Open Garden Squares Weekend – 18-19 June 2016

In Praise of London's Gardeners

By Catherine Miller, Community Garden Expert

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

Hampstead Parish Church Burial Grounds
It was as difficult as ever to choose where to visit, as there are so many interesting gardens open over Open Garden Squares Weekend! New to the scheme were Hampstead Parish Church Burial Grounds, which date from 1745, and which manage the graveyard, with its large yews, for biodiversity. The tombstones make a wildlife habitat similar to rocky outcrops. This is apparently rare in an urban environment, and there were plenty of birds. I found the tombs of John Constable and John Harrison of 'Longitude' fame. 30 visitors had been reported by 11.15am to this peaceful space, and friendly volunteers helped you make the most of your visit.

Highgate Day Centre
Also new to Open Garden Squares Weekend was a Day Centre in Kentish Town with a very nice little garden. It is managed as an educational project and there were flower and vegetable plants for sale. I saw pristine hostas, which is a big achievement in this very wet year, when molluscs of all kinds have been munching everything in the garden. The secret, according to the knowledgeable gardener, was copper tape round the pot.

Next to a Lutyens-designed garden at the British Medical Association, which reported 150 visitors by 12.30. It was beautifully planted and maintained. The BMA has recently hosted many talks about health and gardening, and I had a chat about plants with toxic and medicinal properties with the gardener Daniella and one of the speakers, Professor Michael Heinrich.

Beech Gardens
From Bloomsbury I cycled to the Barbican and found Beech Gardens, which was sheer joy and a gardener's delight. It was well worth finding it in the concrete maze of the Barbican, one part of London that always knocks my sense of direction out of kilter. The garden looks effortlessly natural, but is of course the result of artistry and careful planning and planting. Walking around, there are great drifts of white, pale yellow, purple, pink and red perennials with, every so often, a highlight of bright magenta from lychnis or dwarf pinks, waving grasses, and on the air something scented such as dwarf philadelphus, calamint, or sweet rocket. Harmony is achieved with plants of the same flower shape such as knautia and thrift, or the same kind of habit like libertia and gaura. It's a glorious garden.

Providence Row
New to OGSW is Providence Row, which reported 62 visitors by 2pm. Sue, the gardener, said the rooftop garden was just a year old and it had been a bit of a challenge getting the soil up to start the garden. It is impressively productive, with fruit, flowers, vegetables and even nut trees, and there is a focus on horticultural therapy in their work with homeless people.

Peabody Estate
From here I cycled across the river to another new garden, Peabody Estate in Blackfriars, where I met beekeepers and had a look at a vegetable garden with a fine shed and raised beds for residents – the ideal vehicle for people to meet and get to know each other.

Bee Urban
They had 40 visitors, as had the next garden, Bee Urban in Kennington Park. This has interesting planting with a row of beehives and useful information about everything going on. There were tastings of honey beer, and they run workshops about plants and bees.

Canary Wharf
My final visit was to an ambitious new garden above the new Crossrail station in Canary Wharf. This was easy to cycle to on the Cycle Superhighway 3 from Tower Hill. The garden is a new kind of hortus conclusus, enclosed in a kind of cloudy Perspex in the middle of Canary Wharf. The concept is of a ship laden with plants from the four corners of the globe, and harks back to the maritime history of the area. When you walk around, you can hear muted traffic while also being able to smell cut grass from Galium odoratum plants. I spoke to a woman who was eagerly taking photographs of tree ferns – she was from New Zealand, as were the ferns. I also saw Japanese people admiring Nandina, which is common in Japan.

The Master's Garden
On Sunday I went to look at gardens that are normally not open to the public. I got a bit lost in the Temple – an interesting part of town – and eventually found The Master's Garden, new to OGSW. It's a secret garden next to the Temple Church. There are impressive lilies and pots in a formal garden, and a pretty, wilder, patch planted with Mexican daisy and Clary sage. There is even a vegetable garden with runner beans and bright chard, calendula and kale, right next to the church. I found the tombstone of Oliver Goldsmith, the Irish writer. They had over 100 visitors.

Rutland Gate South
I cycled across town to Knightsbridge and found Rutland Gate South, where three friendly ladies at the gate reported 'lots of visitors this year – much better weather'. It has a central lawn with shrubbery and Martagon lilies, with yellow jasmine at the gate.

Ennismore Gardens
It is a short distance from here to Ennismore Gardens, which is bigger and very peaceful. You can hardly hear traffic at all. Walking around large lawns and interesting shrub borders, I found giant Himalayan lilies. Like other garden squares, creative planting makes the most of shade by using foliage to create texture and visual interest for instance, oak-leaved or blue hydrangeas, black elder, euphorbias and foxgloves.

Queen's Gate
I cycled on to have a look at Queen's Gate Gardens, a big square with perimeter shrubbery, herbaceous borders and a good central lawn on which people were enjoying picnics.

Bina Gardens East
Finally I visited Bina Gardens East, which had an established neighbourhood feel to it. There was a big Chinese privet tree in the middle, with the large leaves of bananas, and other interesting plants including the red and white shrubby salvia 'Hot Lips', which does particularly well in London. The residents seemed to really enjoy their garden, and showing it off to visitors.

This year interest in productive gardening remains high, as is the interest in the contribution that gardens make to health and wellbeing. What is impressive is the impact that can be made, even in a small, apparently unprepossessing place, by a creative gardener with a vision and ambition to share their knowledge. London's gardeners are making places beautiful, and helping others to see the beauty of London's natural world. Let us give thanks to the London gardeners who make Open Garden Squares Weekend such a success.
Facilitator, London Farms and Gardens Show, 17/9/16 Capel Manor