Open Garden Squares Weekend – 13-14 June 2015

Gardens are good for Londoners

By Catherine Miller, Community Garden Expert

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

Queen's Wood
I set off on Saturday to enjoy a fascinating array of very different gardens for OGSW 2015. As I was cycling, I thought of the discussion of the health benefits of gardening during television coverage of the 2015 RHS Chelsea Flower Show, with the RHS Director, Sue Biggs, and MP Sarah Wollaston. I had been meaning to explore Queen's Wood for years and discovered a garden that is magical for kids and relaxing for adults. There were medicinal herbs, fruit, vegetables, aquaponics and a pond, all in mature woodlands where I half expected to see a Gruffalo! The information signs in the garden are very good and tell you a lot about the plants.

St Mary' Secret Garden
From Highgate I went down to Hoxton and popped into St Mary's Secret Garden, where the motto is 'Wellbeing through Gardening'. This beautiful garden uses horticulture to benefit physical and mental health, to address social isolation, and also runs gardening courses. I bumped into Gus from the Golden Company, which runs bee-keeping training for kids at St Mary's beehives, and we watched a tiny fox cub playing and learned of the importance of planting forage flowers for bees.

It was a short cycle to St Leonard's in Shoreditch, new to OGSW, to see swathes of poppies and wild flowers at the back of the church, along with fruit trees, massed roses, herbaceous borders and a vegetable garden, developed by a project working with people in recovery from addiction. I had gone past this church numerous times and it was good to feel ‘invited in’ to discover the garden.

Girdlers' Hall
Next I headed into the City to Girdlers' Hall, also new to OGSW. It was astonishing to see a venerable old walled garden surrounded by so many new glass and steel buildings right in the City of London, with artistic, beautiful planting taken from a carpet design. It included Rosa glauca, artemisia, Gladiolus byzantinus, peonies, box, nepeta, bronze fennel, red sedum and sisyrinchium.

Eversheds Roof Garden
Nearby, also new to OGSW, was the Eversheds roof garden. This was a showcase for biodiversity, replacing the built-on footprint with sedums and wild flowers such as St John's Wort and Viper's Bugloss. Some of the staff have made a sheltered corner where they cultivate a wide range of fruit trees and vegetables in a lunch hour with a difference! They have the opportunity to pick fresh produce in relative peace and quiet with a view of St Paul's and were enthusiastic about the rooftop garden to the 400 visitors already welcomed for OGSW.

Community Garden at Tate Modern
From here it was a short walk over the wobbly bridge to the garden at the side of the Tate Modern. I had not revisited since the opening about 10 years ago; it has established nicely, and has a quiet sense of place right under the nose of one of the busiest tourist attractions in London.

Ham Yard
New for OGSW, the Ham Yard Hotel roof garden is just a stone's throw from Piccadilly Circus! It has a very pleasing comfortable atmosphere, two old olive trees, two arbutus, trained fruit trees, wild flowers, two beehives, and planters full of vegetables and salad. This garden was a real crowd-pleaser, with 600 visitors reported by 3pm.

Cleveland Square
Finally I cycled across Hyde Park to Cleveland Square, where there were many unusual plant combinations — black poppies, bright peonies, fragrant roses — and a holiday atmosphere with people enjoying themselves. They reported about 250 visitors. It was apparently World Gin Day, and locally-made gin cocktails were on hand! This garden is so relaxing it is hard to believe Paddington station is just round the corner.

Sydenham Garden
Sunday was a bit cold and drizzly, but there has not been enough rain this year — it has been another dry spring. Usually the lime blossoms are out by OGSW time, but they have perhaps been delayed by the lack of moisture. I headed to Sydenham Garden, on the Overground, where there is a pond, woodland trail, vegetables and fruit with a barbecue area. The Victorian greenhouse is a great facility. The first time I came to this garden about 10 years ago, there was very little on site, just lots of ideas, and it is great to see how it has developed. The charity that runs it was set up to improve health and is actually getting commissioned by the NHS to provide gardening sessions.

Wesley Square
I went across town to Ladbroke Grove and Wesley Square, a newish square, also new to OGSW 2015 and usually closed to the public. The residents bought the freehold and were very happy to share the pleasure in their garden with the 50 or 60 visitors so far. This is a lovely garden, well-maintained and planted, with a very relaxed and sociable atmosphere.

Phoenix Farm
Next I visited the Phoenix school garden, new to OGSW 2015, where there is an astonishing range of flowers, trees and produce grown in the middle of White City. Kids can learn outside, can grow, pick and eat fresh strawberries, and have started keeping chickens too. It's well organised and very productive, with polytunnels growing more exotic crops like aubergines, as well as sweet peas, berries and spinach in the open.

Ravenscourt Glasshouses
I walked to Ravenscourt Glasshouses, where a local charity, Hammersmith Community Gardens, is making good use of a former council facility. This location is used for health and education programmes and includes a Shelf Life project, taking inspiration from a Chelsea Physic Garden exhibit at the RHS Chelsea Flower show a few years back. The idea is to show people how many plants they depend on in everyday life by, for example, growing bean plants using a tin of beans as the container.

Finally I headed to Osterley Park on the Piccadilly line. The walk across barley fields from the tube was like a country stroll – if you discounted the aeroplanes heading for Heathrow and the parakeets. Osterley is a beautiful National Trust garden featuring ancient trees including a 260-year-old plane, walled gardens with scented sweet peas, a cutting garden with plate-sized peonies and plenty to keep a gardener happy! You could spend a whole day exploring the grounds here.

Gardens humanise the city, connect us with the natural world, and offer so much benefit to our physical and mental health. The OGSW is a great way of discovering the range of beautiful gardens on offer to us as Londoners.
Facilitator, London Farms and Gardens Show, 19/9/15 Capel Manor