How does your garden grow?
Eleanor Doughty hops from one London oasis to another, assessing garden squares old and new
MAKE a turn off some of the capital’s busiest streets and, if you’re lucky, you may happen upon a garden square, an idyll in central London. They’re a protected species, accessible only with a key and only a few are handed out. Should you find yourself locked in one, it can be difficult to escape—even though Julia Roberts pulls it off in Notting Hill, climbing the railings is a far from ladylike option.
One of London’s defining features, the garden square was built for living in, despite its exclusivity. As developments in the city make our green spaces ever smaller, living on a square is a smart decision. So important are they that, in 1931, the London Squares Preservation Act was introduced to protect more than 400 from being built over.
Luckily, some of the city’s most famous squares are now public. Grosvenor Square, founded in about 1721, is currently home to the American Embassy, the media flock to Soho Square for after-work drinks and, on Berkeley Square, you can watch Lamborghinis idly promenade. In a few weeks’ time, even more of these idylls will be accessible: June 17–18 is Open Garden Squares Weekend, during which more than 230 private and littleknown examples will be open for public viewing (www.opensquares.org).
The properties that surround these desirable squares can command eye-watering prices. On Connaught Square in Bayswater W2, a four-bedroom Grade Ii-listed town house is on the market for £6.5 million with Carter Jonas (020–3131 4385); on Eaton Square in Belgravia SW1, Strutt & Parker (020–7235 9959) are asking £16.95 million for a two-bedroom first-floor ‘trophy flat’; and on South Edwardes Square in Kensington W8, Thomas van Straubenzee, managing director of prime property agency Vanhan (020–3588 3311), is selling a large lateral property for £23 million.
Should your budget stretch this far, life on a garden square offers several bonuses. The first is location: they are, for the most part, in London’s most desirable areas. Additionally, says Mr van Straubenzee, there’s a good sense of community. ‘They’re quite social—people can enjoy barbecues in the summer, some allow dogs, some have tennis courts. It’s an added bonus to have a key to a garden square— they’re bigger than your private garden and more private than a public park.’ For parents, there’s also a comfort in knowing you can allow your children out to play, all within safe view of the kitchen window. Increasingly, modern developers are choosing the garden square as a reliable residential template. In Earl’s Court SW6, Lillie Square (020–7381 9800), with a garden by Chelsea Flower Show gold-medal-winning Andy Sturgeon, has recently welcomed its first residents. At Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London’s largest residential square, new development Lincoln Square (020–7420 3054) will complete its first phase next year, offering residents views of the Royal Courts of Justice. In Bayswater, W2, the building that once housed the Hempel Hotel has been replaced by Hempel Gardens, a collection of 18 luxury apartments off Craven Hill Gardens (www.thehempelcollection.com). And, last summer, around the corner on Kensington Garden Square, Garden House (020– 7408 5155) was launched, a collection of 58 apartments in a stucco-fronted Victorian mansion building with a twoacre garden. These developments suggest that the popularity of the garden square has not yet waned. Roarie Scarisbrick, a buying agent with Property Vision (020–7808 8998) agrees: ‘There are few better ways of living in London than being on a garden square. How amazing to live right in the middle of a huge city, yet look out onto the manicured gardens and leafy plane trees.’ Mr van Straubenzee names South Edwardes Square in W8 as his favourite. Mr Scarisbrick opts for Ladbroke Square in Notting Hill, W11. ‘However, beware the rules,’ he cautions. ‘Some are pretty archaic, almost unchanged from Victorian days. One communal garden in Notting Hill still has a notice preventing the use of tricycles and catapults.’
‘One of London’s defining features, the garden square was built for living in’
Green glory: garden squares offer a small slice of countryside in central London