Through the Keyhole: Best Secret Gardens in London
If you’ve had enough of Hyde Park or just want to escape the places where someone has taken their incontinent dog, Culture Trip has compiled a list of varying ‘Secret Gardens’ to show off the whole spectrum of London. From the picturesque and historical, to the functional and socially beneficial, here are places to go on your lunch break or for a London adventure.
It is strange to think how few people who frequent Hampstead Heath have actually been to the Pergola. It is the product of the efforts of Lord Leverhulme, a wealthy arts-lover who purchased the land in 1904 and had fulfilled his fantastical vision by 1911. After falling into dilapidation during the Second World War and subsequent years, the City of London Corporation embarked on the Pergola’s restoration in 1989 and the LCC continue to keep Lord Leverhulme’s dream alive. Astonishing neo-Classical architecture merges seamlessly into the foliage of one of London’s leafier suburbs. Head on up to the West Heath to find it.
Literally a stone’s throw away from the Houses of Parliament, College Garden sits within the precincts of Westminster Abbey. It is one of those London gems that hide in plain sight, and no visit to the Abbey is complete without venturing in. Perhaps it is the divine aura of Westminster Abbey, or perhaps a feat of physics, but very little sound from the busy roads over the wall leaks into the garden, a key feature for any escape. Enchanting in the spring, and a shady recluse from the thronging Parliament Square in the summer, there are plenty of benches to sit and reflect upon whilst you admire the water features and the Christopher Wren-designed architecture surrounding you. Access is generally between 10am and 4pm and is free with entrance to Westminster Abbey.
Built upon the old Eastern Curve railway line in Dalston in 2010, this garden and wooden pavilion plays host to numerous events and workshops, many of which are free. As you would come to expect with Dalston, this garden makes sense: the functionality of the venue allows many to enjoy the community events ranging from film-screenings to cake decorating, as well as being a café amongst all the flora and fauna. The overflowing excess of child-friendly community projects qualifies the garden as an ideal and very reasonably-priced destination for young families as well.
On the north side of the Embankment, within the walls of Inner Temple, is a three-acre garden which is open to the Public from 12.30-3pm each weekday. The garden dates back to the establishment of the Inner Temple Inn of Court in the 14th century. Over time, it has transformed to reflect the changing demands of London life and now, with access to the river cut off, it stands as it largely has since Bazalgette’s construction of the Victoria Embankment. The garden is a favourite for lunchtime breaks as you can sit an enjoy the flowers and trees which prove as resilient to today’s London traffic as it did to the infamous Dickensian smogs centuries years ago.
Open only on Sundays from 11am-5pm, the Barbican conservatory is London’s second largest collection of plants and trees after Kew Gardens, with 2000 species on show. As well as being far more convenient to get to than Kew, the tropical oasis in the nerve-centre of Britain’s financial capital opened in 1984, and its glass walls and architecture reflect the notable style of the Barbican as a whole. When not open to the public, the Conservatory plays host to private functions. Take care when trying to find the conservatory, since the Barbican is notoriously difficult to navigate, so it might be worth latching onto someone who gives the impression of knowing their way around.
Guerrilla Gardens is not ‘secret’ in the same sense that all the other gardens on this list are. They are not hidden, nor they are not out of the way – they are just in places you might not expect. Richard Reynolds, blogger on guerrillagardening.org, really is the poster boy for this vigilante gardening movement, whose weapons are trowels and compost. In potholes, roundabouts, and neglected open spaces all around London, Reynolds started to ‘illegally’ garden around his benighted base in Elephant and Castle over a decade ago. His following has grown and grown and many people have followed suit by setting up their own ‘Guerrilla Gardens’. Keep an eye out for them or follow blogs such as The Pothole Gardener. If you can’t find a garden to your liking, follow Reynolds’s and Guerrilla Gardening’s example and go and create your own.