Open Garden Squares Weekend – June 8th-9th 2013

Seeking Gardens – High and Low

By Catherine Miller

(Click on a garden name for further information. Click on a photo to enlarge.)

Leighton House
After what felt like about 300 years of winter this year, it was a great joy to get out and about on a fine sunny Saturday for the 15th Open Garden Squares Weekend. I cycled through Hyde Park to Kensington to look at the garden of Leighton House, a peaceful and relaxing place with a large lawn, grassy mounds and surrounded by huge mature trees. At just after noon, I was the 65th visitor, and we were given information about the garden's history and the artists connected with it.

Paultons Square
From there, I cycled to Paultons Square at the end of the Kings Road, and sat in an arbour – a secluded area with benches, wisteria and roses – to eat a sandwich. A blue plaque shows that the author Jean Rhys used to live overlooking this garden. It has large lawns and a play area. I was given a tree list and some friendly local information when I said I was going to Carlyle's House next. The shortcut I was told about led me past an old Judge's House, where convicts used to be sentenced, then taken down to the river to be put on boats in the first stage of transportation to Australia. There were interesting nooks and crannies to explore in this part of London, new to me, and it still feels very connected to the nearby Thames.

Carlyle's House
The National Trust runs the garden of Carlyle's House. There were plenty of knowledgeable volunteers to help identify plants and talk about the history. It is a small walled garden, with old-fashioned herbs and roses.

Thrive Battersea
It was a short cycle from here over Albert Bridge to Battersea and two gardens run by the charity Thrive, to help disadvantaged and disabled people. At the approach to the herb garden, I saw a nuthatch, a bird I hadn't seen in London in years. This garden is a suntrap and everything looked good in the sunshine-flourishing vegetable patches, sweet peas in flower, beds of dye plants, and a shady walnut tree to sit under to enjoy tea and homemade cakes. The other Thrive garden is nearby: the Old English Garden. This was stunning, absolutely glorious to see on a sunny summer day. As I walked around, there were different scents in the air: old roses, herbs, wisteria, mock orange. There was the sound of water from the central fountain, and the herbaceous planting was wonderful to look at.

October Gallery
From there I headed back to north London, with a quick pit stop in the October Gallery, which has a cool, pretty café garden with sculptures and restful planting – just round the corner from Great Ormond Street Hospital.

Barnsbury Square
Barnsbury Square was busy with a residents' event and visitors. From the signage, I learned the land had originally been purchased by the useful Metropolitan Public Gardens Association, and is now run by Islington Council and a friends group.

Freightliners Farm
Close by is the charity Freightliners Farm, where all the planting was looking fantastic. Beautiful potager beds looked too good to eat, though the salad leaves of all colours, shapes and sizes will be eaten in the farm's café. There were lovely things everywhere: a greenhouse with tiny gherkins growing up the wall and a flowering citrus scenting the air for the workers, a geodesic dome, giant asparagus, clumps of sweet rocket in flower, and trained hornbeams sheltering the outside area of the café. A walk around the paddock hedges brought a remarkable sense of the English countryside. I spoke to Coryn, working with the beehives, who said that taking part in OGSW (for the first time) had been a very good day for the farm, with a lot of extra visitors, including some from Bath and other cities. I bought two good parsley plants from the friendly volunteer at the gate.

Olden Garden
A short cycle from here took me to the Olden Garden, also taking part in OGSW for the first time. It is an unusual location behind a green door down a quiet street, next to a railway line. It is about two minutes, as Theo Walcott runs, from Arsenal's Emirates stadium, but you would never guess that from the sense of seclusion and closeness to nature when you are actually in the garden that is set out on the embankment and is pleasingly wild at the edges. Plenty of visitors were socialising and enjoying tea.

Burgh House
On the Sunday, I went up to Hampstead's Burgh House, which had original Jekyll planting lists and very pleasant sitting-out areas with lovely planting. Free exhibitions give you a sense of 'Working Hampstead' history, and the place is very welcoming to visitors.

World Peace Garden
It was a short walk down the hill to the Hampstead Heath Overground station, where a group of enterprising residents had turned part of an embankment into the World Peace Garden, with bark paths and log seats, just over the road from the Magdala pub, venue for the Ruth Ellis case.

Winterton House Garden
I took the Overground to Shadwell and the Winterton House garden, situated underneath tall tower blocks. Helpful volunteers were on hand to talk about the garden's development and maintenance. A rockery garden was an unexpected delight, and there were pretty flowerbeds, vegetable patches and poultry.

IPC Roof Garden
I got to the IPC Roof Garden on the Blue Fin Building about 3pm and asked the man giving advice how many visitors there had been. He looked down at the clicker and told me I was number 800! This is a well-designed roof garden with stunning views over London. The planting includes strawberry trees, box, bamboo, cotinus, olives, herbs and vegetables – 'cabbages with altitude'. This would be a very pleasant garden to walk around even at ground level.

The Rookery
My final stop was the Rookery and Streatham Common Community Garden, reached via a walk across the common. The Rookery garden was celebrating a centenary of public access. It dates from the 18th century and is laid out on sloping ground. Steps that go past a giant Cedar of Lebanon take you down to the Old English Garden with cottage garden planting, and there is a White Garden. It is interesting to see the development of part of the old kitchen garden by a community group. We were told that all the work has to be done without machinery. It is shaping up nicely, with new fruit planting, and there are plans to rebuild the original greenhouse with the help of the Heritage Lottery Fund.

As a visitor, it felt as if OGSW 2013 has been the busiest yet. There is such an insatiable appetite among the public to get out and see what other gardens are doing, and to explore and enjoy the beautiful and ever-changing green spaces of London.

History, Heritage and Horticulture at This Year's Open Garden Squares Weekend