Why not try Tottenham: Ruth Pavey visits the National Garden Scheme offerings in N17

PUBLISHED: 13:00 09 June 2017

Tottenham garden of  Serge Charles opens for National garden scheme

Tottenham garden of Serge Charles opens for National garden scheme

© Nigel Sutton email pictures@nigelsuttonphotography.com

They’re saying Tottenham is the new Shoreditch, and as Ruth Pavey discovers these delightful open gardens are proof that green fingers have arrived with gentrification

Tottenham garden of  Jess Kitley opens for National garden scheme
Jess pictured with her daughter LottieTottenham garden of Jess Kitley opens for National garden scheme Jess pictured with her daughter Lottie

A few years ago the National Gardens Scheme (NGS) had no gardens for visitors to enjoy in Tottenham. But perceptions of that part of London have been changing, with many of its streets becoming desirable rather than frightening. Serge Charles’s front garden in Handsworth Road, N17, with its heart-warming wealth of climbing roses, has played a part in this process. Estate agents point it out as a sign of how nice the area really is.

The same quirk of street layout that gives breadth and prominence to the front of Serge’s house does the reverse at the back, narrowing the garden to a point. For someone who loves plants as much as Serge does, it seems odd that he chose a garden that is little more than a tapering yard. But querying this oddity only elicits, “It’s a long story, for another time”. Anyway, the important thing is that Serge has transformed this unpromising wedge into a treasury of plants. Up the walls, on shelves, suspended from rails, every available inch is filled with plants, many of them ferns.

Serge’s love of plants goes back to his childhood in Mauritius, where his great aunt was a grower of ferns. He came to England in 1962, enjoying every novelty of the month-long voyage, and soon settling to enjoy living in London, too. He learnt about plants through looking, studying, experimenting and is, says his friend George (with whom he shares a celebrated allotment) green fingered and “utterly determined”. Even so, Serge adds, “many things don’t work”.

Things that don’t work are not on display. Instead, an amazing amount is thriving within this small, captivating space. Everything is presented with care and precision, for instance, a bowl of the small Hosta ‘Blue Mouse Ears’ looking good enough to eat, or the Felt Fern, Pyrrosia Sheareri, showing off its pale under leaves. Serge, George and I sat down for tea, delicious cake and a plethora of plant names. With us and the towering bamboo, the whole back garden seemed full. I asked how it works when numerous visitors come. The answer is a one-way system. If, as is probable, you haven’t seen all you wish on the first circuit, you can start again. There are teas, too. Altogether, it must be an organizational triumph.

Tottenham garden of  Serge Charles opens for National garden schemeTottenham garden of Serge Charles opens for National garden scheme

Only a couple of streets away, open the same afternoon, is another interesting, very different garden … spacious, sloping, airy. Jess Kitley and Sally Gray have only lived in Higham Road, N17, for a few years. When they arrived the back garden needed, in Jess’s words, “serious drainage”. They decided to turn this to advantage by making a pond at the bottom. This has worked wonderfully well, the pond filling naturally and retaining water without any lining. Beyond, their neighbour’s huge weeping willow makes a beautiful backdrop, with other trees from Lordship Recreation Ground joining in the “borrowed landscape”. Dragon flies and ducks soon found the pond, hostas grow so strongly beside it that the slugs leave them alone, there are foxgloves, rodgersias, irises. As Jess says, “It’s my heaven”. To keep their two year old daughter safe, Sally has made an attractive fence and gate from lengths of oak.

The higher part of the garden is divided into beds, giving it the air of an allotment, but mainly planted with herbaceous perennials such as day lilies and grasses. Both Sally and Jess are designers, which shows in the general feeling of lightness and the careful use of natural materials. There is another nearby garden open the same afternoon, Matthew Bradby’s at Gospatrick Road, N17. I haven’t seen it yet, but it sounds delightful, big and varied. You can have tea at any of them, but Matthew Bradby’s entry in the Yellow Book has this intriguing addition, “Home-made wine dependent on the success of the 2016 vintage”.

Serge’s garden, 77, Handsworth Road, N17 6DB,

Tottenham garden of  Jess Kitley opens for National garden schemeTottenham garden of Jess Kitley opens for National garden scheme

Jess and Sally’s garden, 159, Higham Road, N17 6NX,

Matthew’s garden, 21, Gospatrick Road, N17 7EH

All three are open 2.00 – 6.00pm. Sunday, 11th June.


There are many local gardens to visit this month through the NGS (ngs.org.uk) of which these are a few:-

11/6/17 12, Warner Road, N8 7HD, 2.00 – 5.30pm

18/6/17 88, Frognal, NW3 6XB, 2.00 – 5.30pm

25/6/17 25, Springfield Ave, N10 3SU, 2.00 – 5.30pm

25/6/17 Hampstead Garden Suburb Gardens, 12.00 – 5.30pm,

(tickets and map from 86 Willifield Way or 1 Asmuns Hill)

2/7/17 Railway Cottages, Dorset Road, N22 7SL, 2.00 –


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