I visited a few of the gardens taking part in London’s Open Garden Squares Weekend yesterday, starting with the British Medical Association Council garden, one of the gardens that you can’t normally visit as a member of the public.
This garden sits within the complex of buildings that make up the British Medical Association headquarters, and can only be reached by passing the war memorial (with it’s four imposing figures and the fountain based around the ancient medical symbol, the caduceus) and then walking through the building. As it is enclosed by buildings on three sides the garden is quite compact, but manages to squeeze in raised walkways, a semi-circular pond and even a sundial. It has some rather intriguing planters too…
On the way to my next private space I passed through the only municipal square that I would be visiting today – Russell Square. I think it’s fair to say that for many years this square was rather overlooked by Camden, the local authority that manages it, but these days its a bright and airy space, having been remodelled in 2002 to bring it back to something resembling the original early 19th century plans. It now incorporates some rather 21st century features however, including a modern glass-walled cafe and a central fountain feature. To mark Open Garden Squares Weekend, the square rang today with the sound of Mr Punch, as they’d put up a rather more 19th century attraction to entertain younger visitors.
My next visit was the one I was most looking forward to – having sat on the benches outside the fence on numerous occasions I’ve always been intrigued about what lies inside Bedford Square, which you’ll find just behind Tottenham Court Road. This particular space can only be accessed with a key, which you can only obtain if you happen to be lucky enough to work for one of the companies that overlooks the square as there are no residents these days. It has, however, been home to many notable people over the years, including Sir Edwin Lutyens who designed the Cenotaph on Whitehall and large parts of New Delhi. It’s a beautifully calm space, with planting around the edges and a large lawn in the centre dotted with mature trees. The site even has an intact summerhouse which has been on the square for nearly 200 years.
The penultimate place I visited yesterday was also the most modern – a Japanese roof-garden on top of the newest building at the University of London’s School of Oriental And African Studies. It features a rock garden and some pleasantly shaded benches where you can look out over the rest of the campus. There’s also a gallery on the ground floor which features work by some of the students…
My final destination over the Open Garden Squares Weekend was much less grand than the other locations – the Calthorpe Project. This is a community garden which was established after a long battle by the community to prevent an office development on the site. It has some lovely features, including a submerged walkway and seating area which are constantly in the shade, and some very colourful tiled walkways. There are also pieces of naive art by local artists, and its clearly popular with local people given the groups that were relaxing in the space yesterday.
If you’re interested in seeing a bit more, you can see all of the photographs that I took here. Of course most of the places that have taken part over the weekend are open to members of the public – perhaps consider wandering through a few of them next time you’re in London. Bloomsbury in particular is worth a visit for its public squares alone.