London Gardens: Ten of the Best


London is a veritable hot bed of horticulture these days, with thriving community plots, buzzing pop-up parks and colourful guerrilla gardens joining an already rich collection of historic green spaces. Abigail Willis has toured them all for The London Garden Book A-Z out later this month, and has picked out ten of her favourites for The City Planter.

Inner Temple Garden

Inner Temple Garden

Inner Temple Garden – best for brilliant border planting

One of London’s most historic green spaces, Inner Temple garden is enjoying an exhilarating renaissance under head gardener Andrea Brunsendorf. In spring, the Peony Garden exudes a blowsy charm but in late summer, things step up a gear as the High Border hits its stride. The 70-metre-long border pulsates with colour-saturated dahlias and heleniums, woven through with rustling strands of variegated reed grass and the celestial blue spikes of Echium fastuosum.

Myddelton House Gardens – best for garden restoration

Historic gardens can sometimes be a little stuffy. Not this one. After years of decline, the gardens of the great plantsman E. A. Bowles in Enfield have been lovingly restored by head gardener Andrew Turvey with affectionate respect for ‘Gussie’s’ quirky approach to garden design, exemplified by the Lunatic Asylum (which houses oddities such as corkscrew hazel). Thanks to some hard-working pigs, who helped to clear the land, the once derelict kitchen garden is productive once more and boasts a beautiful new peach house. Bowles’ name lives on in plants such as Erysimum ‘Bowles’s Mauve’, but a visit to Myddelton House Gardens is akin to meeting the great man in person.

Ockendon Road Tree Gardens

Ockendon Road Tree Gardens – best for community creativity

So good even taxi drivers make a detour to see them, the ‘Ockie Road’ Tree Gardens are an Islington landmark. Created and tended by residents, these mini gardens grow in what would otherwise be drab, dog-fouled tree pits. Each patch is different, and with one side of the street shady and one sunny, they are filled with colourful and interesting planting ideas from humble climbing nasturtiums to Mimulus and Oenothera. Regular ‘Islington in Bloom’ prizewinners, the doughty tree gardeners have overcome numerous obstacles along the way, from vandalism and theft to the demands of watering more than 35 thirsty gardens.

South London Botanical Institute – best for botany boffins

Don’t let the SLBI’s rather formal name put you off – it’s a gem. Founded in 1910 and still based in its original Tulse Hill premises, the SLBI aims to encourage interest in all aspects of plant life and is open to everyone. It hosts lectures and runs field trips, has a well-stocked library, a roomful of microscopes, and an historic herbarium but best of all perhaps, is its garden. Packed with more than 500 neatly labelled specimens, London’s smallest botanic garden showcases medicinal and carnivorous plants as well roaming the world with an Australasian bed, a Mediterranean dry garden and a native ‘weed garden’.

Roots and Shoots Garden

Roots and Shoots

Roots and Shoots – best for inspiring young people

Founded in 1982, Roots and Shoots is a charity that offers training for disadvantaged young people in horticulture and retail. The wildlife garden – developed on the contaminated site of a former engineering works – has become a beacon of biodiversity, squeezing in habitats as diverse as a pond, meadow and orchard as well as being the base for the London Beekeepers’ Association. The garden can be visited by appointment but Roots and Shoots is also a great place to buy plants, which are very reasonably priced and are raised on site by the students, making them perfectly acclimatised to life in London.

Kyoto Garden – best for a taste of the Orient

Enfolded in the leafy embrace of Holland Park, the Kyoto Garden is a traditional ‘stroll’ garden, designed to evoke the characteristic features of the Japanese landscape – from rocky shoreline to pine forest. Its apparently naturalistic arrangement of water, bridges, trees and lawns is in fact a carefully choreographed composition, created by the Kyoto Garden Association. Clashing rhododendrons and azaleas light up the garden in the spring while fiery acers turn up the heat in the autumn. Specialist gardeners from Japan fly over every so often to wield their pruning tools and keep this tranquil garden looking tip-top.

The Hill Garden and Pergola

The Hill Garden and Pergola

The Hill Garden and Pergola – best for barefoot garden appreciation

This Hampstead haven has been open to the public since 1963 but still has the feel of a secret garden – it’s certainly a bit of a shock to come across the 800ft-long pergola for the first time. Built by soap magnate Lord Leverhulme, the pergola looms imperiously over Hampstead’s West Heath and its classical stone columns are entwined with a romantic assortment of wisteria, clematis, roses, hops and vines. The beautifully tended Hill Garden still feels like a private enclave and its no-dog policy makes its manicured lawns a treat for unshod feet.

Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew – best for a day out

Big can indeed be beautiful. Kew’s 300 acres are a delight whatever the season – in spring, there are more than five million bulbs to savour, in summer, the recently replanted Rose Garden, while in the autumn the glowing colours of Kew’s 14,000 trees can be admired from the Rhizotron and Xstrata Treetop Walkway. In December and January the scented flowers of the Winter Garden and the scarlet berries of the Holly Walk provide seasonal cheer. If it’s raining, Kew’s iconic glasshouses offer year-round warmth and tropical vegetation or check out Kew’s Museum No.1, or the Marianne North Gallery, which displays the work of the globe-trotting Victorian botanical painter.

The Athenaeum hotel

The Athenaeum hotel

The Athenaeum hotel – best for vertical va-va-voom

Vertical gardening has taken off quicker than Virginia creeper recently but if you want to see an example of it at its neck-cricking best look no further than 116 Piccadilly. The 10-storey garden that wraps around The Athenaeum hotel was designed by vertical gardening pioneer Patrick Blanc and features more than 260 tropical and temperate species, such as Adiantum capillus-veneris, Fuchsia regia – the so-called ‘climbing fuchsia’ from Brazil and the world’s biggest single collection of Urticaceae (that’s nettles to you and me). View from the street, or even better, from the top deck of a passing bus.

Capel Manor – best for garden inspiration

Like Chelsea Flower Show without the crowds, the grounds of this horticultural college are packed with different ‘show’ gardens (many of them designed by Capel students). Ideas to steal include a burglar-proof garden, a low-allergen garden and, probably most usefully for Londoners, a ‘terraced house back garden’. Students hone their practical skills maintaining the 30-acre gardens – which also include a walled garden, a Japanese garden and the Which? Gardening trial gardens. Inspiring stuff!

© Abigail Willis August 2012,

The London Garden Book A-Z by Abigail Willis (Metro Publications, RRP £14.99) will be published on 21st September.




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