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The Best Secret Gardens in London

London’s green spaces are rightly celebrated. From the world famous and beautifully groomed Royal Parks of Westminster, to the wilder atmospheres of Hampstead Heath in the north or Wimbledon Common in the south, almost every neighbourhood in the city has something to reward nature lovers, gardening fans, and seekers of peace and quiet.

There’s something even more magical about the secret gardens in London though. A little inside knowledge can get you over walls and behind closed doors to see these seven secret gardens that will help you breathe a little deeper while the traffic roars outside.


 

Chelsea Physic Garden

Enclosed rather than truly secret, this world-famous garden is a big tourist attraction. Despite this, it still feels like a very special, personal place behind the walls that the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries erected in 1673 to hide their medicinal garden and its priceless river access. A world-class plant collection since its birth, the Physic Garden in Chelsea now hosts a busy schedule of educational and entertaining events, has a café that’s true to the garden’s original mission and is an elegant wedding venue.

 

Rembrandt Gardens, Little Venice

Water brings something special to a garden. The canals of Little Venice may not completely live up to their Italian inspiration, but in Rembrandt Gardens you can find some very stylish gardens, with tulips to emphasise Westminster’s twinning with Amsterdam and an atmosphere that feels a million miles from the nearby Westway. Well within walking distance of Paddington, and opening up to path walks further west, Rembrandt Gardens is a great start to a longer adventure, or just a brief journey into tranquillity.

 

Japanese Roof Garden, Bloomsbury

Entered via the Brunei Gallery of the School of Oriental and African Studies (and generally open when the gallery is), this garden is an authentic take on a Japanese garden, built around a Zen-style gravel garden. Quiet contemplation is the order of the day here, and the garden is a favourite meditation spot. It sits over a gallery that is itself an underrated central London asset and well worth exploring. (The garden was closed in March 2019 for maintenance, please check before visiting.)

 

Fenton House, Hampstead

North London is spoiled for big, famous open spaces, but Fenton House is a great alternative if the Heath, Waterlow Park and the like are feeling crowded. This 17th-century merchant’s home (the property is now operated by the National Trust) is an attraction in its own right, but its secret gardens are something extra special. Cleverly mixing formal and informal design, they’re as charming and elegant a haven as when they were first laid out. There’s some great heritage planting for keen gardeners to enjoy, particularly in the orchard.

 

The Skip Garden, King’s Cross

While big shiny corporate HQs climb up to the sky around King’s Cross, the area’s redevelopment has left some room for genuine community and green spaces. The Skip Garden – a TV favourite – lives up to its billing as a “sustainable urban garden”, and is a great place to pick up tips for your own little London plot. The social mission is met with cooking classes using food grown and prepared at the Skip Garden Kitchen.

 

Crystal Park Palace Maze, Crystal Palace

This historic and still-magical green space is a well-kept secret. It’s one of the largest mazes in the country and has been driving visitors around various bends since the 1870s. A great little challenge for kids, this hidden attraction is yet another reason to visit one of London’s best parks for family days out. Once you get lost under the super-high hedges, you might find you’d rather stay inside and enjoy the greenery and the peace and quiet while the kids run off round the dinosaur sculpture trail.

 

St Dunstan in the East, Aldgate

History seemed to have it in for this unlucky church. The Great Fire of London singed it; the rebuilt church had to be demolished in the 19th century; and finally the Blitz nearly destroyed the structure. What remains (including a Wren tower) is now surely one of the most atmospheric hidden gardens in London, and a deserved favourite on “hidden London” tours. A tiny space, St Dunstan’s cleverly designed planting was well ahead of its time and has matured beautifully to bring some respite from the bustle of the city, and to provide an oasis of tranquillity.

With private outside space being a rarity in London, and the many expansive green spaces such as Clapham Common and Regent’s Park often teaming with tourists and locals alike, it’s important to have somewhere to escape the hustle and bustle of the city. Whether you’re looking for a peaceful bolthole to make you forget about London’s sky scraping architecture or simply want a quiet meander, there’s a hidden garden in London perfectly suited to you.

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