Enjoy London's horticultural hot spots all year round

London has 3,000 parks, allotments and open gardens that offer space to draw breath and de-stress all year round.
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Gardens in London are more than mere green lungs: they're our antidote to fast-paced city life. They give us the chance to draw breath, observe the seasons and, if we have our own patch, get truly creative.

The London Garden Book A-Z celebrates the capital's brightest horticultural hot spots, covering community gardens and allotments, parks and squares, wildflower patches and planted highways, and includes the best nurseries and quirkiest garden centres.

Christchurch Greyfriars Garden in the City, laid walls of a ruined Wren church
Christchurch Greyfriars Garden in the City, laid out within the walls of a ruined Wren church

"Tenacious, adaptable and imaginative, London's gardeners see opportunities in the most unlikely of places, from rooftops to roundabouts," says author Abigail Willis, who, in her two years of on-foot research, also uncovered food-growing skips, allotments created from builders' bags on pallets, tree-pit plantings and offshore gardens in floating barges.

If you don't have a garden, you can do the next best thing: go garden visiting. The City gardens have the richest history, with sites, points out Willis, that incorporate everything from Roman remains to plague pits.

The Cleary Garden, near Mansion House, has been a Roman bathhouse, a piggery, medieval vineyard and newspaper printworks, but now, on three levels, houses a rose-covered pergola, a bed of peonies gifted from Japan and vines from the Loire Valley; the lawns conceal the Roman baths beneath.

Ben Nel and Darren Henderson's Hackney plot opens annually under the National Gardens scheme
Ben Nel and Darren Henderson's Hackney plot opens annually under the National Gardens scheme
Like many City gardens, insect hotels and bird boxes encourage the Square Mile's wildlife. If you live in the town but long for the country, you can get your rural fix in Peckham at the Centre for Wildlife Gardening, with its showcase mini habitats; at Muswell Hill, in Queen's Wood Organic Garden, a nature reserve created on ancient woodland, or at Roots and Shoots, Lambeth's one-acre wildlife Arcadia, formerly an industrial site.

Here are potted profiles, too, of characters who make up London's gardening world, like Richard Reynolds, the city's first guerrilla gardener, who encourages us to fling seed bombs over the barricades to make flower carpets from derelict land.

Smooth-talking Italian Paolo Arrigi supplies the River Café's potager with his Seeds of Italy range, has introduced us to Tuscan kale Cavalo nero, which he says sells better here than in Italy, and holds masterclasses on veg growing at his warehouse not in Sicily, but Harrow on the Hill.

As well as our more familiar horticultural delights —the Barbican Conservatory with its 2,000-plus species of tropical plants, plus resident terrapins; the Kensington Roof Gardens, starring pink flamingos Splosh and Pecks; Sunday mornings at Columbia Road Market, bedding plant heaven — Willis includes lesser-known terrain.

Part of the restored gardens of rare and unusual plants at Myddleton House
Part of the restored gardens of rare and unusual plants at Myddleton House
lengthy must-see list includes The Dye Garden at Vauxhall City Farm, with cheery dye plants such as hollyhocks (grey-blue) and calendula (orange) — used to tint the wool produced by the farm's sheep and alpacas, which is spun into yarn and woven into textiles, all, amazingly, on site — and the Cloister Herb Garden, part of the Museum of the Order of St John, EC1, and newly planted by light-touch designer Alison Wear with biblical beauties such as Jerusalem sage, Maltese Cross and St John's wort.

Willis aptly describes Enfield's Capel Manor Gardens, the 30 acres of inspiring themed gardens that house a reputable horticultural college, as "like the Chelsea Flower Show, but without the irritating crowds and TV crews".

This is the place to discover what grows best from Which? Gardening's trial beds, check out the gorgeous national collection of salvias, and boggle at the hairy Kune Kune pigs in the animal corner — rather less lovely than the salvias.

Most of London's public green places are free — we have more than 3,000 parks and open spaces — and many of London's finest private gardens can be viewed through the National Gardens Scheme's Yellow Book: more than 200 of them at last count. We are blessed.

Reader offer

The London Garden Book A-Z (Metro Publications) costs £14.99 but Homes & Property readers can buy it for £12.99 including p&p by calling 020 8533 7777 and quoting code HP 10/12.

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