop gardens, it boasts picture-perfect views of the Thames, the London Eye and St. Paul’s; a well-stocked bar; and a pop up Finnish sauna.

Details: Open daily 10am-10pm Southbank Centre, Belvedere Road, SE1 8XX

 

Japanese Roof Garden at SOAS | Bloomsbury

Japanese rock gardens are created according to very strict, carefully considered principles, concerning ratio of horizontal to vertical rock placement, the direction of the grain of the stone, and the resulting view from the hojo, the chief monk’s residence in the temple.

Luckily, it seems a university rooftop in the middle of London will also do.

Head to the top of SOAS’ Brunei Gallery, and you’ll find a miniature zen garden – complete with rocks, climbing wisteria, and a stage used for traditional Japanese performances and events. Can any other roof garden beat that? Noh.

Details: Open Tuesday-Saturday, 10.30am-5pm Brunei Gallery, SOAS, 10 Thornhaugh Street, WC1H 0XG

Postman’s Park | St. Paul’s

Postman’s Park may be London’s worst-kept secret garden.

But trust us, it still delivers.

A quiet spot just north of St. Paul’s Cathedral, it’s known for The Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice – a sprawling wall of glazed tiles, each devoted to everyday heroes from the Victorian era who died trying to save someone else.

Details: Open daily 8am-dusk (closed Christmas, Boxing & New Year’s Day) | Postman’s Park, St Martin’s Le-Grand, EC1A

Inner Temple Garden | Temple

Finding your inner temple is easier than you think.

Simply head along to the backstreets by Fleet Street, and make your way into the Oxbridge-styled complex that houses the Inner Temple barristers’ chambers. Not only is it home to palatial buildings and the 12th century church of the knights templar, there’s also a set of huge, but totally secluded, gardens sporting colourful flowerbeds, almost luminously green lawns, and riverside views.

Details: Open weekdays 12.30-3.00pm Crown Office Row, EC4Y 7HL

St James’s Park | St James’s

What St James’s Park lacks in hiding skills, it makes up for with unexpected treats – including a native scoop of pelicans; picturesque lakes; and this ridiculously adorable cottage pulled straight out of a fairytale.

Details: Open year round, 5am-midnight St James’s Park, SW1A 2BJ

House of St. Barnabas | Soho

The House of St Barnabas is a house for everyone without a home – a registered charity, it works to support and provide training opportunities for the homeless and displaced. Become a Member and you’ll be helping to support them, too – as well as gaining access to their Soho courtyard garden.

Details: Open to Members Monday – Saturday 1 Greek Street, W1D 4NQ

St John’s Lodge | Regent’s Park

Not many people know about this secluded patch of Regent’s Park, being, as it is, part of Prince Jefri of Brunei’s £48m gaff. Luckily, the gardens are still completely open to the public, and boast sunken lawns, a rose-garlanded pergola, and a family of intriguing statues.

Details: Open daily from 5am Regent’s Park, Chester Road, NW1 4NR

St. George’s Garden | Bloomsbury

Credit: Alanah/Flickr

St. George’s Garden was the site of the first convicted grave robbing, when two men were spotted hauling a sack away from the grounds. When police stopped them and found a former Mrs. Sainsbury inside, the offenders were sentenced to a “severe whipping” between Holborn and Seven Dials. Luckily, the gardens are a lot more peaceful these days, and provide a solid bet for a good sandwich spot.

Details: Open 7.30am – 8.30pm | 62 Marchmont Street, WC1N 6BN

 

NORTH

Culpeper Community Garden | Angel

The Culpeper helps to sow seeds of community spirit thanks to its 50+ plots tended by locals who don’t have their own garden at home. The result is a beautiful mish-mash of ornamental flower beds, vegetable plots, and flowering pergolas.

