Trespassers will be welcomed into 200 of London’s green spaces, many normally off-limits to the public, when the capital unlocks its gates for Open Garden Squares Weekend this Saturday and Sunday. Sara O’Reilly helps you choose which to visit.
Want to get closer to nature? No need to head out of town. London’s lush and lovely; just like the countryside, really, but with street food, culture and public transport. In fact it’s the most wooded area of England: 22 percent of the capital is covered by woodland and trees. If you’d have described it as all building sites and traffic snarl-ups, this weekend is a chance to discover hidden oases in the capital’s most unexpected corners. With venues participating in Open Garden Squares Weekend spanning 27 boroughs, the biggest challenge is choosing which to visit. The festival’s organised walks and cycle tours are a great way to tackle the wealth of green spaces that include roof terraces and allotments, as well as the grounds of historic buildings, schools, shops and cafés. But for those taking a DIY approach we’ve picked a handful of gardens to get you started.
London’s smallest local nature reserve
Originally the garden of George Thornhill, who built the surrounding houses in the 1840s, this hidden woodland was gradually abandoned to nature. Today it’s managed by Islington Council and used by local schoolgroups; it’s home to all sorts of wildlife including the long-tailed tit, the lesser stag beetle, the common toad and the posh 16-spot ladybird. Barnsbury Wood Nature Reserve, Crescent St, off Huntingdon St, N1 1BT. Caledonian Rd & Barnsbury Overground. Sun Jun 15, 10am-5pm.
The floating garden
Garden Barge Square
Residents living on these moored barges on the Thames, enjoying an uninterrupted view of Tower Bridge, have transformed their decks to create a floating garden square. When the patch you call your own happens to be in the Thames, an emergency could involve a dramatic rescue by boat so it makes perfect sense that the proceeds from sales of tea and cakes will go to the RNLI. Downings Roads Moorings, Entrance on Reed’s Wharf, SE1 2AX. Bermondsey. Sat Jun 14 and Sun Jun 15, 2pm-5pm.
The garden that will make you want to move house
Bonnington Square Gardens
What was once a derelict playground on a WWII bombsite is now a small but enticing and lavishly planted community garden. This leafy, attractively hippyish corner of Vauxhall has a great community spirit. There’s a deli with pavement tables on the corner opposite the garden, a community café just round the corner and colourful evidence of guerrilla gardening at the foot of many of the local trees. SW8 1GA. Bonnington Square. Vauxhall. Sat Jun 14 and Sun Jun 15, 10am-5pm.
The enterprising garden
In 2010, combining their experience in art, engineering and business, Andrew Merritt, Paul Smyth and Sam Henderson came up with the ingenious social initiative FARM. Its aim is to inspire Londoners to grow their own food and produce their own fabric, and even medicine, in an urban setting. FARM:shop now has a fish farm, allotments, polytunnels and a rooftop chicken coop. The ultra-local produce is used in its café and offered for sale. Tours of the project will take place at 11am, 1pm and 3pm on both days. 20 Dalston Lane, E8 3AZ. Dalston Junction Overground. Sat Jun 14 and Sun Jun 15, 10am-5pm.
The garden to dye for
Best foot forward, folks: this small community garden was created on the site of the former shoe-making college. You can book ahead to take part in a natural-dye workshop or a session to make a natural lip balm (email email@example.com). Silk scarves dyed using colours sourced from the garden will be on sale, as well as seeds and plants. Cordwainers Garden, 182 Mare St, E8 3RE. London Fields rail. Sat Jun 14, 10am-5pm.
The garden where they’re too busy to answer the phone
Nomura Building Roof Garden
On the sixth-floor terrace of London’s first carbonneutral building, as well as formal gardens there’s a kitchen garden featuring 12 vegetable beds which are looked after by the building’s switchboard team. The produce is used daily by the company’s chefs; any surplus offered for sale to staff with the proceeds going to charity . 1 Angel Lane, EC4R 3AB. Monument. Sat June 14 and Sun June 15, 10am-5pm.
The garden designed with a ruler
Ismaili Centre Roof Garden
Although foliage tends to be a focus in this country, there are other ways to create an enticing garden. Koranic imagery of the Garden of Paradise provides the inspiration for this space where geometry, symbolism and the sound of water combine to create a feeling of serenity. Tours throughout the day will introduce and explain the principles behind the garden’s design. Thurloe Place, SW7 2SL. South Kensington. Sun Jun 15, 10am-4pm.
Open Garden Squares Weekend is on Sat Jun 14 and Sun Jun 15. £12, £10 adv (ticket gives entry to all gardens for the weekend), free under-12s.
For more things to do take a look at 66 things to look forward to this summer in London.