London's secret gardens

It is easy to forget that you are in the middle of a city, in the capital's oases of calm.
Follow your nose to the Old English Garden in Battersea Park, take your seat opposite the central trickling fountain and breathe deeply. Fragrant flowers in glorious abundance make this secret space - through a small, inconspicious entrance - a delight for all the senses. 

Neglected and gone to seed, the site was given fresh life two years ago with planting plans by perennials queen Sarah Price and a team of helpers from Thrive, the horticultural charity based in the park.

This is the most beautiful and romantic pleasure garden in town, thick with 70 antique roses, white lilies, salvias, poppies, jasmine and a pergola draped, any time soon, in wisteria, honeysuckle and rambling roses.

An escape
If you long to escape to the countryside and hear the birdsong, make your way to Walnut Tree Walk, Kennington, and a half-acre nature reserve where bug-friendly weeds and wildflowers, fruit trees and roses, beehives and dipping pond make Roots and Shoots one of London's finest examples of urban biodiversity. The learning centre building where the Lambeth educational charity provides horticultural training for inner-city youngsters is an ecological triumph, with a solar roof and built-in insect and bird boxes for sparrows and starlings.

An oasis
The historic Inner Temple Garden, an oasis of calm in the centre of the frenetic City, makes this threeacre green space within the Temple buildings an ideal spot to relax and recharge. However, the real draws these days are the fabulous herbaceous borders, Mediterranean beds and containers planted by the innovative head gardener, Andrea Brunsendorf. Come here to unwind, but also to seek inspiration for your own city or suburban plot. The High Border, by the main entrance, hits its eye-popping peak in late summer, and is not to be missed.

A community
A leisurely stroll through the award-winning Culpeper Community Garden, built on a bomb site in the grittiest part of Islington, is guaranteed to raise the spirits. Paths meander through the colourful 50-odd mini gardens created and tended by locals, with a huge diversity of plants that make this a haven for wildlife as well as people. There are also green lawns for picnicking, a pond filled with frogs and an arbour dripping with roses in summer. Living up to its name, this lively organic garden is a mecca for gardening workshops, music recitals and plant sales. Look out for the new drought-resistant Dry Garden, created as part of Islington's Climate Change Adaption Strategy.

An apothecary
The three-acre Chelsea Physic Garden, founded in 1673 by apothecaries to teach their apprentices about medicinal plants, has so much to marvel over: the Garden of World Medicine, with indigenous plants from different cultures; the recently built Garden of Edible and Useful Plants, which shows how plants affect every aspect of our lives; glasshouses overflowing with global exotics, and a modern garden, open this month, that reshuffles many of the ancient order beds within curving drystone walls, designed by dynamic head gardener Nick Bailey.

Here, too, is the world's oldest rock garden, and, thanks to the unique microclimate within thick walls, a rose bush that flowers right through the year, Britain's largest olive tree and a grapefruit tree that actually produces grapefruit - outdoors. Of course, you might just decide, as many do, to sit on a bench and take in the special, tranquil atmosphere, or, better yet, sit at a table, al fresco, at the celebrated Tangerine Dream Cafe, and take in the salmon en croute, a sublime gooseberry fool and homemade ginger beer.

Whether to work your way through the order beds or to work your way through the menu, you will find yourself returning, again and again.

London's secret spaces
OLD ENGLISH GARDEN, Battersea Park. Entrance free, follow signs at main entrance of park. Gates open daily 8am (often earlier) and close at dusk.

ROOTS AND SHOOTS Walnut Tree Walk, Kennington SE11 6DN. rootsandshoots.org.uk; 020 7587 1131. Entrance free, report to reception. Open Monday to Friday, 10am-4pm.

INNER TEMPLE GARDEN Inner and Middle Temple, Fleet Street, EC4Y 7HL. innertemple.org.uk. Entrance free, accessed via the main gate opposite Crown Office Row. Open Monday to Friday, 12.30-3pm.

CULPEPER COMMUNITY GARDEN 1 Cloudesley Road, N1 0EG. culpeper.org.uk; 020 7833 3951. Entrance free. Open Tuesday to Sunday 10am-4pm and at other times when members open gates; call in advance to check the garden is open.

CHELSEA PHYSIC GARDEN Swan Walk, SW3 4HS. chelseaphysicgarden.co.uk; 020 7352 5646. Entrance £9.90 adults, £6.60 students and over-fives. Open until October 31, Tuesday to Friday, Sunday and Bank Holidays, 11am-6pm. 

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