The volunteers who make Highgate’s Waterlow Park an idyllic ‘garden for the gardenless’

Waterlow Park has long been a much-loved green idyll for the Highgate and Hampstead community.

The park has been open to the public since 1889 and, ever since, has acted as a “garden for the gardenless”.

Dotted with rose beds, earthy green trees and natural ponds, Waterlow Park also features Lauderdale House which plays host to a variety of exhibitions and has its own café.

But the survival of its beautiful vistas is in large part down to the Friends of Waterlow Park, an independent community group set up in the 1990s after the park fell into disrepair.

The group’s aim was to restore and maintain the green sanctuary and they acted as a pressure group joining forces with Camden Council to secure the Heritage Lottery Fund which helped to restore the park.

But in the last year, Waterlow has been affected by public sector cuts.

In response, Patricia Walby, a member of the friends group, has organised a team of volunteers who help maintain and restore areas of the park that fall outside of the council’s maintenance contract.

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Set up in September 2011, the volunteer group has become popular and compromises a team of avid local people who care passionately about the park.

A mass rose-planting event was recently carried out, in which local councillors, volunteers and every person involved in the park were invited to chose a rose and plant it.

Speaking about the popularity of Waterlow Park, Ms Walby said: “I think it’s one of the most beautiful parks in London.

“It has everything - it has water, it has wildlife areas and it has Lauderdale House.

“Now the volunteer group has become so successful that more and more people are coming in and we’re getting corporate support.”

The TV producer turned garden designer, who lives in Bisham Gardens, Highgate, continued: “What we started 18 months ago is now snowballing into something very successful in bringing the community together.”

Many of the volunteers speak of the pleasure tending the park brings.

Jacqueline Hogan, a freelance writer, of Whitehall Park, Archway, said: “I like learning about gardening and I like the contact with the local people.”

Retired headteacher Alison Kahane, who taught at St Alban’s Primary School in Holborn and lives in Murray Mews, Camden Town, said: “We look after specific areas and we want to make them beautiful.”

Anyone can volunteer and previous experience is not necessary.

“The majority of people arrive with absolutely no experience what-so-ever and it’s a very social thing,” explained Ms Walby. “Gardening gives you a fantastic sense of well-being.”

The volunteers meet every Thursday at 10am in front of Lauderdale House café. To find out more, visit