I started OGSW 2019 with a visit to a secret garden in Bloomsbury. Collingham Gardens Nursery is a fabulous enclosed garden for children, unusual in that gravestones and other relics from its former use are evident alongside the dens and play structures and plants. This doesn't feel morbid at all — just a reflection of the natural cycles of life.
Next was Montague Street Gardens, a surprisingly large open space behind a terrace of houses and hotels near the British Museum. There are large ailanthus and liriodendron trees, flower beds and even a couple of beehives. Loquat trees have ripening fruit, a result perhaps of last year's long, hot summer.
It's quite something to be able to get from Temple to Tower Hill in 10 minutes on the Cycle Superhighway, and I had a look at another secret garden in a passageway at the side of the oldest church in the city. All Hallows dates from 675AD and Nic's Secret Garden is by the prime tourist site of the Tower of London. It was a pleasure to see the eclectic mix of plants, which have been rescued and nurtured, ready to be rehomed with school gardens and community projects.
I headed back along the river, and over the bridge to Waterloo to Oasis Farm, tucked away near St Thomas' Hospital. There I found productive polytunnels and geese enjoying chopped apples for lunch. A surprise at the back of the site is a very pretty enclosed garden designed by Dan Pearson. Though this year has been very dry, the plant selection ensured that the garden was looking good despite the lack of rain.
Over the river to Victoria and a terrific roof garden, The Passage, designed by Adam Frost, for a charity set up to help homeless people. There are sturdy planters on decking, with flowers, herbs, apple trees and roses, and even rhubarb. There are hazel trees up here, which the squirrels probably won't get to! It feels quiet and peaceful, well away from all the busy new development in Victoria, and you can see the tower of Westminster Cathedral.
Nearby are two private squares. Chester Square is peaceful, friendly and welcoming, with an interesting history: former residents included Mary Shelley and Marianne Faithfull. Plants include unusual weeping planes, scented pittosporum tobira and philadelphus, and foliage plants such as oakleaf hydrangea which seem to like the particular growing conditions of London garden squares.
Eaton Square was in celebration mode, with many visitors enjoying music and wine in a friendly atmosphere. A wander around revealed beautifully scented roses and a lot of good herbaceous planting. I left humming "Pack up your Troubles" — the tune being played by the musicians!
To finish my Saturday, I called into The Phoenix Garden, a star community garden, which was looking fantastic — even though, surprisingly, none of it is watered. Everyone loves the giant echiums, and it manages to pack a huge range of plants into such a small area. This garden reported 300 Saturday visitors for OGSW.
On Sunday, I headed across to West London to the Museum of Brands, a garden I last visited when it was part of the London Lighthouse. It has developed very well, and there are unusual plants alongside the roses, which have now grown halfway up the neighbouring buildings! There are little creative touches with scent, colour and foliage throughout this garden.
Next to the Community Garden Cluster at Kensington Olympia, where there is a large collection of growing plots along the railway line there. It is a much bigger operation than I had imagined. There are greenhouses to grow plants for sale, as well as the individual raised beds, which appear to be in demand with local people. I could smell sweet peas as soon as I walked in, and there is information on pollinators and wild plants.
Once through Hyde Park, I called in to Portman Square, a lovely, large space very close to Oxford Street, with massive trees including a very large mulberry, and some interesting herbaceous planting of yellow epimediums. There was a Poetry School stand in the middle of the garden where visitors could participate in a tree-related poetry project.
Next stop was a community garden near Old Street, The Growing Kitchen, a piece of land within housing estates with fruit trees, flowers, soft fruit and even a pond. An outdoor kitchen has been constructed in a corner, which is a focal point for local residents to come together and socialise. This creative approach appeared to be popular, and the garden was busy.
Heading towards the Angel, I had a look around the little communal garden at St James Close. A peaceful space filled with flowers, it is church ground within old almshouses. Trees include maple, birch, magnolia and a clipped bay tree.
Finally, I found a small nature reserve in Barnsbury Wood, which was another children's paradise. I learned that this piece of land has never been built on. The large mature trees make up an impressive woodland considering its location, in a residential area just off Caledonian Road. Walking around, I could hear a hawk being heckled by anxious blackbirds, and the excited cries of exploring children.
I got home just before the rain, on a weekend which had been cloudy, quite cool and breezy. I had seen a great variety of gardens across the city, which OGSW encourages everyone to discover and enjoy. We are so lucky in London to have all these different green spaces, providing recreation and pleasure for both children and adults.
For the first time, the OGSW Guidebook was printed on 100% recycled paper, using vegetable-based inks and a water-based protective coating. The Trust was also proud to announce that we would no longer be using PVC banners. PVC is one of the most toxic plastics during its manufacture and use, and cannot be recycled — nor is it biodegradable in landfill. Instead, in 2019 the OGSW banners were printed on 100% recyclable high-density polyethylene, or HDPE (the material used to make plastic milk bottles). HDPE is environmentally stable and gives off no harmful fumes, and recycling it is particularly valuable as it can be cheaper to make a product from recycled HDPE than to manufacture virgin plastic. The banners could be recycled kerbside or by return to our print contractors.
The organising team encouraged all gardens and refreshment providers to use reusable, compostable or recyclable cups, plates and cutlery. Moreover, the guidebook featured short walking routes around groups of gardens: the only transportation required was your own two feet.