London’s gardens and hidden treats!

London is so full of hidden treats that even those of us who live here don’t know about them all.  One special annual event called Open Garden Squares Weekend is a brilliant way to get out and about and see some special places, many of which are closed to visitors the rest of the year. One ticket gives you access to over 200 venues all across London so the race is on to see as many as possible! 

It was a very busy weekend so I’ll just bring you the highlights here:

In Kennington you can rest and grab a coffee in the courtyard garden of the Jamyang Buddhist Centre. Peaceful in the sunshine you can muse on the previous use of this space as the exercise yard for the Old Kennington Courthouse where inmates included the Kray twins and Charlie Chaplin’s father (arrested for not providing for his sons!)


Walworth Garden Farm was very keen on promoting wildlife and there were bees buzzing around but I loved this wooden butterfly bench best. 

Iliffe Yard featured in the film the Kings Speech and houses interesting looking studios but we had to focus on the wonderful climbing garden or we’d never get round our list of gardens! 

Our next stop was an extraordinary place and a real treat – Garden Barge Square, a floating village and the oldest moorings in London, in use for over 150 years. Sizeable barges are moored here – mostly Dutch – and all the gangways are made from other barges planted up as gardens so there is greenery everywhere. You’d expect just small plants, flowers and herbs, but they have some substantial trees as well and the little lights strung along the way made us want to return after nightfall to see what must be a magical sight.  You are in the middle of some great views, west to Tower Bridge and east to Canary Wharf and boats are passing all the time so it’s a bit wobbly as their wash goes past.  I must have passed these boats many times on the boat to Greenwich and never realised that this treat, this ‘garden square’, was hiding on the river bank. The gardens started when a self seeding wildflower was spotted in the 1980s and this happy accident inspired what we see now, a haven, a hidden treasure, a wildlife home, something unique.  It’s a private residence and only open for this special weekend event so we were delighted to have found it.

Greenery everywhere
One of the gangways
Old boats – some in use, some become gardens
East to Canary Wharf

On the way out we spotted this balcony coming out of an old converted warehouse – good to keep the river theme going!

How’s this for a balcony?

This area of London, south bank of the Thames, east of Tower Bridge is full of old warehousing which was definitely worth a photo…

The Brunel Museum has a small garden and they had laid on a bar, music and an open fire for toasting marshmallows!  But the unexpected treat was a chance to visit the tunnel built by I.K. Brunel’s dad under the Thames. Although it’s not a garden it’s well worth a mention as it was open as part of this special weekend.

Brunel Museum Garden

The tunnel shaft is one end of the first ever tunnel built under a river, the Thames Tunnel, dating from 1843 with a fascinating history.  Visitors are rarely let in so we eagerly crawled through the rather tiny entrance into the dark, down the scaffolding stairway. We gasped when we saw the huge open space and our wonderful guide, the museum director, told us tales of how the fashionable crowd used to walk through the tunnels browsing in the arcade shops – it was quite the thing to do before the railways came. Once there was even a huge underground banquet with the Duke of Wellington dining in style.

Now, the tunnel is part of the Overground network and you can look back into the tunnels from Wapping but this huge shaft, sitting above the tracks and separated by a new floor, is a wonder to visit. The Brunel Museum are planning concerts in the tunnel shaft this summer so look out for these!



The stairway into the hall
The huge space- the chairs on the floor give you  some scale
Natural light comes into the shaft


Looking back into the tunnel from Wapping

The Sunday dawned without the glorious sunshine of the previous day but we had a couple more gardens to squeeze in so undeterred we went to Chiswick House. There we saw their formal Italian gardens before heading off to the private residence of Dolphin Square to have a nose around the gardens normally closed to visitors.

Chiswick House gardens


The Dolphin Square fountain

The final stop was the newly planted area just in front of Battersea Power station. Huge plans are in place for the redevelopment of this iconic building after decades of failed ideas and there is a real sense of anticipation that this time it will re-emerge and be fabulous again. They have a great display of what the power station has been used for since its closure (including as a set for Batman!) and what it will become. I can’t wait to see this area reopen in about 3 to 4 years as a real destination.

It’s a huge site


Iconic towers


Batman with the power station windows behind him


New planting

We took a well earned rest after a great weekend.  London has hidden treasures you can visit any time and It’s Your London knows a few good ones so do get in touch!

Bye for now,

London’s largest roof top bar!

This week’s highlights were a massive bar opening, a black cab tour and nosing around some beautiful private gardens – the usual great mix!

The Trafalgar Hotel (on Trafalgar Square of course) have revamped their rooftop bar and it is now the largest in London so they threw a brilliant party to celebrate its opening. The weather was a worry as it had rained on and off during the day but we were lucky and the clouds held off raining but gave us dramatic skies. The views over Trafalgar Square and toward the London Eye and Houses of Parliament are exceptional and add to that a great bar, lots of heaters, big umbrellas, a covered area with a second bar, it all adds up to a great venue. We were treated to champagne all night and a special performance by the lovely Beverley Knight in the stage/DJ area. Ice sculptures, dancers and fire throwers all added to the party atmosphere. What a great night!
Photos are: the ice sculpture; Trafalgar Square view; the outside and mobile bar!; Houses of Parliament and Big Ben; the London Eye and a gathering storm; Nelson’s column almost at eye level; sunset over London; and, the lovely Beverley Knight – yes I was in the front of the crowd!




