London is home to a diverse variety of incredible world-famous parks and woodlands, but it’s also full of lesser-known formal gardens where you can breathe a breath of fresh air and enjoy respite from the city crowds. From vast botanical havens to private verdant spaces and the opening of Buckingham Palace Gardens this July, we’ve rounded up the best gardens in London where you can enjoy the English summer in style.
Buckingham Palace Gardens
From 9 July to 19 September, Buckingham Palace opens the gates to its private gardens to the public for the first time. Walk in the footsteps of the Royal Family and explore the gardens of Her Majesty The Queen’s official residence at your own pace – this summer, no tours are required. Discover a rich biodiverse habitat among the 39-acres green space, which is home to famous features including a 156-metre Herbaceous Border, the beautiful Horse Chestnut Avenue, trees planted by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, and a lake. Most of the 39-acre garden is open to explore freely, although a guide is needed to discover the rose garden, summer house and wildflower meadow in the southwest corner. Feast on a picnic fit for a Queen by pre-ordering and bringing along a gourmet hamper from a nearby restaurant or hotel – Dukes London offers six delicious options filled with British favourites to suit the whole family.
Entry is available from 9 July to 19 September at a cost of £16.50 for adults, £15 for concessions, £9 for children; rct.uk
Buckingham Palace, Westminster, London, SW1A 1AA
With 16 acres of gardens and meadows, urban wildlife and architectural elements, the Horniman Gardens, part of the Horniman Museum, are a hidden gem in the southwest of London. The surprisingly expansive space comprises several gardens including the colourful Sunken Garden, filled with seasonal floral displays; the Sound Garden, where guests can play musical instruments; the flower-filled Bee Garden, a haven for our pollen-loving friends; the Wildlife Garden, where visitors can learn about nature; and the Prehistoric Garden, featuring living fossils and rare trees such as the previously-thought-extinct Wollemi pine; and the Medicinal Garden. There’s also grasslands and meadows to explore or lie back and soak up the English summer sun.
Entry is available only to visitors of the Horniman Museum; horniman.ac.uk
Horniman Museum and Gardens, Amroth Cl, Dulwich, London, SE23 3BX
Cadogan Place Gardens
First laid in 1886, Cadogan Place Gardens is one of the most exclusive spaces in Chelsea. Created for the enjoyment of local residents and homeowners, the 15-acre garden is a green haven filled with mulberry trees, black bamboo, maples, magnolias and palms. It’s also home to picturesque tennis courts and the Hans Sloane Garden, adapted from an award-winning 2003 Chelsea Flower Show design which celebrated the life of famous physician Sir Hans Sloane. The gardens are closed to the public – residents must apply for membership to gain access – but the good news is they’re accessible through The Belmond Cadogan, which can provide blankets and deck chairs to guests who wish to visit.
Entry is available only to local residents and guests of The Belmond Cadogan; cadogan.co.uk
The Cadogan, A Belmond Hotel, 75 Sloane St, Chelsea, London, SW1X 9SG
CHELSEA PHYSIC GARDEN
Tucked away behind an unassuming brick wall lies one of Chelsea’s most enchanting (and little-known) private gardens. Despite being founded in 1673, this glorious botanical gem remain one of London’s best-kept secrets, meaning a visit there is always blissfully free from crowds, leaving plenty of space to explore the incredible array of rare medicinal plants and peruse Europe’s oldest rockery. This is even truer post-lockdown, where the garden is only allowing visitors with pre-booked tickets in order to monitor capacity levels. Their charming café is still open to provide takeaway cakes, pastries and ice cream, and they’ll be hosting a series of socially distanced events for families, including regular Garden Safaris.
Entry is only available through pre-booked tickets; chelseaphysicgarden.com
Chelsea Physic Garden, 66 Royal Hospital Road, London, SW3 4HS
Fulham Palace House & Garden
Spread across 13 acres by the river, this is the second oldest botanical garden in the city and is home to rare oak trees dating as far back as 450 years. The main garden features a wide range of exotic flora and fauna from around the world, planted by the Bishops of London, who used to summer here in the 17th century, while the walled garden is an urban oasis filled with fruit trees, beehives and colourful blooms. Since reopening on 29 June new measures have been brought in to ensure utmost safety, including one-way paths, increased cleaning regimes and takeaway-only options at the on-site café. Don’t miss The Bishop’s Tree, a striking modern sculpture carved from the trunk of a Cedar of Lebanon.
Tickets are not required and the garden is free for visitors, though a voluntary donation of £2 is encouraged for entry to the walled garden; fulhampalace.org
Fulham Palace House and Garden, Bishop’s Avenue, London, SW6 6EA
Chiswick House & Gardens
Nestled in the grounds of Chiswick House, a Neo-Palladian marvel in the heart of west London, these majestic gardens are often considered the first example of ‘natural’ gardens in England. Designed by renowned landscape architect William Kent, along with his mentor, Lord Burlington, rigid formality was sidelined in favour of a freer landscape, with rustic waterfalls, wild woodlands and a serpentine lake taking their place. While the house remains closed for the time being, the gardens are open for visitors looking to immerse themselves in nature and explore the 65 acres of fragrant flowerbeds, jaw-dropping vistas and 18th century wilderness.
The garden is free for visitors, though donations are welcome; chiswickhouseandgardens.org.uk
Chiswick House and Gardens, Burlington Lane, London W4 2RP
Kew’s much-loved gardens are home to the largest and most diverse botanical collection in the world. The gardens themselves have been open to the public since the beginning of June, providing a welcome haven for nature lovers in the midst of the pandemic. From 4 July they will also be opening their world famous glasshouses, meaning visitors can now enjoy the tropical wonders of the Palm House, with new Covid-19 measures being brought in to ensure visitors feel as safe as possible, including one-way systems that follow designated routes. With many holiday plans on hold this summer, a tour of the exquisite Japanese tea garden could be just the ticket some much-needed escapism.
Entry is only available through pre-booked tickets; kew.org
Kew Royal Botanic Gardens, Richmond, London, TW9 3AE
Eltham Palace Gardens
The grounds of Eltham Palace are just as beautiful as the Art Deco mansion itself. Over the centuries, the estate has played host to royalty and society leaders in its former life as a medieval palace, followed by a Tudor royal residence. Walk in the footsteps of the elite – including former owners 1930s millionaires Stephen and Virginia Courtauld – and explore the grounds, which is filled with historic features dotted between sprawling lawns, herbaceous borders and rock pools. Adding to its strong heritage, the garden is also home to London’s oldest working bridge, which takes you over one of the only moats left in the city.
Entry is available through pre-booked tickets. Choose from garden only or a house and garden package; english-heritage.org.uk
Eltham Palace, Eltham, London, SE9 5QF
Fenton House Gardens
A little-known green space in Hampstead, this historic walled garden in the grounds of Fenton Palace surrounds the 17th century mansion which was bequeathed to the National Trust by its last owner Lady Binning. Visit to discover three levels of walkways which take you through formal lawns, a rose sunken garden, a 300-year old orchard, a kitchen garden and herbaceous borders. The tiered terraces are filled with seasonal plants selected by the estate’s gardeners and overseen by gardener-in-charge Andrew Darragh. June to July is the prime season for roses as well as exotic plants such as banana plants, cannas and echiums and artichokes.
Entry is available through pre-booked tickets Friday to Sunday; nationaltrust.org.uk
Fenton House, Hampstead Grove, Hampstead, London, NW3 6SP