There are so much to do in London from the Houses of Parliament, Buckingham Palace, Tower of London, London Eye to the numerous art galleries, museums, churches, cafes, restaurants etc but here are a few of the Capital’s most amazing gardens.
Chelsea Physic Garden Charity | SW3 4HS
The Chelsea Physic Garden is an oasis, hidden in the heart of Chelsea, just off the Royal Hospital Road and a ten-minute walk from Sloane Square Tube station. It’s the oldest botanic garden in London and has a shop and café. Join one of the free tours of the garden or take part in one of their numerous workshops, family activity days or their popular Thursday Supper Talks – check their website for details.
HISTORY: The Worshipful Society of Apothecaries first established the Apothecaries Garden in 1673 on land leased from Sir John Danvers. When Sir Hans Sloane bought the adjoining Manor of Chelsea from Charles Cheyne, Sir Hans offered four acres of land on a lease to the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries of £5.00 a year in perpetuity; the Physic Garden still pays this amount to Sir Hans’s descendants. Trained as an apprentice under John Watts, Sir Hans appointed Philip Miller as Head Gardener in 1722. William Forsyth succeeded Miller in 1771 and created the Pond Rockery, Robert Fortune made several changes to the garden in 1840s while under the leadership of Thomas Moore, the Physic Garden had the best collection of medicinal plants in England. The garden is divided into different areas and includes the Garden of Medicinal Plants, the Pharmaceutical Garden, the Garden of Edible and Useful Plants and the World Woodland Garden.
The gardens are open for eleven months of the year; they close towards the end of December but open again in January for the snowdrop season, ‘Heralding Spring’. The Garden is wheelchair accessible as the paths are flat and laid with small pea shingle. The tropical glasshouses are more difficult to manoeuvre as there is not much turning room inside. Dogs are not allowed. There is a café and shop on site.
Chiswick House and Gardens Trust | W4 2RP
The nearest tube station to Chiswick House is Turnham Green on the District Line. There is a pay and display car park nearby but as this can sometimes be closed for events, public transport is recommended. Chiswick is a remarkable example of a neo-Palladian house set within sixty-five acres of gardens with ponds, fountains and an eighteenth century wilderness. They are deserved winners of the Heritage Parks and Garden Award 2019 as well as the Walled Garden of the Year Award 2019. Chiswick is also celebrating the 10th Anniversary of the Camellia Show which runs from 12th March until 5th April 2020 and is a wonderful opportunity to see their collection of 33 different species in the Grade 1 listed Conservatory.
HISTORY: Sir Edward Seymore sold Chiswick House to the 1st Earl of Burlington in 1682. Burlington commissioned Colen Campbell to build a new villa which by 1733 was linked to the old house by a gallery. In 1788, the 5th Duke demolished the seventeenth century house, replacing it with two wings on either side of the villa; these were removed in 1956. Burlington began the layout of the gardens in 1717 while further changes were made in the late nineteenth century. The gardens include a series of compartments which are decorated with garden buildings, urns and statues, with avenues, Ionic Temple, amphitheatre, cascade as well as the Italian Garden, Wilderness, Napoleon’s Walk and Classical Bridge. It is now maintained by the Chiswick House and Gardens Trust.
There is no charge for visiting the Gardens and the Conservatory and they are open every day of the year – the café is closed on Christmas Day. The majority of the paths within the gardens are level or gently undulating and have a smooth gravel surface. The steep incline on the Classic Bridge can be avoided by taking a short signed detour around the Norther end of the serpentine lake. The Conservatory is fully accessible to wheelchair users. Dogs are allowed.
#3 Ham House
National Trust | TW10 7RS
The most fun way to visit Ham House is along the Thames Path. Turn left out of the tube at Richmond (District Line), walk straight down to the river via Water Lane and then turn left again – it takes about thirty minutes. The seventeenth gardens have recently been restored and are planted with flowers that were available during that period. If you have time, visit the house which is filled with treasures and is reputed to be one of the most haunted in Britain. And after visiting Ham House, cross the Thames on the Hammerton Ferry and visit Marble Hill to discover that a landscape waiting to be restored to its former glory. From here, walk back along the River to Twickenham Bridge and retrace your footsteps to Richmond.
HISTORY: Built in 1610 for Sir Thomas Vavsour, Ham House was enlarged and remodelled in 1670s for the Duke and Duchess of Lauderdale. After Lauderdale’s death, the house was lived in by his widow and then passed to her son, the third Earl of Dysart. The house and gardens were restored in 1720s with some later alterations in nineteenth century. In 1948, the estate was given to the National Trust by Sir Lyonel Tollemache and Mr Cecil Tollemache. The gardens have been extensively restored by the National Trust and include the Cherry Garden, hornbeam arbours, Melancholy Walk, Rose Garden, Wilderness and the Orangery.
The gardens are open every day of the year. There is level access in the gardens with paths made up of gravel and cobbles. Dogs are allowed and there is a café on site.
