Secret Gardens and Outdoor Sitting Rooms: the London Open Garden Squares Weekend

This weekend, 215 parks and gardens across 27 London boroughs will be open to the public as part of the London Parks and Gardens Trust’s annual Open Garden Squares Weekend. Presented in association with the National Trust, the weekend’s object is to showcase the ‘little known and hidden green spaces across the capital’. All types of city green space is represented, from include primary school nature gardens to garden squares in the West End usually closed to public view, from city farms and roof gardens the garden at No10 Downing Street. Ham House, OsterleyPark and Carlyle’s House are among the National Trust places opening their garden doors as part of the Weekend.

Visitors in the Hornbeam Arch in the garden at Ham House and Garden, Surrey (one of the gardens participating in the Open Garden Squares Weekend). ©National Trust Images/John Millar

Visitors in the Hornbeam Arch in the garden at Ham House and Garden, Surrey (one of the gardens participating in the Open Garden Squares Weekend). ©National Trust Images/John Millar

The weekend is about recognising the value of these green spaces to city life. Parks and gardens – and natural spaces more generally – have been shown to improve human health and wellbeing, reducing levels of violence and improving people’s sense of community. They are the city’s green lung – or, in the rather more poetic words of Victorian social reformer Edward Bond, the ‘air-holes for labouring lungs’.

Urban green spaces also have a tangible economic benefit, proven by countless reports, like Groundworks’ What are they worth? published last year. The Skip Garden, a market garden and educational project created on a building site behind Kings Cross Station (and open to the public this weekend), offers young people from the local area the chance to develop business and horticultural skills, growing herbs and vegetables to sell to local restaurants. 

Concern for urban green space is in the National Trust’s blood. One of our founders, Octavia Hill, was a key figure in the late nineteenth century movement to preserve large open spaces in and around London for all.  In an essay of 1877, Open Space, she suggested that the ‘small open spaces’ that remained in the city be converted into ‘beautiful outdoor sitting rooms’, where ordinary Londoners could sit of a summers’ evening and where ‘tiny children might play on the gravel or grass with a sense of mother earth beneath them’.

This way of thinking has stayed with the Trust. Places like Ham House and OsterleyPark on the fringes of Central London, are places for Londoners to spend time in nature. At Sutton House, a Tudor merchant’s house in the heart of Hackney, an old car yard has been converted into a natural outdoor space for families to enjoy.

The National Trust’s London Project is channelling Octavia’s legacy in London. As well as partnering with LondonParks and Gardens Trust to deliver the Open Garden Squares Weekend, it is behind the Trust’s partnership with Chelsea Fringe, to provide over 200 nature-inspired events in and around London this summer. They include Octavia’s Orchard, a pop-up orchard in the heart of the South Bank opening this Saturday. 

Ivo Dawnay, Director of the National Trust’s London Project, said ‘our founder, Octavia Hill, started the National Trust 117 years ago to campaign for green spaces for Londoners to enjoy whatever their income. The London Parks and Gardens Trust’s Open Garden Squares Weekend is a modern example of this worthwhile cause, getting Londoners into those special, often hidden and locked, green places we all enjoy.’

So whether you’re a keen gardener looking for new ideas, a budding chef in search of fresh flavours, or just after a tranquil couple of days in one the city’s secret gardens, the Open Garden Squares Weekend has the garden for you. Discover a new place to treasure this weekend.

  • Where will you be visiting this weekend? Let us know via twitter @NTExtAffairs or in the comments box below!

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