Our Top Ten Secret Gardens
The Easter holidays are traditionally a time to get out in the garden, and this set the Footprints of London team thinking about our favourite London secret gardens.
1. Royal Observatory Gardens
Neil Sinclair nominated The Royal Observatory Garden “It’s unseen and unknown to most of the millions of visitors to the famous Observatory and the world-renowned zero degrees line of longitude. An amphitheatre like space of beauty and tranquillity for most of the year. But a temporary venue for open-air theatre and live jazz recitals for a few days in the summer. Once the private garden of the Astronomer Royal, the first of which was John Flamstead in 1675, the Observatory garden is now part of the public Greenwich Park, London’s oldest royal park. Greenwich Park was first enclosed in 1433 for Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester. Humphrey was the brother of Henry V and fought alongside him at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415.Deer were introduced to the park by Henry VIII around 1520 and under King James I the park fence was replaced in the early 1600s by a 12 foot high, two-mile-long brick wall, much of which still exists.”
Neil will be leading two highlights walks on Bank Holiday Monday (21 April) around the Greenwich World Maritime Heritage site starting from the Tourist Information Centre at 12.15 and 2.15
2. Waterlow Park
Jen Pedler chose Waterlow Park “I’d like to nominate Waterlow Park in Highgate, donated to the LCC as a ‘garden for the gardenless’ by once Lord Mayor Sir Sydney Waterlow in 1889. It’s one of the highest points in London – there’s a sundial whose plate is on a level with the top of the dome of St Paul’s (see photo below).
You can stand by the statue of Sir Sydney and look out across the park and its ponds to the city with views of St Paul’s and (dare I mention it) the Shard. And you can stop for tea and cake in historic Lauderdale house where Nell Gwynn is said to have lived and been visited by Charles II.
Jen visits the park on her walk Archway My Way – sign up for our mailing list to find the next date
3 The Commercial Gas Company Memorial Garden
Rob Smith nominated the Commercial Gas Company Memorial Gardens in West Ham “This little woodland garden is the last thing you would expect in this location – set between recycling centres and magazine distribution warehouses in an East London Industrial site. It was originally a private garden for workers at the West Ham Gas Works, the gas holders of which still stand nearby. The site was originally owned by the Commercial Gas Company’s rival the Imperial Gas Company, but when the Imperial were brought out the Commercial built the garden to house memorials to its workers who had died in two world wars. Anyone can visit now and see the eternal gas flame that burns in the workers memory.”
Rob visits this garden on his walk Working River an Industrial History of the River Lea on June 26th
4 Cleary Gardens
Brian McClory has been inspired by the Tree Peony in Cleary Gardens on Queen Victoria Street “The Tree Peony display in the garden marvellous – much better than the pictures. Anyone considering growing them at home? – They grow slowly – don’t expect any flowers in the first or even the second year and the flowers only last for a very short time. Mine’s in bud and I’ll post a picture when it’s in full bloom.” The garden was created in the bombed out basement of a house destroyed in World War Two – a man named Joe Brandis decided to plant the garden. The Yatsuka Tree peonies were presented to the City by the Japanese Island of Daikonjima as a symbol of goodwill in April 2006.
Brian is one of our most prolific guides you can join him for a walk looking at Royal Connections on Easter Monday
5 The Hill Garden, Hampstead
The Hill Garden Hampstead is Dave Brown‘s choice “I love the pergola and the walkways” The garden was originally built by Lord Leverhulme – the founder of the Lever soap company. The Pergola was built in 1904, designed by landscape architect Thomas Mawson. The gardens were used for numerous grand garden parties, Lord Leverhulme being a patron of the arts. After his death the gardens changed hands before finally becoming open to the public in 1963 and fully restored in 1989
Dave is currently working on a new guide course for Camden which should include some garden walks.
