Given the first signs of good weather, London’s parks – including Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens and Green Park – will be crowded. Open to everyone, they are one of the capital’s great joys. However, next to these public gardens there are the private gardens of the capital which can be accessed against payment, either permanently or occasionally.
None is more private than the adjoining garden Buckingham Palace between the mall and Hyde Park Corner. An ecosystem in every way, not only is it the heart of the British monarchy but has nature reserves and wild meadows. London’s largest private garden, previously guided tours of the garden followed strict routes. This year, visitors will be able to roam most of its 39 acres and bring picnics.
Some of Britain’s most famous gardeners including Capability Brown, William Townsend Alton of Kew Gardens, and John Nash were instrumental in its creation. The oldest tree, a mulberry tree planted by James I in 1608, predates all. During the reign of George III, the royal family kept a zoo in the gardens, complete with zebras. The garden is now home to a national collection of mulberry trees, with over 40 varieties, 85 different oak species and over 300 different wild plant species.
Even with a lake and tennis courts, there is still room for a 156-meter herbaceous border and a rose garden. Tickets for this summer’s opening are available although difficult to find during peak periods, but Evan Evans Tours has a confirmed ticket allocation and partners with nearby Rubens at the Palace Hotel to host a picnic with traditional sandwiches, scones and royal-themed pastries.
In far west London (accessible by air and underground) Kew covers over 200 acres, with greenhouses. A planned music festival has been pushed back to 2022, but its secret plant lives will allow visitors to immerse themselves in a series of ‘plant landscapes’ by environmental artist Vaughn Bell.
With only four acres Chelsea Physical Garden is small but delightfully quiet. Begun in 1673, it is the oldest botanical garden in London and it is still an oasis of calm. Open every day except Saturday, there are over 5,000 plants, all edible, including a grapefruit in fruit.
Some London hotels have access to communal gardens which, despite their names, can generally only be used by households whose houses have keys. These included Belmond Cadogan, also in Chelsea which has access to the lawns and tennis courts of Cadogan Place Gardens. Originally laid out in 1886, there are mulberry trees, black bamboos, maples, magnolias and palms as well as the award-winning ‘Sir Hans Sloane’ Chelsea Flower Show garden, inspired by Sloane’s international travels. The hotel can provide blankets, lounge chairs, and board games to help you blend in with other residents.
The Goring goes further with a private garden. A scone cast from Buckingham Palace, this walled garden, with traditional flower borders along its edge is only open to hotel guests and those visiting its restaurant and bars. Afternoon tea in her garden is one of London’s lasting treats, and neither is this one.