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From the thick forest of Hampstead Heath to the grassy expanse of Clapham Common, nearly half of London is green space. While these and the royal parks are rightfully famous, many lesser-known gardens are tucked away, just out of view from the street. Finding these hidden gems is a sort of urban treasure hunt with an invaluable reward. In addition to providing shade and fresh air, these gardens are also incredible works of art. Whether you’re staying at the Hotel Indigo in Tower Hill, Paddington, or Kensington, there’s a beautiful view nearby. Here are four hidden gardens with unique design features:
Photo by: Rebecca Dalzell
Just off Eastcheap lies the verdant shell of St Dunstan-in-the-East. This site has seen many turbulent points in the city’s history. The thousand-year-old church was first damaged in the Great Fire of 1666, after which Christopher Wren patched it up and added a 200-foot spire. The church was then bombed in World War II, and today its skeleton has become a public garden. Wren’s Gothic tower stands watch above the roofless nave, where grass has replaced pews and a fountain gurgles in the center. Local workers settle into its benches at lunchtime, shaded by ivy billowing around empty windows. Now it offers a different kind of spiritual solace: leafy respite amidst the skyscrapers.
South London Gallery garden by Gabriel Orozco, 2016 (c) Gabriel Orozco. Photo: Andy Stagg
Mexican artist Gabriel Orozco created the new sculptural garden at the back of the South London Gallery, a contemporary art space in Camberwell. He designed overlapping circles of York stone, each with different heights or seating, that swirl on the previously empty lot. Horticulturalists from the Royal Botanical Gardens in Kew then selected grasses and vines that would sprout between the cracks, so that the garden would come to resemble an overgrown urban ruin. Open to the public on weekends, the garden also connects to a nearby housing estate and hosts community activities.
Photo by: Rebecca Dalzell
One of the city’s most elegant green spaces, Fulham Palace garden, sits along the Thames behind a brick wall in West London. A former retreat of the Bishops of London, the palace’s buildings date back to the 1600s. Today it’s a designated historic landscape, and the grounds reveal centuries of garden design. The wide lawn is lined with oak and plane trees, and there is a colorful knot garden from the 1830s. At the back sits a Tudor gate to a walled kitchen garden that seems to have stepped out of a children’s book with sweet peas, herbs, and rows of apple trees.
Erola Arcalis/Dalston Eastern Curve Garden
It is something of a shock to pass through a wooden doorway on busy Dalston Lane and step into the lush Dalston Eastern Curve Garden. Opened in 2010 on the site of a disused railway, this space is a beautiful community-oriented secret garden. Hawthorn and birch trees shade benches made of reclaimed wood, while volunteers tend to butterfly bushes, herbs, and raised vegetable beds, which supply the on-site café. The focal point is a wooden pavilion, designed by architectural collective Exyzt, that hosts concerts, cooking classes, and gardening activities.