Details: Open daily 8am-7pm 1 Cloudesley RoadN1 0EG

Skip Garden | King’s Cross

This urban allotment garden comprises beehives, chicken coops, and vegetables grown in moveable skips – all of which you can admire over a vegetarian brunch served inside their festoon-lit growing tents, or from the comfort of The Hideaway, their Moroccan yurt (complete with wood-burning stove).

Details: Open 10-4pm Tuesday – Saturday (lunch 12-2pm) 1 Tapper Walk, N1C 4AQ

Hampstead Pergola | Hampstead

Credit: Loz Pycock/Flickr

This century-old walkway overlooking Hampstead Heath was niftily created by piling up the rubble displaced by nearby Northern Line extension work. And the result is much, much prettier than that sounds.

Details: Open daily from 8.30am The Pergola, Inverforth Close, NW3 7EX

Barnsbury Wood | Islington

Billed as London’s smallest nature reserve, Barnsbury Wood’s the place to go for wildlife spotting, with frequent sightings of the common toad, the long-tailed tit, and the lesser stag beetle.

Details: Check website for opening times | Crescent Street, N1 1BW

Fenton House | Hampstead

The walled garden at 17th century mansion, Fenton House, is over 300 years old, and is filled with perfectly trimmed hedges, a fragrant kitchen garden, and its very own apple orchard boasting 32 different types of apple trees. And that’s not just a granny’s myth.

Details: Open Fri-Sun, 11am-4pm, £7.70 admission fee Fenton House, Hampstead Grove, NW3 6SP

 

EAST

Dalston Eastern Curve Garden | Dalston

As you’d expect from Dalston, this High Line-rivalling community garden built on a former railway track doesn’t just look great (especially during December, when they adorn the garden with hand-crafted lanterns), there’s also plenty of – ahem – grassroots community-focussed events, from visiting choirs to gardening workshops, al fresco film screenings and more.

Details: 11am-7pm daily (10pm Thurs-Sun) 13 Dalston Lane, E8 3DF

St. Mary’s Secret Garden | Hoxton

This pretty little community garden is filled with upcycled planters, abundant veg plots, and ponds teeming with wildlife. They also run the occasional workshop, too, like simple Christmas wreath making.

If you find yourself going round in circles, you’re probably doing it right.

Details: Open weekdays 9am-5pm 50 Pearson Street, E2 8EL

St Dunstan-in-the-East | Farringdon

It’s probably the best of London’s WW2 bombed out, Christopher Wren-designed chapels overtaken by twisting trees and overgrown tangles of leaves.

Details: Open daily from 8am-dusk (except Christmas, Boxing and New Year’s Day) St Dunstan’s Hill, EC3R 5DD

Barbican Conservatory | Barbican

Concrete.

It’s hard to beat.

And it’s just one of the things that makes the Barbican Conservatory such an unusual oasis. It’s a brutalist paradise, filled with giant leafy palms, riverside views, and afternoon tea with unlimited prosecco.

Details: Open selected Sundays and public holidays, check website for details | Silk Street, EC2Y 8DS

Downing’s Road Moorings  | Tower Bridge

Floating gardens.

Turns out, you should touch them with a bargepole.

Because this interconnected maze of greenery has been created on top of a micro-village of renovated industrial barges, boasting year-round flowering plants, a beehive, and even a small collection of trees.

Details: Contact in advance for access HERE | Mill Street, SE1 2AX

St Ethelburga’s Peace Garden | Liverpool Street

Saint Æthelburh (or just plain old Ethelburga to friends) was a 7th century abbess who devoted her life to doing good works. And this eponymous 13th C church is carrying on the tradition as the Centre for Peace and Reconciliation – part of which happens to be this award-winning walled garden, complete with authentic Bedouin tent.

Details: Open to the public 11-3pm on first and third Mondays of the month 78 Bishopsgate, Ec2N 4AG

 

SOUTH

Red Cross Garden | Southwark

The Red Cross Garden was set up in 1886 by Octavia Hill (founder of the National Trust, and not, confusingly, the Red Cross), and was recently restored to its original Victorian layout by local volunteers; comprising beds of exotic shrubs, a wildlife pond and a rockery garden.

