Now it’s spring, it’s time to think about gardens in Kensington. Of course the obvious place to go is Kensington Gardens – though personally I find it’s a park that looks better in summer and autumn than in early spring – but Kensington and Chelsea are full of smaller and less well known gardens which are worth discovering.
One particularly fascinating garden is the Wildlife Garden at the Natural History Museum. It’s not there just to look nice; it’s a scientific endeavour, and a breeding ground for all sorts of interesting species. Where else can you find a tree with a door that opens? Look inside, and you can see the honey bee colony. Moorhens bring up their chicks on the little pond, while later in the year you’ll be able to see dragonflies shimmering over the water, and Dartmoor sheep arrive in late summer to graze. Although it’s right in the middle of Kensington, it has a remarkably rural feeling – if your trip doesn’t let you get outside of London, you can still claim to have visited the English countryside.
A completely different kind of garden can be found nearby, on top of the Ismaili Centre. This rooftop garden is modelled on the Mughal ‘char bagh’, a square garden divided by four pathways with a central fountain. Stern geometry meets lush greenery in this Koranic view of heaven, with the sound of flowing water ever-present. It’s not often open, though Open Squares in June and the London Open House weekend later in the year usually give you a chance to visit.
A much less formal pair of gardens can be found at St Mary Abbots church in Kensington Church Street. The churchyard is full of daffodils which have made themselves at home, while the little Alec Clifton-Taylor memorial garden commemorates the architectural historian who made his home in Kensington for many years. I particularly like to drop into this little garden when I’ve been shopping nearby.
Perhaps the most relaxing gardens in Chelsea are Ranelagh Gardens, tucked away behind the Royal Hospital. The eighteenth-century pleasure gardens and rotunda have long gone, but a nineteenth-century redesign has left a hidden garden of shady walks running down towards the river. A particular, slightly odd attraction is the flock of green parakeets that squeal in the tree-tops and flash through the sky like tiny electric sparks.
Nearby is the Royal Avenue, one of those terribly formal London spaces that somehow still manages to feel quite natural and even lush; great mature trees on either side concealing the terraced houses behind, and a sandy avenue between them. It was originally meant to go all the way to Kensington Palace, but the King’s Road proved an impassable barrier, so there it stopped, a peculiarly English compromise.
Further down the King’s Road, St Luke’s Gardens took over the churchyard as long ago as 1881. In the shade of the tall neo-gothic church, you’ll find cherry blossom in the spring, lurid tropical lilies and even palm trees in summer.
Cherry blossom viewing, of course, is something of a Japanese speciality – but it’s also a Kensington and Chelsea custom. There’s a fine cherry tree in Roper’s Gardens, on Cheyne Walk, which commemorates the visit of Gunji Koizumi, who introduced judo to the UK; but the best of all, of course, are in the Kyoto Garden in Holland Park, one of my all-time London favourites.
Concierge Tip: Get the very most out of the spring gardens in Kensington by taking advantage of our Advance Purchase Rate and receive a whopping 1o% off our best available rate (booking at least 14 days prior to arrival).