Unlocking the gates to the capital’s secret gardens
As pockets of tranquil green space in the heart of the city, garden squares are a particularly English concept. Created by the Georgians and the Victorians to bring the feeling of the countryside into town, these squares – ovals or crescents – were built for people to live in.
“Garden squares offered the Georgians, with their heightened sensibility, a centre in which to parade among their neighbours while catching up on local gossip,” says David Mackenzie of agent Carter Jonas. “They were – and still are – gardens to be enjoyed, without the hassle of maintenance.”
Whether it’s as leafy spots to enjoy a glass of wine with your neighbours on summer evenings or as children’s playgrounds, these squares remain a vital part of nurturing communities. They also provide vital biodiversity with their mature trees, or fruit and veg, in the case of Golden Baggers, a residents’ food-growing garden on the Golden Lane Estate in the city of London.
While many of the historic garden squares are famed for sitting in prestigious London enclaves such as Belgravia, Mayfair or Kensington – Eaton, Belgrave and Cadogan Squares are prime examples – others are secret little hideaways or more modern designs within new housing estates or developments.
The sheer diversity of them across 25 London boroughs will be on show this weekend, when more than 200 private gardens will be opened to the public during the Open Garden Squares event (opensquares. org). You will have the chance to wander around the winding Victorian paths and lime trees of Fassett Square in Hackney, which inspired the set of EastEnders, or a prize-winning modern secret garden in Notting Hill’s Wesley Square, a coownership community designed in the late Seventies by Sir Terry Farrell.
Also in London’s W11 (and open for viewing), is Rosmead Gardens, where Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts trespassed in the film Notting Hill. Many garden squares are the subject of ancient covenants that govern both access and their usage. While some gardens in South Kensington preclude any public access whatsoever – and some gardens ban dogs and children – restrictions may have been eased over the years, with some now in public ownership. So what are the benefits of living on a residents-only square?
Suzanne Etherton has lived with her husband and two children in a threebedroom apartment on Grade II listed Cleveland Square in Bayswater, west London, for 23 years. The one-and-ahalf acre garden square dates from 1865 and includes lawns, mature trees and a profusion of peonies, alliums and foxgloves, thanks to Etherton’s role as garden manager.
“I grew up on a garden square and really wanted our children to have the same experience. Shared gardens are great for family life,” says Etherton, 54, whose role inspired her to become a professional garden designer.
“Children can make friends with their neighbours and it’s a great way for them to gain independence. We have happy
Notting Hill, below right, £13.227m with Knight Frank