Open Garden Squares Weekend – 17-18 June 2017

The 20th Open Garden Squares Weekend

By Catherine Miller

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

The Phoenix Garden
It was blazing sunshine all the way for the 20th anniversary of the Open Garden Squares Weekend. I was very happy to see the Phoenix Garden re-open after construction of a fine new community building. There has been some re-design, keeping the principles of biodiversity habitat, and putting in plants that don't need watering. This popular city garden was already busy with OGSW visitors at just after 10am.

Hachette UK
I cycled along the Thames to the roof garden of publisher Hachette UK. From a fabulous riverside location there are panoramic views over the London skyline, and the garden itself has box hedges, lavender, lots of colour and a surprising sense of space. This garden was so popular with OGSW visitors that there were queues for the lifts.

All Saints Fulham Vicarage Garden
On this hot day I took advantage of the cycle route to Fulham, mostly shady, mostly by the river, and visited All Saints pleasant vicarage garden, a peaceful haven from the traffic outside, and scented with philadelphus. They had over 100 OGSW visitors by 1pm. I was taking a photo of a beautiful smoke bush (Cotinus) when a noise made everyone look up to see Second World War planes overhead for Trooping the Colour.

Fulham Palace walled garden
A vicarage gate leads to Fulham Palace and its walled garden, featuring laden fruit trees and classic herbaceous planting. In the grounds are some enormous veteran trees, providing much-appreciated shade for the many visitors.

Fulham Palace Meadows Allotments
By the house there is a gate to Fulham Palace Meadows Allotments, offering a marvellous array of cakes and provisions for their visitors. A volunteer guide, who was a mine of information, took me round this amazing 100-year-old site and its 400 plots. I learnt that there was a Roman road through the site, and that it was the largest unexcavated Roman site in London. Its water comes from artesian wells, and, as is often the case with allotment sites, it harbours interesting horticultural experts. One plot holder grows flax for linen; another is an expert in Anglo-Saxon herbal medicine with a plot given to herbs.

Bramford Community Garden
I crossed the river and hugged the shady river path to Wandsworth to see a trio of community projects. Bramford Community Garden is a corner of a park growing fruit trees and soft fruit, herbs and flowers, which they encourage visitors to pick, and to learn and participate in the project.

Wendelsworth Community Garden
Wendelsworth Community Garden is a corner of an estate with raised beds growing flowers, fruit and some unusual vegetables, including sweet potatoes and South American oca.

Paradise Co-op Urban Farm
Paradise Co-op Urban Farm is directly opposite Wandsworth Prison and is a working growing space with a relaxed, creative atmosphere. There is a yurt, a woodworking space and two polytunnels. Raised beds have crops of courgettes and strawberries, and there was very welcome water on the table for visitors!

Cadogan Place South
I cycled over Wandsworth Bridge and all the way up the King's Road to two of the private squares that have opened their doors for all twenty years of the OGSW. It was very good to relax on the enormous peaceful lawn of Cadogan Place South, where a brass band was playing 'New York, New York', and get something cold to drink! I wandered round looking at Moroccan broom, scented yellow daylilies, and a nice gnarled old mulberry.

Cadogan Place North
Cadogan Place North, is another garden planned to not need much watering, and has groups of giant Echiums and tall red hollyhocks, as well as beds of clipped box and pale and purple lavender. Both gardens reported hundreds of visitors.

Keats House
On Sunday, a theme of poetry developed — I started off at Keats House, where there is a 'Melancholy Border' of plants, as well as a huge plane tree and ancient mulberry. Volunteer guides explained the history of the garden and recited verses of 'Ode to a Nightingale', where the poet describes the plants he can smell but not see.

Eastern Curve Garden
From Hampstead I went on the useful `Ginger Line', which you can take your bike on, to Dalston, and a walk around the Eastern Curve Garden. I last visited five years ago — the area has changed a lot since then, and the garden has developed a popular café to fund itself. There are herbs, fruit, and a lot of good planting for shade.

Golden Baggers
I cycled to the Barbican to track down an estate group, which started gardening in builder's bags a few years ago, which was popular from the start, and progressed to wooden planters. The Golden Baggers group manages about 40 small plots, which have attracted people of all ages, and also organises gardening trips to Wisley and the cherry blossom festival at Brogdale. They were allocated a Poet in Residence from the OGSW scheme, St John Stephen, who was busy preparing to declaim garden-related poetry.

Vestry House Garden
From here I found the Vestry House Garden in the City — a small, immaculate green space towered over by tall buildings. Along the railings were insect hotels made by local schoolchildren, which solitary bees had found within a week. How do the bees do it in built-up areas like this?

Southwark Cathedral churchyard
Across the river to Southwark Cathedral churchyard, which was very welcoming, with a pleasant well-stocked and tended herb garden at the side, a dry stonewall demonstration, and properly scented sweet peas next to the church walls. It was good to see Borough Market busy, too.

Crossbones Memorial Garden
Red Cross Garden
Finally, I wandered along Union Street where there was an uplifting street festival attracting a mixed family crowd around Crossbones Memorial Garden and the Red Cross Garden, both managed by Bankside Open Spaces Trust. The gardens were both very lively with maypole dancing, competitions, and stalls and music from many different cultures. I also heard a very rousing rendition of 'Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner' from an older people's choir. It was part of the Bankside `Great Get Together' festival, one of several in the capital, which were taking place in memory of the MP Jo Cox.

Over this weekend, where all kinds of London gardens open their doors, I have seen that gardens are a great resource to bring people together of all ages, abilities, and backgrounds, to celebrate the sunshine in the great green outdoors. Caroline Aldiss's initial generous idea, of opening up gardens that are usually private, has developed, twenty years on, to become a highlight of London's gardening calendar. Here's to the next twenty years of OGSW.

Catherine is a horticulturalist gardener. trustee of the London Environmental Education Forum and community garden expert.