A little oasis of tranquillity can be hard to find amid London’s world-famous hustle and bustle. But many such examples do exist, and most are free to visit – it’s just a case of tracking them down.
We’ve all heard of the biggest and most famous picnic hotspots in London: Primrose Hill, Kew Gardens, Richmond Park and so on. The problem is, they they often require a full afternoon to explore, ideally in balmy summer conditions.
What if you just need a quick, secluded Autumnal break from the ceaseless city racket, without having to pack a day’s worth of provisions and a picnic blanket?
Well, as usual, we’ve got you covered:
The Phoenix Garden
Stacey Street, WC2
The frog-friendly Phoenix Garden nestles in the heart of London’s West End, at the junction of Charing Cross Road and Shaftesbury Avenue (entrance via St. Giles Passage). Like many of the projects listed here, it’s a small volunteer-maintained space that offers urban refuge to a range of wildlife species including birds, bees, and the West End’s only native frog population. Its plant life has been deliberately chosen to support a minimal intervention gardening system – such that, in The Phoenix’s own words, ‘there are no weeds, there are no pests, there is no need to water’.
World Peace Garden Camden
South Hill Park, NW3
Tucked up on some former waste ground alongside Hampstead Railway Station, the community World Peace Garden was built on a strong ethos: giving weary travellers ‘an opportunity to briefly step outside our busy lives and think about a world in which respect for life makes more sense than emphasising divisions’. It’s a peaceful and harmonious little space that gently winds up a slope through a series of tiny glades, past walls decorated with glass and ceramic Peace Tiles.
Global Generation’s Skip Garden
King’s Cross, N1C
Something of a moveable feast – quite literally, given its tasty kitchen garden and tendency to wander about the 67-acre construction site that is the King’s Cross development area – the Global Generation Skip Garden is a splendid example of making something from nothing. Apple trees, pumpkins and beans grow from repurposed skips, with polytunnels housing tomatoes, ginger and chillies alongside bee hives and worm composters. Much of it was built to house eco-friendly horticulture systems using reclaimed materials by volunteer tradespeople, who are often on hand to offer visitors tips on everything from herb uses to basic carpentry.
Japanese Roof Garden, Brunei Gallery
Russell Square, W1
The Brunei Gallery at SOAS University of London hides this relaxing little gem up on its flat roof space, offering a meditative spot for visitors to reflect on the garden’s core theme of ‘forgiveness’. A real sense of peace is achieved largely through its architectural landscaping; planting has been kept to a minimum, with lemon thyme and wisteria in neat chequerboard patterns creating pops of colour amid the various calming hues, textures and contours of sweeping stone.
Geffrye Museum Gardens
Kingsland Road, E2
The Geffrye Museum’s series of award-winning gardens are each based on a specific period, ranging from the 17th to the 20th century. Inspired by Shoreditch’s past as a centre of horticulture and market produce, they’re arranged chronologically ‘to explore the links between home interiors and gardens’. There’s also a delightful herb garden to sniff around, with varieties separated into different beds according to their traditional uses in cosmetics, medicine, cooking, aromatics and dyeing. Main gardens are open April-October, with the front gardens open year-round.
Crescent Street (off Huntingdon Street), N1
The entrance to London’s smallest local nature reserve can be tricky to spot, located behind a railed fence on an otherwise unremarkable side street. Once the sprawling garden of a house built in the 1840s, it eventually became abandoned to nature and is now home to a wealth of wildlife. It’s bijou dimensions make it vulnerable to foot traffic – to the extent that, except for Saturdays in summer season, it’s only open to the public year-round on Tuesday afternoons between 2pm and 4pm. But, if you can make time, it’s well worth a visit. (No dogs allowed either, by the way!)
Written by Sam Butterworth, who is a writer and blog editor for Happy2Move.