Details: Open 9am-dusk | 50 Redcross Way, SE1 1HA

Vauxhall Park | Vauxhall

Vauxhall Park takes your standard park components, and does one better. A picturesque rose bush? Have a full, rose-laden arbour walkway. Pretty flowers? They’ve got an entire field of lavender, which you can help harvest. A couple of nice benches? Eh, they made a mock-Tudor model village instead.

Details: Open 7.30am-dusk 12 Lawn Lane, SW8 1UA

Horniman Museum Gardens | Forest Hill

Credit: Paul Hudson/Flickr

Not only is the Horniman a) home to a giant overstuffed walrus and b) still the museum with the funniest name in London, it also happens to be perched atop a whopping 16 acres of green space, which is broken up with the odd attraction like the bandstand (still in use), botanical displays, a butterfly house, a Grade II listed conservatory, a Dutch barn, giant outdoor musical instruments, a totem pole, and a herd of alpacas.

Details: Daily from 8am – dusk (closed Christmas Day) 100 London Road, SE23 3PQ

Eltham Palace Gardens | Greenwich

Credit: bvi4092/Flickr

Built by a couple of millionaires back in the ’30s, Eltham Palace is an art deco mansion built within medieval castle remains – which can only bode well for the 19 acres of garden, in which you’ll find a moat, a sunken rose garden, and London’s oldest working bridge. Hopefully.

Details: Open Sundays 10-4pm, £14.40 admission fee | Court Yard, SE9 5QE

 

WEST

Chelsea Physic Garden | Chelsea

Originally built as an apothecary’s garden, CPG houses over 5,000 useful and medicinal plants. Nowadays, it runs gardening courses, evening supper talks, and workshops on everything from nature photography to traditional Japanese ink painting.

Details: Open Sunday-Friday, 11-3pm 66 Royal Hospital Road, SW3 4HS

Rembrandt Gardens | Little Venice

Appropriately for a canal-side park, the secluded Warwick Avenue Gardens were renamed in 1975 to commemorate Dutch painter Rembrandt – who’d no doubt heartily approve of the picturesque view, well-manicured lawn and ornamental flowerbeds.

Details: Open daily, 8am-6pm 6 Warwick Avenue, W2 1XB

Isabella Plantation | Richmond

Head to this hidden Victorian woodland garden in the midst of Richmond Park, and you’ll be rewarded with mirror-like lakes, mysterious winding paths, and – if you visit in April/May – this ridiculously romantic display of Japanese azaleas.

Details: Open 24 hours (7.30am-8pm in November & February) Richmond Park, KT2 7NA

Fulham Palace Garden | Fulham

Credit: Matthew Bruce

Home to London’s bishops for over 1200 years, the various residents once had full run of the 39 acre grounds – including, apparently, first dibs on any whales which swam up the Thames. Nowadays the gardens are open to the public, and comprise a restored walled garden, a 500 year old oak, and a ‘tree of bishops’.

Details: Open daily from dawn-dusk, free admission Bishop’s Avenue, SW6 6EA

Meanwhile Gardens | Westbourne Park

Credit: Malcolm Edwards

Meanwhile Gardens were originally created as a temporary fix for derelict land – but the name stuck, and so did the gardens. The four-acre stretch of green space now boasts canalside views, peaceful ponds, and elegant Moroccan tiled fountains.

Details: Open 24 hours 156-158 Kensal Road, W10 5BN

Roof Gardens | Kensington

Bill, Ben, Splosh and Pecks – Kensington Roof Gardens’ resident quartet of flamingos – are ready for you. As are the three themed gardens (Spanish/Moorish, Tudor and English Woodland), made all the more impressive for being on the 8th floor of a department store.

Details: Phone ahead on 0207 937 7994 99 Kensington High Street, W8 5SA (access via Derry St.)

 

Main image: Brian Adamson/Flickr


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