London’s parks are the city's most-prized possession. They work so hard to please us — with floral displays, trees that clean our air, and as leisure retreats. They also offer longed-for residential locations — to live alongside or even inside — and the capital's eight Royal Parks, all owned by the Crown Estate and covering 5,500 acres, are among the finest.
Some of London's most expensive homes overlook the Royal Parks, with developers always keen to exploit the cachet of a parkside address (none more so than the Candy brothers with their now famous One Hyde Park). Yet you don't have to be an oligarch to enjoy the privilege of living by a park.
More modestly priced homes are on offer: new apartments alongside Bushy Park, the second-largest Royal Park in London, are available from £364,999, and you can pay from just £250,000 for homes bordering majestic Greenwich Park. Refurbished park lodges and cottages are becoming available for rent, too, through the Royal Parks Authority's Better Buildings Programme.
'It's like living in a country house in the heart of the city'
Along from the Ritz hotel in Piccadilly, a new 10-storey residential block overlooking Green Park will have 24 prestige apartments and, unusually for this prized patch, 12 affordable homes, part of a mixed-use office and retail scheme. To register, call developer Core on 020 7814 1000.
And on a plot bordering the Commonwealth Institute in Holland Park, architect Alan Power has won planning consent for a modern family house to replace the former Sixties porter's lodge.
Ranger's Cottage, next to the Serpentine in Hyde Park, is one of several delightful Royal Park homes for rent.
"It's like living in a country house in the heart of the city," says estate agent Cluttons, which is quoting £2,500 a week for the 2,300sq ft three-bedroom property. "Rarely do you find a detached house with garden and parking in Knightsbridge at this price." Call 020 7262 6767.
Some people might find living in a park a little spooky, though. At night it is dark and quiet, but despite the nocturnal wildlife these homes are safer than many elsewhere, as the parks are patrolled by police.
Tenants must have a licence rather than a tenancy agreement. Rentals can be for longer or shorter periods, subject to negotiation. With more than 35,000 monuments to admire and wildlife that includes deer, bats and tawny owls, tenants can enjoy the landscape their rent helps maintain.
Regent's Park is the only Royal Park with historic and new-build private residences within its boundary. The 487-acre park was created in the early 19th century by John Nash, whose masterpiece was the Outer Circle, a great ring road with grand terraces of houses. Originally there were 374 Outer Circle houses, but many were later converted or knocked together to form prestige corporate offices and educational institutes.
Cornwall Terrace, in the south-west corner, has reverted to residential use, reincarnated as eight mega-mansions ranging from 8,000sq ft to 15,000sq ft, all with views of the boating lake. They mark a new era for the park, says James Simpson of estate agent Knight Frank. "Regent's Park had lost its way and became more a north London suburb than a prime central London address. "Buyers were usually locals and there was a lid on prices, but a new global market has opened up.
"Refurbished properties around the park offer the best of both worlds: beautiful period architecture and luxurious modern interiors." Prices from £29 million. Call 020 7861 5487. Cumberland Terrace is similarly impressive, with a façade boasting full-height porticos and classical columns. Restored apartments cost from £2.59 million through Sandfords (020 7723 9988), which is also marketing a glorious Nash villa (4,160sq ft) at Park Village West, priced at £4.99 million.
A sprinkling of much cheaper apartments and mews cottages, often on short Crown Estate leases, come up for sale — a studio flat at Cumberland Terrace Mews is now on the market for £299,500.
A prestigious new development on the northern side of Hyde Park, called The Lancasters, aims to restore the W2 postcode to the grandeur of its Victorian heyday, a glamorous address for those who want a huge green space on their doorstep and a quick hop to the best central London shops and restaurants.
Originally a terrace of 15 houses, in the Seventies the building was gutted and converted into a Thistle Hotel. Today, the only part of the old building left standing is the listed 1850s façade, said to be the longest in Europe, behind which are 75 brand-new lateral and duplex apartments.
Grand reception rooms are 16ft high with a line of tall windows facing Hyde Park. A wide landscaped forecourt on Bayswater Road is a buffer to traffic noise and also acts as a driveway and arrival point for residents. Valet parking is one of the smart round-the-clock concierge services offered.
Below ground are two levels of parking and a luxury spa. Completion is due this autumn. Prices start at £900,000 and rise to £16.5 million. Call developer Northacre on 020 7402 8822.
Kew Bridge, which offers views across the Thames to the wonderful sweeping green space of the Royal Botanic Gardens, is a new riverside launch. Its 164 apartments are priced from £469,950 to £2.2 million. Call 020 8995 6669.
Green and pleasant city: Myatts Fields allotments
London has more green space than most world cities. As well as the Royal Parks, there are commons and heaths, 600 garden squares, council-owned parks and community spaces.
Mayor Boris Johnson has launched a "great outdoors" initiative, while the Royal Institution of British Architects is sponsoring a Forgotten Spaces competition for the imaginative re-use of neglected plots.
Regeneration of Myatts Fields, Stockwell, will create one of the largest new parks in London. It will get 808 new homes, allotments and a community centre. Houses for rent, sale and shared ownership are due for completion next year. Visit prparchitects.co.uk.