As a special treat for a great group of London bloggers, John the Cabby (as he’s known on twitter @Johnthecabby) took us round his tour of London for a couple of hours. It’s always fun travelling in a cab and John has his own commentary as we pass by the great sights of London. Given the combined knowledge in the cab (the other 4 are masterminds – Laura, Ian, Tom and Matt), John’s challenge was to find something new to us all. He really excelled and even found a doorway which he’d not seen before – the entrance to a 17th prison just by Parliament! Thanks John for a brilliant morning!



Photos: yours truly pretending to be a cabby; the real thing!; and, the plaque giving the details of our new find.

It was Open Garden Squares Weekend so we set off with our trusty Oyster card and a £7.50 ticket giving us entry to every garden and tried to work our way through a list of gardens not normally open to the public. We strolled around: the residents’ gardens by Regents Park with a famous underpass formerly used by posh nannies looking to get their charges to sleep; a tiny garden at the Academy Hotel; a Japanese roof top garden at the University of London; a strip of garden along a side street trying to make the most of a precious piece of inner city green; a perfect garden square in Bloomsbury; a tranquil oasis just by the Mall; the palatial lawns at Marlborough House (with a royal pet cemetery!) and, the spacious private gardens of Cadogan Place. The last one was our favourite and not just because they had a jazz band and were serving freshly made Pimms! We bare touched the surface of the list of 200+ gardens but felt we’d poked our noses into some new areas and seen loads of wonderful plants and expertly cared for gardens.




Photos are: The Academy Hotel garden; the Carlton House gardens; Marlborough House lawn and royal pet cemetery; and, the jazz tent at Cadogan Place.

Bye for now , Sue







Happy Birthday your Majesty!

This week saw the official birthday of the Queen, her real one is in April but she has a second one when all the pomp and circumstance is rolled out. We got our spot opposite Buckingham Palace at 9am, way ahead of the crowds and waited in the sunshine while men on horses, men in carriages and men on foot kept themselves busy and all dressed up in their very shiniest uniforms. Then finally the royals rolled out in their carriages and there she was – very smiley and with Prince Philip who was completely submerged in a huge bearskin! There was more marching than you can imagine and a 41 gun salute from Green Park. The bands played all the usual marching tunes including one loved by the England football fans which made me wonder whether that had been put into the programme in honour of the evening’s World Cup match against the USA (I’ll gloss over that result!) And for the royal spotters here’s a photo of the classic line up on the Buckingham Palace balcony – see how many you know and yes, Harry was missing!


It was Open Garden Squares Weekend in London when hundreds of gardens are open to the public many of which are private and inaccessible to non residents. A single tickets gives you entry to them all so I rushed around to pack in several of the more unusual including the roof top garden on the Ismaili mosque in South Kensington, where no photos were allowed but you could get access to their modern styled prayer room – even to women. The guide managed to explain the background to the Ismailis in a few minutes so we all left with a better understanding. One of the stars of the weekend was the Kensington Roof Gardens which is a private club and restaurant owned by Richard Branson where the gardens on a sunny day make you feel like you are on a Spanish holiday. They famously have flamingos living there to add to the exotic feel and they are beautifully pink. Other gardens I visited were so big they felt more like parks but there were also tiny treasures just big enough for the houses that surrounded them but all spoke of a life of substantial money and luxury….


Another London treat was the live screening in Trafalgar Square from the Royal Opera House of 3 ballets. This was a wonderful treat as the tickets for the indoor version are terribly expensive and to see it for free with great sound and picture quality was huge fun if a little chilly as it was a particularly poor evening. The programme was 2 modern ballets, Chroma and Tryst followed by a more traditional Symphony in C and to my surprise it was Chroma that mesmerised me with its raw passion and driving score. The dancers wore just singlets and knickers and no ballet shoes so it felt very different to what you would expect from the Opera House and Wayne McGregor’s choreography was completely engaging at all times. These 2 photos show you how the screen works with a close up on Chroma and a shot of the inside of the Royal Opera House to see how the other half enjoyed the show.
A new local pizza restaurant to mention this week – Otto. Started by a couple of young guys who love cornmeal pizza bases and huge toppings. They’ve just opened and started with such a bang that they ran out of food on their first night! Luckily they had restocked by mid week and served a very tasty pepperoni pizza but it does fill you up so certainly go for a half each. They’ve taken over an old cafe which never seemed to work and have kept the casual cafe feel while making it more welcoming so I wish them well.
It’s all world cup for the next month with Wimbledon squeezed in as well as Royal Ascot horse racing so fingers crossed for good weather!
Bye for now,