With a nickname like The Big Smoke, you’d be forgiven for thinking that London was nothing but a smog-tinged metropolis with one lowly tree for every six black cabs. As synonymous with glass-fronted skyscrapers and trademark red buses as it is with Buckingham Palace, high tea and Madame Tussauds, it’s little surprise that green spaces aren’t the first thing to spring to mind when you think of the nation’s capital. But delve a little deeper and you’ll find the city is awash with hidden natural beauty spots waiting to be uncovered, you just have to know where to look.
We’ve rounded up six of the best secret gardens in the city, for when you need a moment of calm among the chaos.
Culpeper Community Garden, Islington
It’s fair to say the words ‘community’ and ‘London’ aren’t often used in the same sentence. Like it it not, Londoners have garnered a reputation for being pretty unfriendly over the years, but contrary to popular opinion, it isn’t all ‘head down, elbows at the ready’, at least not all the time. A shining example of community spirit as its finest is the Culpeper Community Garden. Tucked away in the midst of the busy borough of Islington, this award-winning garden was cultivated by locals, for locals, and since its conception, has become a proud part of the area’s modern-day history. A testament to the diverse group of residents that make up this part of London, you’ll find vibrant rose pergolas sitting beside a shimmering pond, bordered by neatly manicured rows of vegetable plots – there’s even a wildlife area, which is a certified hit with the neighbourhood kids and parents alike. The best part? The garden is tended to by green-fingered local volunteers, each united in their passion for their little slice of urban paradise.
Isabella Plantation, Richmond Park
As the largest of all London’s parks, it’s no surprise that Richmond has its fair share of greenery. You’re just as likely to see a deer sprinting out of the woodland as you are to spot a lycra-clad cyclist hurtling past at breakneck speed. But if you fancy dodging the picnic-munching families and losing yourself in a lesser-known part of the park, Isabella Plantation is the place for you. First opened in 1953, this picture-perfect woodland garden is expertly maintained by The Royal Parks Foundation and it shows. Rows-upon-rows of perfectly manicured blooms, from Rhododendrons and Camellias to wild Bluebells line the pathway, while pretty ponds and streams are encircled by shocking pink azaleas bursting into life all around. The best time to visit is late spring, when the flowers are in full bloom and at their brightest. Head there on a sunny day to soak up the park’s bewitching beauty in all its glory – you might just be lucky enough to see butterflies darting between the bushes as you stop to smell the roses.
St Dunstan in the East, City of London
Perhaps the place you’re least likely to stumble upon a green space is in the City of London itself. But while you might associate this industrial area with too-busy-to-smile people in suits on their way to meetings, and endless traffic jams snaking along for miles, you might be surprised to learn that one of the city’s best hidden gardens is nestled just moments from the hubbub of the financial district. Housed in the ruins of a Medieval church near Canon Street lies St Dunstan in the East. Having scooped a Landscape Heritage Award back in the 1970s, this beauty spot has been a mainstay of the area ever since. Step through the stone walls and you’ll be transported to a breathtaking square with evergreen foliage creeping up the church’s walls, and a fountain as its understated centrepiece. With park benches dedicated to lost loved ones dotted around the edges, it’s clear to see it’s been a local treasure for decades, and now provides the perfect place to bring a book and enjoy some unadulterated alone time.
Kyoto Garden, Holland Park
For a taste of the East in the heart of West London, Kyoto Garden in Holland Park is just the ticket. This picturesque Japanese Garden first opened in 1991 and has earned a legion of local fans since – thanks in large part to its ultra calming qualities and year-round photogenic backdrop. With a trickling tiered waterfall cradled by ornate stone lanterns and maple trees standing proudly to attention at every turn, this small but perfectly formed corner of one of London’s best-loved parks provides an ever tranquil space to collect your thoughts. Don’t miss the elusive peacocks who can often be found strutting through the foliage, or the eye-catching golden koi carp glistening in the water.
Welsh Harp Reservoir, Barnet
Less of a garden and technically more in the ‘green spaces’ category, the Welsh Harp Reservoir is one of London’s lesser-known patches of natural beauty, but one that’s definitely worthy of a place on your must-see list. Spanning 170 hectares of marshland, forests and open water, this stunning slice of countryside could well be North West London’s best-kept secret. Accessible from both Hendon and Neasden stations (zone 3), it’s hard to believe that such a peaceful haven is just short hop out of central London. There are plenty of walking trails to amble along as you stroll past canoeing and sailing groups taking to the water come rain or shine. There’s even a Site of Special Scientific Interest, where a diverse range of birds – from swans to moorhens and even the odd parakeet – live harmoniously in their own protected bubble.
Rembrandt Gardens, Little Venice
Paddington probably isn’t top of your list when it comes to choosing a spot for a soothing city sojourn, but beyond the busy train station, just moments out of reach of the string of barges floating along the Grand Union Canal, lies one of the city’s most impressive secret gardens. Rembrandt Gardens in Little Venice is tucked away between Warwick Avenue and Harrow Road on the eastern side of the Paddington basin. Originally founded in the 1950s, this secluded spot was planted with thousands of tulips to celebrate the 700th anniversary of the founding of Amsterdam back in the 70’s, and is now jam-packed with a fusion of flora and fauna that will have you feeling like you’ve landed in the middle of the Dutch countryside. Spend a day strolling among the willow trees and rainbow-hued tulip gardens, and you’re all-but-guaranteed to slip into a serene state-of-mind.