Horticultural heaven at London Open Garden Squares Weekend

Open Garden Square Weekend @ The World Peace Garden

Open Garden Square Weekend @ The World Peace Garden - Credit: Archant

Discover a trove of horticultural treasures this weekend as 200 secret gardens unlock their gates for the London Open Garden Squares Weekend.

Over 200 private and little known green spaces will be open to the public on aturday 8 and Sunday 9 June, a precious handful of which lie hidden in the heart of Highgate and Hampstead.

There is a diverse range of gardens on show, from historic and traditional private grounds, to community allotments and experimental designs.

One testament to local enthusiasts is the Queen’s Wood Lodge Organic Garden, tucked behind a café at the Old Keepers Lodge, Muswell Hill. Though far from formal and tidy, this pretty garden embraces the nearby woodland to create a truly inspiring natural haven – it is no wonder the plot has twice won prizes at the celebrated Haringey in Bloom.

Lucy Root, who co-ordinates the gardens volunteers explains: “The time put in by our dedicated volunteers really shows what can be achieved in a small space - we produce, flowers, fruit and vegetables, and show people what they can do and help them get ideas.

“We have a frog pond, a log pile habitat for insects and an expert apiarist who keeps our bee hives. Our talks teach local children and schools how to make compost, and recycle old containers to grow plants.”

Lucy will be on hand in the afternoon of the open event for those who want to learn more about creating their own beautiful idyll.

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While many of us believe that gardening is good for both the body and the

soul, very few know about the secluded Medicinal Gardens at the Royal College of Physicians (RCP), by Regents Park. Usually only accessible to RCP members, this healing garden boasts a diverse array of over 1300 plants with unexpected and unusual medicinal properties.

Dr Henry Oakeley, a Garden Fellow who leads tours of the garden says: “There are plants named after doctors and plants that cause serious illness. It is a living history book of medicine. I doubt that there is another medicinal or physic garden in Europe with so specialised and so large a collection.”

Home to “plants that are deadly poison but make wonderful medicines”, the garden flora includes the plant that killed Socrates and others known to cause Parkinsonism, Motor Neurone disease and Dementia, as well as plants used to treat cancer, and bird and swine flu.

For a spot of tranquillity, the contemporary calm of the World Peace Garden, South Hill Park, by Hampstead Heath, is the perfect idyll. After spending over 100 years as a derelict waste ground the local community transformed the space into a wooded glade with ponds, ambling walkways, and sweet scented flowers - it has aptly been described as “a sanctuary” by the National Trust, and as “a place to contemplate inner peace”.

Designed with the help of illustrious land artist Richard Long, this lavish garden contains a Tree of Hope, where visitors are encouraged to hang personal messages, and a Wishing Well to wish good health on others.

Jonathan Bergman, a trustee for the garden, says: “You have to visit it to understand, it is simply enchanting, and there is just such a vast difference between what it was and what it is now.”

Following “a tremendous response” from the local community, the garden committee has invited musicians, poets and storytellers for special performances at the open event.

Of course there are many other local participating gardens, including the Kitchen Garden at Waterlow Park, Sir Sydney Waterlow’s ‘gardens for the gardenless’, which has become a vibrant and exciting community space. Local gardening groups have collaborated with Brookfield and Hargrave Park primary schools, Age Matters dementia charity, and HICAN, a local conservation group, to manage the secluded raised beds and grow a cornucopia of plants, herbs and flowers.

The Branch Hill Allotments in Hampstead are a vast hub for green fingered fanatics, once visited by poets John Keats and Gerard Manley Hopkins, and artists John Constable and George Romney.

Indeed, the historic sites at Burgh House and Gainsborough Gardens in Hampstead ooze grandeur, while the stunning Hill Garden and its impressive 800ft long, grade II listed Pergola are a less known visual treat. Though the garden at Fenton House is open year round, if you fancy being romanced amidst the rose beds, or awe-struck by an orchard growing over 30 English Apple varieties, then there is no better leafy retreat.

More information on The Open Square Gardens Weekends can be found at opensquares.org