Open Garden Squares Weekend: Oases in the City

Caroline Aldiss dreamt of a day when the gates of London’s private gardens would be flung open to the public with local communities and residents celebrating with fêtes, fairs, and good neighbourliness. What started tentatively in 1998 with 43 gardens has now become a permanent fixture on the summer calendar with over 120 participating green spaces across the city.

Green idea: Caroline Aldiss conceived of the annual event from her former home in Collingham Gardens | © Diana Jarvis

The then Collingham Gardens resident in Earl’s Court, west London recalls that it was hard work persuading garden committees to buy into the idea after all their natural disposition was to keep trespassers and prying eyes at bay. They were naturally cautious of the concept, though letters of support from Prince Charles and central London MPs Alan Clark (now deceased) and Peter Brooke, among others, helped to persuade them.

Flowerbed of power: Pictured is the garden of Number 10 Downing street. The gardens back onto Horse Guards parade and include a wildlife pond and area created by the BBC’s Blue Peter programme | Photograph courtesy OGSW

Once the project had gained acceptance, Aldiss enlisted the help of London Parks and Gardens Trust to continue organising the event. Today she continues to take an active interest in its development and conservation issues.

Derelict to Desirable

Brockwell Park Community Greenhouses

This beautiful garden in Lambeth’s Brockwell Park includes an orchard, demonstration gardens, walled herb garden and two commercial-sized greenhouses. Run by over 200 dedicated volunteers, it offers nature-based education activities for families and schools.

Culpeper Community Garden

Rated ‘Outstanding’ in the 2018 RHS ‘It’s Your Neighbourhood’ scheme, this garden boasts ponds, a rose pergola, wildlife area and dry garden, as part of Islington’s climate change adaptation strategy. It is a resource for primary schools, community groups and locals.

The Phoenix Garden

Created by local volunteers in 1984, the last of the Covent Garden Community Gardens provides a peaceful green retreat for local residents, workers, tourists and urban wildlife. Formerly a car park, the garden’s bedrock of rubble has required a careful selection of plants!

St Mary’s Secret Garden

This community garden provides therapy, training and volunteering opportunities for people with disabilities, mental health issues and long-term health conditions. The borders, herb and sensory area, vegetables, beehives, pond and greenhouse are all tended by beneficiaries and volunteers.

The Skip Garden, Global Generation

This mobile food garden is an exciting example of organic urban agriculture on one of Europe’s largest development sites at King’s Cross. Local children, young people and business volunteers work in partnership on tangible projects to improve local sustainability.

Walworth Garden

Reclaimed from derelict land in 1987, this organic garden is now an established charity, rated ‘Outstanding’ in the 2018 RHS ‘It’s Your Neighbourhood’ scheme. It boasts its own QCF-accredited school of horticulture, greenhouses, wildlife area, vegetable garden and fruit trees.

Open Garden Squares Weekend, 8 – 9 June 2019

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