London’s Best Secret Gardens | From Rooftops To Walled Parks
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 London’s best secret gardens and 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…
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, plus a well-stocked bar.
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, 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 | 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, surrounded by one of London’s best secret gardens.
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. George’s Garden | Bloomsbury
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
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 Road, N1 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
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
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 a secret garden afternoon tea with unlimited prosecco. READ MORE
Details: Open selected Sundays and public holidays, check website for details | Silk Street, EC2Y 8DS
Downing’s Road Moorings | Tower Bridge
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
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. READ MORE
Details: Daily from 8am – dusk (closed Christmas Day) | 100 London Road, SE23 3PQ
Eltham Palace Gardens | Greenwich
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
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
Main image: Brian Adamson/Flickr
Like discovering London’s secrets? Get ready to have your mind blown