London’s Most Beautiful Secret GardensColin Campbell-Preston
Having existed for centuries throughout innumerate civilisations – London is full of unusual features and hidden gems. Although modern London is at the forefront of technology and industry, and every inch of the city seems to be full to brim with buildings, people and noise – there are still hidden retreats and peaceful spots in which to relax. Here, we explore some of the capital city’s most beautiful secret gardens.
Pergola and Hill Gardens – NW3
Commissioned by philanthropist, Lord Leverhulme, and designed by world-famous landscape architect, Thomas Mawson – the Pergola and Hill Gardens in Hampstead was opened to the London public in 1906. The stunning raised walkways may not have retained the opulence they enjoyed during their early years – but the unique atmosphere they exude makes them more than worth a visit.
The garden retains a distinct character throughout – harking back to early 20th century grandeur. Designed for Edwardian garden parties, many of London’s brightest and most beautiful will have toured these gardens arm-in-arm chatting, scheming and whiling away beautiful afternoons.
Kensington Roof Gardens – W8
Built upon the old Derry and Toms department store on Kensington High Street, the Kensington Roof Gardens are now protected by the English Heritage as Grade II listed sites. Now rented by Sir Richard Branson, the 1.5 acre gardens high in the Kensington air are split into three different themes: Spanish Garden, Tudor Garden and English Woodland. All of the areas are complete with plant life and flowers indigenous to the theme.
The gardens currently surround a two storey clubhouse which is used to host private events, parties and conferences on Friday and Saturday nights. Additionally, the Babylon Restaurant was built amidst the gardens, giving diners the chance to enjoy the beauty of the gardens and panoramic views of Richmond Deer Park and across South London.
Isabella Plantation – TW10
Looking more like turn of the 20th century Japan than inner-city London, the Isabella Plantation in Richmond Park is 42 acres of beautifully vibrant plantation in a woodland setting. The ponds and streams of the plantation are lined by evergreen azaleas including 50 Kurume Azaleas which were first introduced to the western world from Japan in the 1920s.
The huge stretches of beautiful pink, red and purple azaleas create a stunning spectacle as their reflections stretch across the peaceful ponds. With paths winding through the flower walls above eye level, it’s incredibly simple to forget you are in the middle of a city.
Abney Park Cemetery – N16
Perhaps not for the faint of heart; Abney Park Cemetery is one of the Magnificent Seven. The gardens within the cemetery walls are equal parts atmospheric and majestic – Abney Park was the first arboretum/cemetery in Europe, with an emphasis of aesthetically-appealing and educational landscaping. A few hours spent wandering around the cemetery can be invested in famous-grave spotting with a number of high profile burials taking place in the location – most notably the founders of The Salvation Army, William and Catherine Booth.
Fenton House – NW3
Despite being a National Trust site, Fenton House remains a charmingly quiet and secluded spot with many Londoners unaware of the stunning building on their doorstep. One of the highlights of Fenton House is undoubtedly the walled garden filled with stunning plant life including tulips and spring blossoms. The house is also a beautiful place to visit – filled with decorative porcelain, Georgian furniture and 17th century needlework – all collected by Lady Binning, who bought the house in 1936.
The gardens also boast some of the capital’s best examples of topiary – with precisely clipped shrubbery you could balance a cup of tea on.
Japanese Roof Garden – WC1H
London’s School of Oriental and African Studies makes a fitting location for a Japanese-style rooftop garden. Although the plant life is kept to a minimum (creeping wisteria and lemon thyme are about the only ever-presents), the garden retains many of the classical design features of a Japanese garden – perfect for meditation and self-realisation. The entire garden’s theme is ‘Forgiveness’ – with the Kanji character for the world engraved on the granite water basin.
The Japanese Roof Garden is an incredibly peaceful setting for visitors to sit alone and contemplate the important things in life, and momentarily forget the fast-paced city life.
Kew Gardens – TW9
The wonderful world-beating Kew Gardens are so sizeable, it is possible for you to find a quiet nook or cranny, even when there are thousands of visitors. Evoking the sensation of a secret garden, the Royal Botanic Gardens of Kew (to give the full title) has been wowing guests for well over a century and a half.
With more than 30,000 different types of plants and one of the largest herbariums in the world; Kew Gardens are a listed UNESCO World Heritage site. The gardens effectively mix the old with the new, with features including the 1836 Nash Conservatory sitting proudly alongside the 2008 treetop walkway.
Although the 1.35 million guests who visit Kew Gardens every year mean it’s hardly a secret, we think it’s just too good not to include.
If any of these gardens have inspired you to build your own beautiful secret garden in London – visit the Capital Gardens homepage for more ideas, or call our dedicated Plant People on 0208 874 2037.
Images sourced via Flickr Creative Commons. Credit: Peter O’Connor (Hero), David Terrar (Kensington Roof Gardens), Tony Hall (Fenton House).