Picture “The Big Smoke” and we tend to think in varying shades of grey, rather than a colourful abundance of blooms and tones of green. But look beyond the high-rise buildings and paving stones, and you may be surprised by the number of green spaces waiting to be found in the city of London.
“The parks be the lungs of London” according to Charles Dickens in Greenwich Fair. But it’s not just parks offering green spaces. There’s a multitude of secret gardens in London too. Look up, look around and they’ll be there – on rooftops, behind historic buildings, down alleyways and hidden in plain sight. Here, we’ll take you on a beautiful journey of discovery to uncover glorious greenery in 20 hidden gardens across the city.
Barbican Conservatory – yep, the Barbican in the City of London has a conservatory. It’s big too, second only to Kew Gardens. Admire the tropical plants, atmosphere and even terrapins and koi carp. Check opening times before you go though as it’s only open on some Sundays.
The Islamic Gardens at the Aga Khan Centre – a place to find peace in Central London, these contemporary gardens reflect diverse Muslim cultures. Super stylish with minimalist design, the collection of courtyards and rooftops offer a slice of Persia in King’s Cross.
Horniman Museum – set in South London’s Forest Hill, The Horniman has spectacular gardens. 16 acres of them in fact. The bandstand is the best spot to admire the awesome views of the museum’s grounds and across London.
Fulham Palace – this historic house has been home to London bishops for centuries. Its gardens span an impressive 13 acres, combining botanical gardens with an attractive walled garden. The bishops have done their bit for conservation, planting an array of rare trees to be admired.
120 Fenchurch Street – head to the rooftop terrace of this fairly new City building and enjoy gorgeous planting in The Garden, and wander around the perimeter of the rooftop. You’ll feel miles away from bustling Leadenhall Market below.
Crossrail Place Roof Garden – on top of the architecturally striking Crossrail Place at Canary Wharf is a super modern, show-stopping conservatory. Cleverly, plants are placed according to their origins – East or West.
Queen Elizabeth Roof Garden – in warmer months, this verdant oasis on top of the Southbank Centre is open daily. It’s looked after by an admirable team affected by addiction and homelessness. With stunning views across the Thames, as well as a decent bar, it’s well worth a visit.
Culpeper Community Garden – a community garden in every sense, the various plots are tended by locals. It’s such a friendly place to soak up the sun and the community spirit, just a stone’s throw from Angel.
Dalston Eastern Curve Garden – built on an old railway line, it’s an unexpected place to find trailing vines and beautiful flower beds. Its caring community host amazing events here too.
St Mary’s Secret Garden – around the corner from Hoxton overground station, you’ll find this hidden gem. With health and well-being as a priority, you’ll find working beehives, veg plots, a wildflower meadow, woodland and a pond rife with wildlife.
St Dunstan in the East – this Wren church was devastated by World War II bombings and its ruins are now draped in entangled vines and branches. It makes a striking picture.
Postman’s Park – this pretty garden to the north of St Paul’s Cathedral is a lovely place to press pause on your day. Its moving Memorial to Heroic Self-Sacrifice is a must-see. Each tile on that wall is devoted to unsung heroes from the Victorian era onwards who died trying to save another.
The Phoenix Garden – a hidden gem in between the bustling hotspots of Covent Garden and Soho. Volunteers ensure this much-loved garden is a haven for wildlife, so look out for frogs, birds and a plethora of insects enjoying the flora and fauna while you enjoy your sandwich.
St Paul’s Cathedral Churchyard – in the shadow’s of Wren’s architectural masterpiece, you can relax and take stock in the St Paul’s gardens. They’re not totally secret as they’re available to hire for events, but they’re peaceful enough for a moment of quiet in your working day.
Holland Park – the Kyoto Garden features the Japanese style of planting complete with waterfalls and koi carp in the ponds. For good measure there are peacocks parading proudly around this remarkable green space in Kensington.
Regent’s Park – if there’s one place to take time to stop and smell the roses, it’s Queen Mary’s Garden in Regent’s Park. Its exquisite rose garden was set up by Queen Mary who clearly loved the romantic flower. The garden’s home to over 12,000 of the blooms.
Richmond Park – dating back to Victorian times, the Isabella Plantation is a breathtakingly beautiful area in Richmond Park. Head there in Spring to see the glorious azaleas alongside the stream.
Hampstead Heath – The Hill Garden and pergola is a secret pocket on the West Heath on Inverforth Close. The pergola dates back 1905 and, whilst it was badly damaged by the world wars, it’s since been restored to its former glory. The delightful wisteria entwining it is the gift wrapping on this present to us all in North London.
Chelsea Physic Garden – the oldest botanic garden in London, it opened in 1693 having been set up by the wonderfully named “Worshipful Society of Apothecaries” in 1673. Its position beside the Thames provides it with a favourable microclimate enabling rare and endangered plants to thrive. As a world leader in natural medicine, it hosts over 5000 edible and medicinal plants.
Red Cross Garden – it’s not just a pretty Victorian green space with carefully designed formal flowerbeds. This garden was created in 1886 as a play space for local, Southwark kids. Its founder, Octavia Hill (who went on to create the National Trust), wanted to help families in the squalid slums and workhouses.
Let Sue, our botanist guide, unlock the green in the grey for you. Seeing London’s hidden gardens with Sue, well, it’s like being shown round by Aphrodite, the Goddess of vegetation, gardens and blossoms. She’ll share the secret history behind these exquisitely beautiful, little known green spaces. Join Sue on her next Hidden Gardens of the City tour.