‘You dreamed us, and we made your dream come true. We are your vision, here made manifest. You sowed us, and obediently we grew, but, sowing us, you sowed more than you knew and something not ourselves has done yet the rest.’ [‘The Garden’, Vita Sackville-West]
The late and greatly lamented gardener, Geoff Hamilton, once laid claim that ‘seedsmen reckon that their stock in trade is not seeds at all…it’s optimism.’ For if this is so, then to still oneself and luxuriate amongst the labours of ones yardwork should surely be the nearest thing to a panacea for all life’s woes. In Victorian times ramshackled and grubby patches were cluttered with washing lines that speckled the urbanscape of London. Charles Dickens even noted in Nicholas Nickleby that ‘some London houses have a melancholy little plot of ground behind them, usually fenced in by four high whitewashed walls and frowned upon by stacks of chimneys, in which there withers on from year to year a crippled tree. People sometimes call these dark yards ‘gardens’.’ Well, we’ve come a long way since then, with many a Londoner spending as much time, endeavor, ingenuity and hard cash as they do intramurally. And for every people-shoving, car-honking main road you are invariably seconds away from a certain ‘hush’ and mere minutes away from an open garden. In short, us Londoners are overindulged with quiet and green spaces. The famous utterance by Dr Samuel Johnson in a discussion on September 20th, 1777, that ‘when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford” still rings very true. And for those of you shaking your heads, well, it means you probably haven’t looked hard enough. Over the next weeks I shall endeavor to visually and emotionally escort you across London to all the clandestine public-spaces and surreptitious nooks that I have zealously tracked down over these last Olympic weeks. (If only it was an Olympic sport…sigh.) Starting off proceedings in the West, I hope a few surprises ensue.
Hands down the most charming restaurant and whimsical gardening nursery in the whole of London. The dappled light dances through the canvas canopies and vine-entwined balustradings across the bricolage furnishings and hand-picked floral arrangements on to the bare dust floor. Sitting snugly at the base of Richmond Hill between the unperturbed, grass-chewing cows of Petersham farm and limelight-stealing deer of Richmond Park, this sanctuary serves as garden/nursery, café, teahouse, recharger of batteries and first port of call for home improvement motivation. Such is the floral display on offer that one might even find the audacity to pit oneself against Sissinghurst. Still healing from the departure of the exceptional Michelin star-winning chef, Skye Gyngell, the reigns have recently been handed over to Momo’s Greg Malouf. Owners Gael and Francesco Boglione salvaged and restored this dilapidated nursery from the greedy hands of developers, opening in 2004, with the visualization of re-embracing classical English gardening traditions alongside an emphasis on sustainability. It has a beauty that will stay with you long after you’ve left.
Monday to Saturday: 9am – 5pm
Sunday: 11am – 5pm
Housing a mere 50 houses and roughly 120 inhabitants, this tiny island on the River Thames is situated on the Tideway at Twickenham and can be reached on foot solely by the bridge from the north side of the river bank. An enclave of artists studios, shipyards, small businesses and the Twickenham Rowing Club, this bijoux islet also housed the celebrated Jazz/Rock venue, Eel Pie Hotel, seeing the likes of David Bowie, Rod Stewart, Eric Clapton, Pink Floyd, The Rolling Stones and The Who treading the boards until succumbing to fire in 1971. The wide diversity of architecture only adds to the wonderment of this place.
This lavish house, once known as ‘Yorke ffarme’ and dating as far back as 1630, holds stunning gardens and tennis courts open to the public, complete with a sunken lawn, secret ponds, hidden seating areas and impertinent squirrels. Feed them at your own risk.
Situated on the Thames next to the Royal Hospital Chelsea, this botanical oasis of green also serves to educate with over 5,000 edible, medicinal and beneficial plants. Established in 1673 by the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries it served as one of the worlds most influential centres of plant exchange. The wall of age-old trees surrounding this garden provides a microclimate, enabling such plants as grapefruit trees, pomegranates, ginkgos, eucalyptus and olive trees to flourish even through the English summer.
Monday to Friday: 12-5pm
Saturday: closed Sunday: 12-6pm
The best time of year to visit the Isabella Plantation is in late April/early May when the Rhododendrons and Azaleas are in full bloom. It’s like a rainbow exploded, literally. This enclosed 40 acre woodland sits in the heart of Richmond Park, has been slowly developed since 1831 and is designed to have colour throughout the year: Camellias and Magnolias in spring; Irises, Lilies, Primulas in summer; Guelder Rose, Rowans and Hawthorns in Autumn; with Witch Hazel , Mahonia, Himalayan Birch, Tibetan Cherry and Snake Bark Acer coming through in the winter. The exotic greenery hugging the edges of the streams humidify the air, almost tricking you to believe that you’ve been relocated half way round the world. The area is maintained organically without the use of chemical pesticides and has, thus, encouraged much wildlife to feed and breed here freely.
NEXT INSTALLMENT: Secret Gardens of North London