#4 Marble Hill
English Heritage | TW1 2NL
After visiting Ham House, catch the Hammerton Ferry across the Thames to Marble Hill. This is an opportunity to see a landscape that at the moment is a public park but after being awarded a grant by National Lottery, English Heritage has plans ‘to open up the house more often, revive the landscape and…improve the facilities across the park’. With the help of a detailed plan made c1749, English Heritage will recreate the gardens as well as ‘a ninepin bowling alley, flower gardens, terraces and serpentine paths.’
HISTORY: The Palladian villa was built between 1724 and 1729 by Henrietta Howard who was mistress to the Prince of Wales, later George II. She created the gardens with advice from Charles Bridgeman and Alexander Pope. The Ice House and one of the two Grottoes can still be seen in the Park although they are both closed to the public.
Marble Hill is open every day of the year. There is open access with grass and tarmac paths. The Grotto is not accessible by wheelchair as there are steps down to it while the Ice House is closed to the public. Dogs are allowed.
Historic Royal Palaces | KT8 9AU
If visiting Hampton Court Palace from central London either drive (there is a car park on site although please note they do not allow dogs to be left in the car at ANY time of the year and while dogs are allowed in parts of the garden, they are not allowed in the house, formal gardens or maze) or by tube to Wimbledon and then catch the South Western Railway to Hampton Court – the Palace is about a ten minute walk from the station. Home to several Kings and Queens of England, leave time to visit the Palace as well as the magnificent gardens that have been beautifully restored by the National Trust.
HISTORY: Cardinal Wolsey began building Hampton Court in 1515 but in 1528 he gave the Palace to King Henry VIII to try and regain his popularity. Henry enlarged the building and laid out the grounds although nothing remains of the garden from this period. During the seventeenth century, the gardens were developed by George London and Henry Wise for William III and Queen Mary. Features include the Rose Garden, Lower Orangery Garden, Wilderness, Kitchen Garden, Maze, the Pond Gardens as well as the Privy Garden, originally William III’s private garden which was restored in 1992. Don’t miss the Great Vine near the Orangery which was planted in 1768 when ‘Capability’ Brown was in charge of the gardens. There are also three National Plant Collections – Heliotropium, Lantana and Queen Mary II’s Exoticks which is designated a Heritage Collection.
The gardens are open all year except over the Christmas period but check the website before visiting as they can be closed for special events. Please check the website for wheelchair access. Dogs are allowed in parts of the garden but not in the Palace, Formal Gardens or Maze.
English Heritage | NW3 7JR
Take the tube to Hampstead (Northern Line) and then walk up the hill to Kenwood House, keeping the Heath on your right; it takes about thirty minutes. The house and gardens are free so leave enough time to visit the house with its wonderful collections of paintings including a self-portrait by Rembrandt. Explore the ancient woodland and landscape created by Humphry Repton as well as Henry Moore’s powerful Two Piece Reclining Figure No. 5, Barbara Hepworth’s Monolith, a memorial to Hepworth’s son Paul Skeaping and his navigator who were killed on active service with the RAF in 1953, and near the entrance Flame by Eugene Dodeigne.
HISTORY: From thirteenth to sixteenth century Caen Wood was a monastic wood which was bought in 1616 by John Bill who built the first house on the site. George Middleton leased Kenwood from the Earl of Ilay at the beginning of the eighteenth century but by 1747, the house was owned by John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute who added the Orangery for his beloved exotics. In 1754, Lord Bute sold the estate to William Murray, later 1st Earl of Mansfield who commissioned Robert Adam to remodel the house and landscape the pleasure grounds. The 2nd Earl appointed Humphry Repton to update the landscape by removing the kitchen garden and extending the terrace. Parts of the estate were sold off at the beginning of the twentieth century and the Kenwood Preservation Trust bought some of the land. In 1924, Lord Iveagh bought the house and the remaining grounds, gifting them to the Nation on his death in 1927. In 1986, Kenwood House was transferred to English Heritage.
The gardens are open all year except over the Christmas period. From the South Terrace, which has wide, level gravel paths, there are good views across the estate. Hoggin paths, which extend away from the house, may be uncomfortable to walk on and may be difficult for wheelchair visitors given dips and gradients. There are many seats along the South Terrace and Lime Avenue. Dogs are allowed and there is a café on site.
Royal Botanic Garden at Kew | TW9 3AB
No visit to London would be complete without visiting the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. The easiest way to get here is by tube to Richmond (District Line) and then walk fifteen minutes to the gates. Spanning over three hundred acres, there is always plenty to see and do from the magnificent bluebells in the Spring, to the Victorian glasshouses, the Alpine Rock Garden, the Lake, Exhibitions and Talks. Look out for the signs as you enter the gardens telling you ‘What’s looking good right now’.
