This past weekend, I engaged in the annual London ritual of peeking into wealthy private gardens during London Open Garden Squares weekend. Hidden away throughout London are dozens of private gardens. The gardens are patches of green (well, some are much larger than patches) that generally are accessed only by those whose homes line the perimeter. You might hear someone talk about having a key to a private garden in breathless tones – it’s just that exciting when you’ve got one!
Anyway, for one weekend every year, the gardens are open to the general public for a mere £7.50 a person. A few of the gardens even host wine tastings, though the one Jon and I happened upon at Stanley Crescent Gardens (not to be confused with Stanley Gardens, of course) wasn’t really a tasting as much as it was a French guy with a few bottles of Loire Valley white served in thimble-sized plastic cups. The meagreness of the offerings is alright, though – you’re not going for the booze (I can hear the Brit objecting: au contraire!).
I visited Cadogan Place Gardens and Cadogan Square Gardens on Saturday with my friend, Jill. Seeing as how those two gardens are just off Sloane Street, of course we did some pre-shopping in preparation for the summer sales (yes, July is just around the corner). The former was large and sectioned into three parts – a formal gardens, a tennis court area, and a children’s playground, and the latter was smaller and more charming with just a pretty bit of statuary in the middle, a mere one tennis court, and benches all around for relaxing and chating (see photo at top of post).
A group of us then spent the evening picnicking in Stanley Gardens in Notting Hill, to which Jill has access (see photo above for a view of Jill’s building from the garden). There were all these neighborhood kids playing with tents and giant plastic tunnels, and now that I think about, I suppose it’s an ideal setup to have a large gated garden when you have kids. But it’s no less exciting for adults to be able to hang out in the same garden. Actually, park is a more accurate word.
A few of the gardens, like Stanley Crescent Gardens in Notting Hill, are cozy and well-loved by a select group of 150 dues-paying homeowners (photo above), and then other gardens welcome members who don’t necessarily own homes abutting the garden.
Ladbroke Square Gardens, for example, is enormous enough that it’s more like a private park that you can join. In other words, no need to live right on the Gardens in order to have the privilege of paying for the upkeep of the Gardens. Originally, the Gardens were built in 1837 as a horse track, but apparently the soil was too muddy, so then the racetrack became a really large communal garden. It’s just that big.
I suppose it’s a little weird to spend your weekend gawking at private gardens, but maybe the UK is rubbing off on me. It seems perfectly normal in the UK to see how the other half lives (see, e.g., the popularity of visitng English Heritage homes of noble families), or if you can’t admit that you’re in it for the voyeurism, you can tell yourself that you’re really going to look at the beauty of the plantings and greenery.