Six of the best north London gardens in Open Garden Squares Weekend
- Credit: Archant
Where better to pick up tips and get inspiration for your own back garden than in someone else’s?
While many of the gardens that are routinely open to the public are ultra professional and, frankly, intimidating, Open Garden Squares weekend, which this year takes place on the 13th and 14th June, offers glimpses into private spaces, usually off limits to the hoi polloi.
The event is taking place across 27 London boroughs and with more than 200 gardens taking part, from the historic and traditional to the new and experimental.
To make it easier to pick what to visit, here are some of the best secret gardens for the home gardener to visit in north London this weekend.
Branch Hill Allotments, NW3 7LT
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The allotments on the corner of Frognal Rise and Oak Hill Way are not usually accessible to the public and so are well worth a visit, especially for those wanting gardening tips.
The allotments are on a site that was once the garden of Branch Hill House, which was the home of John Spedan Lewis, founder of the John Lewis Partnership, for many years but was converted to council accommodation for the elderly in the 1970s. The gardens fell into neglect but enterprising gardeners maintained them informally by growing vegetables and the site was eventually taken over by Camden who still manage the 32 plots.
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The area previously frequented by poets such as John Keats and Gerard Manley Hopkins, and artists John Constable and George Romney is now home to a variety of wildlife, which the Branch Hill Allotments Association aims to maintain alongside the cultivation of parts of the site.
Waterlow Park Kitchen Garden, N6 5HG
Aspiring or beginner gardeners can join a walk or a talk to glean tips from volunteer gardeners at this historic Highgate garden.
In 1889, Sir Sydney Waterlow gave his gardens to the people of London as ‘gardens for the gardenless’. In 2011, the original site of the kitchen garden was restored and re-opened as a community resource for growing vegetables, fruit, herbs and flowers.
The garden’s design was planned by a team from Camden Parks Department, TCV volunteers and the Friends of Waterlow Park with ten raised beds.
Each bed is cultivated by a different local organisation including primary schools, a mental health agency, local gardeners’ groups and Whittington Hospital staff.
The kitchen garden is secluded amongst yew hedges, giving it the feel of a secret garden, although it can also buzz with activity when the gardeners are at work.
Park Square and Park Crescent, NW1 4LH
An original and unique feature of these gardens is the Nursemaids’ Tunnel - an early pedestrian underpass connecting Park Square to Park Crescent - which passes under the busy Marylebone Road, allowing families to promenade safely through both gardens without worrying about the noisy public throng passing overhead.
One of the largest of London’s private squares, Park Square was designed and laid out by John Nash and dominated by plane trees said to have been planted in 1817 to commemorate the allied victory at Waterloo two years earlier. What is now the Crescent was originally planned as a full circus by Regency architect John Nash, though only a graceful and elegant semicircle was realised.
The parks were designed to form a transitional entrance feature to Regent’s Park, leading the visitor from the formal Nash streetscape of Portland Place in the south, to the green and picturesque landscape in the north.
The gardens retain most of their original Nash layout and have been managed continuously from their inception by an organisation specifically set up in 1824 to carry out this task, the Crown Estate Paving Commission.
The fascinating history will be elaborated on by guided walks led by qualified guides throughout the weekend.
Queen’s Wood Community Garden, N10 3JP
Stock up on plants and home-made preserves at this prize-winning garden, hidden away behind the old keeper’s lodge, now a café in Queen’s Wood, Muswell Hill. Formerly the lodge keeper’s garden, it became derelict and completely overgrown until it was rescued and restored 12 years ago with the help of Lottery funding. Now it has plots of fruit bushes and trees, vegetables, a frog pond, herbs and flowerbeds.
It is surrounded by woodland and has many wildflowers around the edge and as companion planting in the beds. There are also beehives, plus habitats for insects and other wildlife.
Local volunteers work the garden, which is closely linked to the Friends of Queen’s Wood. The aim is to demonstrate what can be achieved in a small garden and to provide education for gardeners in the form of information boards and booklets on organic gardening.
Funds from plant sales provide the plants, seeds and equipment needed.
The garden is also used by local residents, schools and teachers as a resource for learning about many aspects of gardening, including composting, taking cuttings and pruning. It has lots of signs up and self-guided tours are encouraged.
Crescent Garden, W9 1ED
Recently given an award as London’s best large private garden square, Crescent Garden is a three-acre communal garden, just off Warrington Crescent. It is surrounded by stucco-fronted houses dating from around 1865, including a grade II-listed balconied terrace.
In the 1970s local residents defeated plans by the Church Commissioners to turn the garden into communal car parking. Today it has lawns, a fine set of interesting trees, island beds and many unusual plants and shrubs. There is also a children’s play area with swings and slides.
The area was bombed in WW1, when enemy planes mistook the canals of Little Venice for the river Thames.
Booking is advised as some gardens are particularly popular. For tickets and more information visit opensquares.org