London’s Secret Gardens

July 12, 2012

By Olivia Harris

London is a city full of trees, well-known for its public parks. But away from the bustle of Hyde Park and Regents Park are the gardens hidden in its residential squares, the quiet, shady spaces, ringed with iron railings and hedges that separate you from the rush of the city.

I have often spent sunny afternoons talking with friends in city squares. Parents bring their children and city workers share beers there after work.

These quiet corners of the city began to emerge, like much of London, in a haphazard fashion. In the 19th century, developers began to include private communal gardens for residents of the city’s squares. But Berkley Square exists because Lord Berkely insisted it shouldn’t be built on when the surrounding area was developed – to preserve the view from his London townhouse.

In west London, many of these gardens are still private with strict notices warning against allowing access to non-key holders. The Square Committees spend a lot of time discussing garden usage, mostly debating the activities of dogs and children. One poodle owner told me that the ‘No Dogs’ sign didn’t apply to well-behaved dogs like her pooch – but then, she was on the committee.

Like much of London, world war II left its mark. Many squares temporarily housed vegetable gardens. Their iron railings were removed to be recycled as weapons – though some historians now think this was only a propaganda exercise and the railings were dumped in the Thames instead.

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