London’s secret green spaces

By Anisha Patel for British Airways High Life magazine

Photography by Ray Wise/Getty Images

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March 2016

Want to enjoy outdoor London without the crowds? Six gardening experts reveal their favourite hidden green spots, from secret gardens to off-the-beaten-track parks.

1. Skip Garden, King’s Cross

“Sited between cranes, in the middle of a building site, Skip Garden at King’s Cross shows that it’s possible to grow food almost anywhere. By growing flowers, vegetables and plants in skips, the garden can be moved when needed. It’s so inspiring to see lush herbs and salad leaves in the heart of the city.” – Mark Ridsdill Smith, founder, The Vertical Veg Club

2. Eccleston Square, Victoria

“Hidden away behind Victoria Station, elegant Eccleston Square contains one of the best secret gardens in London. Extending to three acres, it feels like a private garden, with paths lined with majestic plane trees winding around open lawn and borders filled with an array of rare and wonderful plants. The garden is open to the public twice a year, in aid of the National Gardens Scheme (NGS) and Open Squares Weekend.” – George Plumptre, chief executive of National Gardens Scheme

  • © Mikroman6/Getty
  • Chelsea Physic Garden © Peter Scholey/Alamy

    Go green

    Hidden away by the Thames, Chelsea Physic Garden’s heat-trapping high brick walls shelter over 5,000 different edible, medicinal and historical plants – including the largest fruiting olive tree in Britain. If you’re visiting in summer, join one of the free garden tours.

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  • Sample fresh, seasonal vegetables grown at Skip Garden in its onsite café © John Sturrock

    Garden kitchen

    Tuck into seasonal super salads, soups, sandwiches and sweet treats – often made with organic ingredients grown on site – at Skip Garden Kitchen. Open Tuesday to Saturday, 10am-4pm.

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3. Carlos Place, Mayfair

“One of my most favourite green spots is under the trees outside of the Connaught Hotel on Carlos Place and the junction of Mount Street in Mayfair. Here, you’ll find a water feature called ‘Silence’ by the world-renowned Japanese artist Tadao Ando. You can sit on the granite stone blocks at the entrance to the Church of the Immaculate Conception, with its lovely olive trees, and admire the water sculpture on the opposite side of the road.” – Stephen Woodhams, garden designer and founder of Stephen Woodhams Design

4. Raworth Gardens, Twickenham

“You can’t beat a private garden when you want some peace and quiet. One of my favourites is Jenny and Richard Raworth’s hidden oasis in Twickenham. It’s full to bursting with everything a lush English garden should have — scented roses, wonderful herbaceous borders, gorgeous topiary and even a bog garden... and all in a small space. Very inspiring indeed. The garden is open to the public twice a year, in aid of the NGS, or by appointment with Jenny though the website.” – Laetitia Maklouf, garden blogger and author

  • Seek out the Isabella Plantation, a 40-acre woodland garden set in Richmond Park

    Secret garden

    First opened to the public in 1953, the ornamental woodland garden is best known for its azaleas and rhododendrons – which are particularly striking during April and May at their peak of flower – as well as other rare and exotic trees and shrubs.

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5. The Isabella Plantation, Richmond

“The Isabella Plantation is nestled in the middle of Richmond Park, Surrey. It’s a joy to wander through its vast array of scented plants and shrubs. It is a riot of colour in spring, with its outstanding collection of Rhododendrons, camellias and azaleas. The perfect spot for quiet contemplation.” – Thomas Broom, horticultural director, Petersham Nurseries

6. The Chelsea Physic Garden, Chelsea

“The Chelsea Physic Garden is a hidden delight. Behind its high walls lies a tranquil and fascinating collection of edible, useful, medicinal and rare plants. A great spot for a party or a quiet cup of tea while discovering the history of the garden and the impact that particular plants have had on modern society.” – Will Ramsay, founder of GROW London