6. Mount Street Gardens
Sue Bingham likes Mount Street Gardens in Mayfair “It’s a lovely quiet spot in the hustle and bustle of the west end (next to the beautiful Farm St Church of the Immaculate Conception). Originally the burial ground for St George’s Hanover Square in 1723. Flora and fauna (plane trees, Australian silver wattle, dawn redwoods, Canary Island palm and Chinese twisted willow) attract various species of bird.”
Richard Watkins agrees “I find it fun to imagine what a grim place it was early to mid 1800s with the Parish workhouse dominating the north side and the graveyard of St George’s Hanover Square full to bursting with disinterred limbs lying around – compared to the exotic trees and tranquillity today. And features in my Not Just Tea at The Ritz walk. What greater difference between Victorian workhouse and Grand Hotel?”
Richards next Not Just Tea at The Ritz is on 24th April
7 Abbey Gardens West Ham
Julian Walker nominates Abbey Gardens in West Ham “A unique and fascinating community garden with raised beds in amongst grass walkways, and plenty of lawn space too. Fruit, vegetables and flowers are grown, and rather than each person tending their own plot the Gardens are worked collectively. An open garden, it acts as much as a community resource as a growing space and is obviously much loved and valued by people in the locality.
The garden also plays homage to the ‘Plaistow Land Grabbers’ who at the beginning of the last century squatted a piece of derelict land and created allotments so they could feed their families; and to the Abbey of Stratford Langthorne whose kitchen gardens were situated here. This is also the location of the Abbey’s Gatehouse, and the ruins were discovered in the 1970s and excavated. One of just two Scheduled Ancient Monuments in the Borough of Newham, they have been buried again as they are too fragile to be left exposed but replica walls have been laid on top to show the location of the gate and the outline of its walls.
The garden is usually open during the daytime and the gardeners are always happy to stop and chat. Or you could go to one of their occasional events; their Harvest Festival (in 2014 this will take place on Saturday 13th September) is definitely worth making the trip for!
8 Camley Street Natural Park and the Skip Garden
Jenni Bowley chose Camley Street Natural Park near Kings Cross Station. This 2 acre strip of wild woodland, ponds and meadow demonstrate what amazing transformations can happen in London. Opened in 1984 the park was previously the site of the coal drops – huge coal storage bunkers that were at the heart of Kings Cross goods yard. Initially destined to be a lorry park, the land was given to the London Wildlife Trust to create a wild space that can be enjoyed by all. With the redevelopment of Kings Cross railway lands Camley Street has a new set of neighbours who can come and enjoy pond dipping and watching wildlife.
Tina Baxter also nominated the nearby Skip Gardens. These gardens were created to give some space for gardening during the redevelopment of Kings Cross and St Pancras. As the constant change of development work meant that a permanent site wasn’t possible, gardens were created in skips so that they could be moved to a new location when necessary. The Skip Garden is currently located to the rear of the University of the Arts and now has a café and regular plant sales.
9 Fulham Palace Gardens
Richard Watkins chose Fulham Palace Gardens “Just over Putney Bridge lies one of London’s hidden treasures. The gardens date back before Kew to the 1670s when Bishop Compton started introducing exotic trees and plants. The same Compton after which Old Compton Street is named. It has one of the Great Trees of London, 450 years old, and a wonderful walled garden with Tudor gate recently restored.”
Richard works at Fulham Palace when not guiding
10 Chumleigh Multicultural Gardens
Sue Sinton Smith chose the Chumleigh Multicultural Gardens in Burgess Park. This garden is built among three almshouses that date back to 1802. The idea was to create a garden that reflected the diverse cultural heritage in Southwark and is tended by groups of gardeners with Irish, Vietnamese, South Asian and Afro Caribbean backgrounds. The groups get together for an annual harvest feast. Highlights include the very fine pindo palm in the picture.
Sue’s next walk looks at the Canonbury area of Islington on May 16th, the walk includes some delightful gardens next to Islington’s historic New River.
With so many great gardens in London, a top ten was a very tough choice, so we will be running more garden features later in the year.