Some Not so Secret Gardens of London…

This is Dave’s last workday at his conference and tomorrow we will do our last bits of sightseeing together. Today I set out to find a few small gardens that are off the beaten track and not in the tourist guides. After three very warm days at the beginning of the week today is cold and windy with a good amount of drizzle. My pink umbrella and I hop on the bus to St. Paul’s Cathedral with the printout from TimeOut London, a publication focusing on the obscure but wonderful things to see and do in the city. As I walk toward my first destination I see a wonderful garden right in front of me smack in the middle of the financial district which is pretty much tall buildings and cement.


This garden covers the burial grounds on the site of the former nave of Christchurch Greyfriars which was taken over by the Corporation of London in 1931. The ruins of the church’s wall form a spectacular backdrop for this simple but very lush garden. The rose garden was laid out in 1989 and is designed to match the floorpans of the former Wren Church. The central flagstone paved aisle is flanked on either side by box hedged beds which represent the original position of the pews. The structures which support climbing roses and clematis are copies of the wooden surrounds which decorated the original stone pillars.





The palette is restrained and the pinks, blues and purples are set off by lots of rich green foliage and a number of silver leafed plants. The beds are not rigidly planted but organized in drifts which mound and merge. In addition to the roses, butterfly bush, agapanthus and penstemon pictured above the beds overflowed with hydrangeas, daylilies, rockrose, abelia, lamb’s ear and bearded iris. While some of these were not in bloom it was obvious that the garden is tended with loving hands. Everything was healthy and green and well dead-headed. Christchurch Greyfriars Garden was as close to perfect as one could get to my personal gardening aesthetic. I am so glad I stumbled over it!


This garden was opened in 1880 and is made up of the churchyards of St. Leonards, Foster Lane, St. Botolph, Aldergate and the graveyard of Christchurch, Newgate. It is home to the famous Watts Memorial, built in 1900 as  tribute to heroic men, women and children who lost their lives coming to the aid of others. The ceramic plaques are attached to a building side and protected by a tiled roof.  Benches provide a spot for quiet reflection. The plant materials in this park sheltered by buildings on all sides were not particularly interesting or in good condition but I would not have missed these unique ceramic plaques created by artist G. F. Watts for the world. The deaths memorialized date back to the 1860s and the most recent I saw was 2007.




The weather having cleared up a little I decided to cross the River Thames in search of this garden–its story was so compelling! A short bus ride dropped me off at the based of London Bridge and I walked a few blocks to Red Cross Way and the site of the Red Cross Building in the 1800s. The base of the London Bridge is dominated by the Southwark Cathedral and as I was trying to figure out which way to go I had a bird’s eye view of the cathedral’s gorgeous herb garden–see that next!

Red Cross Garden was part of London social reformer Octavia Hill’s pioneering social housing scheme, which consisted of two rows of Tudor revivalist cottages and a community hall. The garden predates the buildings and was laid out in 1887 and was created to “provide an open air sitting room for the tired inhabitants of Southwark”. The garden in its present form includes benches, a pond and very small bandstand in addition to lawn and curving beds. A larger, newer covered area has been added and the garden is promoted as a location for small weddings. The cottages form the backdrop for the garden and they are occupied as rentals. They are tiny, tiny, tiny! The front doors can be not more than 2 feet wide. There is a small circle of lawn with a sign indicating that it is a ‘Whisper Lawn’, meaning to advise visitors to be respectful of the cottages’ residents.



Gorgeous palette of pink, white and silver!



What else can I say–beautifully executed. The greens glow against the cathedral’s stone walls.


UP NEXT: A Garden Out of the Ashes

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