London’s exclusive squares, secret gardens and green spaces, many not usually open to the public, fling their gates wide this Saturday and Sunday under the Open Garden Squares Weekend.
Founded 20 years ago by Londoner Caroline Aldiss when she wanted to share her own home square, Kensington’s Collingham Gardens, and organised by the London Parks and Gardens Trust, the city’s great garden show now embraces not just our finest squares but more than 230 gardens across 27 London boroughs.
So as well as sipping cava and cocktails in Cleveland Square, savouring the celebrated rose collection at Eccleston Square or lying on the lawns and listening to a poetry reading in Markham Square, you can cherry-pick from nature reserves and bee havens, rooftops and glasshouses, parks, orchards, city farms, allotments, barge gardens and herb gardens, monastic cloisters and secret courtyards.
Newcomers this year include two accaimed roof gardens by Baring Asset Management at Bishopsgate, the northern terrace inspired by Asia, the southern by Europe, and Hachette’s award-winning rooftop with stretches of lawn, English country garden planting and sensational views towards the Tower and London Eye.
Other gardens-in-the-sky to visit this weekend include the dynamic roof garden at the Barbican Centre, designed by climate change expert Professor Nigel Dunnett, and the garden above Canary Wharf’s Crossrail station, which has both striking architecture and landscape inspired by the wharf’s maritime heritage.
Seeking ideas for your own patch? You will find plenty of planting inspiration at the Inner Temple Garden, which has changed dramatically since its conception in the 12th century, thanks to head gardener Andrea Brunsendorf, whose perennial and container plantings could scoop Gold at the Chelsea Flower Show.
Instead of using humdrum terracotta pots, get more original container ideas from Roof East, on a car park atop the Stratford Shopping Centre, where colourful shrubs and saplings spring from planters of recycled pallets, decking from the Olympic Park footbridge and even vintage sports cars, although these might be trickier to source.
If sleek minimalism is more your style, you will appreciate the modern garden at Arsenal’s former Highbury Stadium. Join a pre-booked tour of precision-clipped hedging cubes, contemporary water features and pristine geometric lawns framed with Perspex walls.
One of the first low-rise, high-density housing estates in London, Lillington and Longmoore’s award-winning gardens will showcase their sensory garden with bubble fountain, classic mixed borders, Mediterranean drought plants, a children’s garden and an exotic border with yuccas, palms, agaves and cannas.
All this, plus a wildlife pond and perennial meadows, in the heart of Pimlico.
Southwark Cathedral, London’s oldest Gothic church, offers a botanical trail with a difference: all the plants in the churchyard and herb garden have biblical and Shakespearean connections, but then the Bard himself worshipped here and his brother, Edmund, is buried within the grounds.
When is a weed a wildflower? Find out on a nature trail at Haringey’s Railway Fields, the former goods yard that is now a spectacular nature reserve boasting over 200 species of wildflowers as well as the Haringey knotweed, supposedly a hybrid of Japanese knotweed and Russian vine, hopefully not coming to your garden any time soon.
If you want to know which plants bring in the bees and butterflies, visit Bee Urban at Kennington Park to check out RHS-approved nectar-rich flowers, herbs and fruit trees, study the natural observation hives and sample beer made from the on-site honey.
One of Capital Growth’s growing spaces, the Skip Garden off York Way, Kings Cross, is an exciting mobile allotment of skips planted with edibles and has a rammed-earth wall polytunnel, reed-bed dining area and sash-window glasshouse.
Grow-your-own fans should visit Cable Street Community Garden on Saturday to see the results when local gardeners from Brazil, Nigeria, Turkestan, Slovakia and just about every corner of the globe get growing.
The weekend’s prettiest potager, however, has to be on the roof of the Brunel Museum at Rotherhithe, best admired this Saturday evening when the Midnight Apothecary will set up the bar. Sip cocktails infused with flowers and herbs picked on site, while you watch the sunset. Perfection.