Open Garden Squares Weekend 2008

Innovation and Tradition

In 2008 over 170 sites ranging from 'people's plots' to traditional London squares took part in Open Gardens Squares Weekend. London Landscapes reporter CATHERINE MILLER visited a varied selection and found a great deal to look at.

Open Garden Squares Weekend, the Trust's major summer promotion, took place this year on Saturday 7th and Sunday 8th June. Founded in 1988, as London Garden Square Day, this was the 11th year of the event. This year over 170 sites opened their often normally closed gates gates to visitors. As always, I am eager to visit sites that I have not previously had a chance to see.

(Click on a garden name for further information.)

Conisbee Courtyard On Saturday morning I start off the weekend by looking at two gardens new to Open Garden Squares Weekend. Conisbee Courtyard is tucked away down a side street off the Caledonian Road. Already there has been a steady stream of visitors to the interesting features of their quirky courtyard garden. One such feature is a rubble roof which was made from recycled hardcore from building works. It is surprisingly good to look at as well as apparently reducing the rate of water run-off in heavy rain. There is no maintenance of the low-growing plants, most of which arrived without human intervention. Another is a vertically planted wall, giving a very attractive tapestry effect. Examples of vertical planting were seen at this year's Chelsea Flower Show. The top dries out very quickly and a pump is needed to maintain it.
Edward Square From here it is a short walk to Edward Square, reached via an alley behind The Den pub, further down the Caledonian Road. This is a very pleasant public space, especially given its surroundings - dense local authority housing, and a school on one boundary. Plane trees are reminiscent of more established garden squares.

An exhibition shows local history, the transformation of the garden, wildlife and planting, backed by the locally resident poet laureate. The design of this square is robust but not boring, with giant boulders next to mown paths in a quiet area, and large steps bordering an events space.

Roe Green From here I go across town to Kingsbury and Roe Green, which is utterly charming. It is an old walled garden, now run for people and wildlife. Its character has been retained but it is definitely not a museum piece, and kids from the different local communities are playing. There is a beautiful pond with waterlilies and nice shallow areas much enjoyed by bathing sparrows.

Inside the garden it feels miles away from the nearby busy road.

Brown Hart Gardens Sunday is sunny and warm and a perfect day for garden visits. Brown Hart Gardens is in a great location - a stone's throw from Selfridges opposite a Ukrainian church. You climb up some steps, apparently over an enormous electricity substation built in 1903-5 on a site where it is rumoured Queen Victoria used to keep elephants. The only actual plants are Italian poplars in pots, but it will be interesting to see developments and it has just recently opened to the public.
Cable Street Community Garden At Cable Street Community Garden there is a mini media scrum with a French TV station and a man from a Times supplement looking at the benefits of Open Garden Squares Weekend. The DLR trains run overhead and below are beautiful plots with fruit, flowers, vegetables and herbs. Open day here includes stalls offering cakes and gardening advice, along with ferrets from a nearby city farm. It is noticeable, in the walk from Shadwell station, that some of the local flat dwellers have taken over little corners of the estates to grow runner beans and coriander.
Edwardes Square Across town now to Kensington and Earls Court. Edwardes Square is absolutely massive and, once through the gates, there is a real wow factor. It has beautifully planted and maintained borders, and a bosky walk in the trees and shrubbery along the boundaries, with planting to lighten the shade, of white foxgloves and pink species geraniums. Rose arches have swags of roses seemingly draped over them, with rosemary and other aromatic plants underneath. The gardener gets to live in a house on site, called The Temple!
Nevern Square Nevern Square is easily walkable from Edwardes Square. Here there is a sax quartet making very pleasant music and causing me to linger longer than intended. Cistus and tree peony flourish in the sunny areas, and mock orange and foliage in the shade. There are many happy picnickers and sunbathers enjoying gentle music on a summer's day You get a history handout explaining that the railings were taken and a tree was damaged in the war The garden was bought by residents, as the latest stage of an interesting management history.
Chiswick House Kitchen Garden On west to Chiswick House Kitchen Garden. It's a bit of a walk from the station but, once past the underpass, it's obvious it's attracting many visitors. This garden has developed considerably since my last visit a couple of years ago and there is a herb maze, a gravel garden, cutting garden and many activity areas for children - plenty of variety. It's heartening to see a once-neglected facility retaining its historic character - not fossilised in stone but used by the local community. It seems apparent that children especially enjoy coming here.

This weekend I have seen ingenious ways of extending urban growing space, and two walled gardens used, among other things, for education about food growing. I've seen a promising new square and two beautiful, well-established ones. I still have one question though - how do you get to be the gardener in Edwardes Square?

Catherine Miller
Federation of City Farms and Community Gardens