For 1 weekend a year, the majority of London’s beautiful private garden squares open their gates to the public (over 200!). Just £10 a ticket when you book online it’s a great day out for all the family with many squares offering refreshments and entertainment. Although you can buy tickets on the day at any square for £12 I recommend purchasing them in advance so you receive your information pack in the post detailing the times each square is open and on what day. Some squares are only open for one day of the weekend, the majority are open from 10-5 but some only open in the afternoon.
We focussed on Kensington and Chelsea – home to some of the most sought after garden squares where a 2 bedroom property will cost you in excess of £1500 per week to rent! We started the day around 11am, I actually live in Notting Hill so have parking throughout the whole of Kensington and Chelsea – although you can actually walk between the majority of Kensington Squares, we chose to drive as I am currently having trouble walking (that’s a whole other story!).
Obviously OK enough to have a drink!
It was actually fascinating to read about how so many of the garden squares were used during World War 2 for munitions manufacture where many of the original railings were removed and have now been restored. Devastation occurred in 1987 due to the severe storm which resulted in the unfortunate loss of many large trees and other greenery in several garden squares. Although leaving room for the gardens to be completely re designed into the wonders they are today. Here’s a few I got the chance to visited:
We began at Cornwall Gardens near Gloucester Road tube station, a selection of 3 gardens, home to some of the tallest plane trees in London. The buildings surrounding it look gorgeous, especially the first floor flats with L shaped balconies overlooking the gardens. Cornwall Gardens was also once home to the Lucie Clayton finishing School (number 4 Cornwall Gardens accessed off Gloucester Road) you can see the back of the building situated at the very end of the 3rd section of Cornwall Gardens. In my job I was actually lucky enough to visit the school and view a few of the flats it has now been developed into by Mickey Arora. Renting for around £2000 per week they are kitted out with the most modern technology and decor – perfect for the DINKYs! (Dual Income No Kids Yet!) Check them out here – example of flats
We then headed to Bina Gardens East, known as ‘the secret garden’ and you can see why, as it took us about 15 minutes to find it tucked away behind Dove mews! A very small, cute garden, in fact ‘quaint’ is the perfect word! So many delicate plants and flowering trees, they had even laid out the gardening tools as if ready for a photoshoot!
Cadogan Square Gardens
One of the most sought after garden squares in London and I can see why! Everything is manicured to perfection with the added bonus of tennis courts! The square was previously home to a few famous faces including the Victorian Architect Norman Shaw, novelist Arnold Bennett and poet John Betjeman who even wrote ‘ Lord, put beneath Thy special care, One-Eighty-Nine Cadogan Square’.
Cadogan Place Gardens
One of the largest garden squares around! Greeted with a marquee selling tasty sandwiches and champagne prepared by The Cadogan Hotel! I couldn’t resist (the champagne!) along with a map of the area pointing out specific species of interest like the Acer Davidii tree and Ailanthus Altissima (tree of heaven); The gardens are so huge they have a children’s playground and even its own toilets as well as numerous benches set about to enjoy the scenery and a pond hidden behind black bamboo and willows. There was also live music provided by ‘Oompah Brass’ a German oompah band playing funky upbeat melodies of well known hits – (madonna Material Girl and S Club 7 Reach For The stars were my favourites!) Before 1777 Cadogan Place was actually occupied by fields! The mulberry trees on the south lawn are thought to be 300 years old!
Book at the Cadogan Hotel, a prime Chelsea location: http://www.cadogan.com/
Check out Oompah Brass here – http://oompahbrass.wordpress.com/
Or follow @oompahbrass on twitter
Royal Crescent Gardens
Such a family atmosphere in this garden, it was lovely! Although the Chelsea gardens were very manicured and sophisticated, this garden was so alive and full of personality. There were organised children’s games and even a bbq! (they are frowned upon in some squares) – each to their own and I can see the enjoyment of both sides! Royal Crescent contains 2 plane trees which are said to be as old as the pale pink buildings surrounding them; 44 houses in total which have now been turned into 149 households! In 2007 a gazebo was installed in the centre, the same year the garden also won the Kensington Society award for garden design and in 2008 was awarded first prize for a communal garden in North Kensington. Occasionally the garden has had special visitors in the form of ducks, squirrels, London parakeets, hedgehogs, foxes and even the odd peacock from Holland Park itself! There has recently been a bumble bee hive installed in the East bed shrubbery!
Kensington Gardens Square
Surrounded by magnificent 5 storey stucco fronted houses from 1858, these luxurious would have been family homes for the professional classes have now been converted into flats and hotels. Another family orientated square there were plenty of activities for all the family including gardening games such as hopscotch, bunting and wheelbarrow relays. A peaceful green haven just tucked away between the hustle and bustle of Queensway and Westbourne Grove.
The smallest square of the day but also the most peaceful and quiet – simple yet effective as they say. The entire garden was refurbished in 2006 by the residents’ association with a little help from the English Heritage and Westminster City Council. One of the conditions of this helping hand is that the garden is open to the public 21 days a year – more information on open days can be found on the information board at the garden or at www.clevelandsquare.org There was even a communal bbq left for the use of friends and family.
Last but certainly not least, in fact one of my favourite squares of the day. Surrounded by grade 2 listed stucco fronted villas, some with direct access straight to the square! Another large garden of approximately 1.5 acres, this square won 2nd place in the large private square category in the London Squares Garden competition. There is a particular focus on flora and fauna at this garden and upon being greeted by the friendly organisers we were handed a long list of plants and flowers to spot growing in the garden. There were many garden games here too and if you are a resident of the square you are welcome to use the communal garden furniture for entertaining small parties!
A few friends I know also attended the open squares weekend celebrating London’s appreciation for the green spaces and in particular enjoyed Earls Court Square, Gledhow Gardens, Stanley Crescent Garden and Norland Square. No garden is quite the same, so take a look for yourself!
Check out the website and get ready to book your ticket for next year!
Follow @opensquares on twitter