HISTORY: The first reference to ‘cultivating the Physic Garden’ first appeared in the accounts of Kew in 1759. After the death of her husband, Princess Augusta had taken over the creation of the nine-acre garden with advice from John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute (who wanted the garden to ‘contain all the plants known on Earth’) and with William Aiton helping with the layout; Aiton had been assistant to Philip Miller at the Chelsea Physic Garden. The other part of Kew was created by Charles Bridgeman and William Kent for Queen Caroline who was the first monarch who allowed the public into parts of Richmond Lodge. The two properties were brought under one ownership by George III who bought the White House. King George appointed Capability Brown as landscape architect while he replaced Bute with Joseph Banks (1743-1820) as his royal adviser with Aiton becoming responsible for the day to day running of Kew. As collectors were encouraged by Banks to travel to all parts of the world and the system of inter-colonial exchange was started, it became necessary to use the whole of Kew for the ever-increasing botanic collection. One of the first undertakings of this kind was the voyage of the Bounty in 1787 to introduce bread-fruit trees from the South Seas to the West Indies.
In 1865, Joseph Hooker accepted the post of director on condition that he agreed to certain changes which included being responsible for both the Botanic Garden and Pleasure Grounds. Hooker argued that ‘Kew never was regarded as one of the Parks and never should be: its primary objects are scientific and utilitarian, not recreational.’ With the support of the Treasury, Hooker won the argument and by 1880s Kew Gardens became accepted as a national institution combining two very different factors. Firstly, it was no longer governed by Parliament and secondly Kew took a leading role in the emergence of the conservation movement which refocused Kew’s mission from serving the needs of the colonies to serving the needs of the world community through research and different projects. It’s now a World Heritage Site.
Opening times are seasonal so check out the website before visiting. The Gardens are largely flat, with tarmac paths in most places. Most of the buildings, and all the cafés and shops have level or ramped access. No dogs are allowed.
National Trust | TW7 4RB
Take the Piccadilly line towards Cockfosters and get off at Osterley Station; it’s a nineteen minute walk from the tube to the house. It’s a beautiful eighteenth century landscape park and pleasure grounds on the site of an earlier Formal Garden. It took the National Trust six years to restore the gardens from an ‘overgrown wilderness’ and they are now filled with herbaceous borders, roses and ornamental vegetable beds. Its daffodils in the Spring are magnificent.
HISTORY: In 1562, Osterley was bought by Sir Thomas Gresham who rebuilt the house and developed the garden. Gresham founded the Royal Exchange in the City of London and his bust can be seen in the Temple of British Worthies created by William Kent at Stowe. The house passed through several hands until 1752 when, on inheriting the house from his father (another financier), Sir Francis Child commissioned Robert Adam to redesign the house. It is likely that the gardens were also updated during this period from formal gardens to a landscape park. Lady Sarah Fane inherited Osterley and after her marriage to the 5th Earl of Jersey, she redeveloped the gardens; the flower beds and shrubberies were added in the twentieth century. In 1949, the 9th Earl of Jersey gave the house and part of the estate to the National Trust; part of the park remains in private ownership. The gardens are largely laid to lawn with the pleasure grounds separated from the park by a fence with various garden buildings including the Garden House, the Temple of Pan and a Chinese Temple.
The gardens are open all year round except over the Christmas period. Although the garden paths are level and constructed of compacted gravel, some of the outer paths are uneven with slopes and some cobbles. There is an accessible route around the grounds; ask at reception. Dogs are allowed in the park on leads but not in the formal gardens.
#9 Syon House
Duke of Northumberland | Historic Houses Association | TW8 8JF
Take the District Line to Gunnersbury and then take the 237 or 267 bus to Brentlea Gate; the entrance to Syon is 50 yards from the bus stop. Syon is the last remaining ducal estate in Greater London; it has been in the Northumberland family for over four hundred years. Check out the magnificent Great Conservatory designed by Charles Fowler in 1820s, the forty acres of gardens which are beautifully maintained and one hundred acres of parkland.
HISTORY: In 1547, the Duke of Somerset was given Syon Monastery and the parkland. He built a new house with raised terraces to look out over the Thames. It was here that the priest Richard Whitford argued with agents of Thomas Cromwell. However the terrace was misconstrued as the first stage of building fortifications and the Duke was charged with felony and executed in 1552. The following year, Syon was give to the 1st Duke of Northumberland who was also executed after his failed attempt to make Lady Jane Grey Queen of England. Lancelot Brown was commissioned in 1754 by Sir Hugh, 1st Duke of Northumberland to enlarge the gardens and park while Robert Adam was employed to remodel the house in 1762. The formal gardens stretch down to the River Thames and include the Wilderness, Cedar Mound, Rose Garden and various garden buildings.
The gardens are open from March until the end of October – check the website for opening times. There is limited access for wheelchairs as the grounds include a variety of surfaces, including cobblestones, flagstones, grass, gravel and wood. These can be uneven and steep in places, with steps in certain areas. Dogs are not allowed.