This weekend, London sees its nineteenth Open Garden Squares Weekend. But with over two hundred open spaces to visit, here are suggestions on how to avoid being found prostrate with exhaustion in the bushes.
The Open Garden Squares Weekend has come a long way since 1998 when it began by concentrating on the famous squares of London. These are still an important element - grand addresses like Eaton Square, Cleveland Square and Stanley Crescent welcome us hoi polloi through their normally locked gates. Some put on something of a show, with guided tours and talks, children's activities, musical performances and homemade cream teas on offer.
Around the city, though, a huge banquet of over 200 green spaces offers itself—allotments, roof gardens, community gardens, pop-up gardens. No one in their right mind can visit more than a fraction of them during the weekend.
How to get the best out of Open Garden Squares
Tempting as it is to run around like a headless chicken, driving yourself to cover “just one more” until your feet give up in protest and your partner threatens to catch a taxi and leave you (believe me, I've been there), it actually works much better if you plan ahead.
Pick an area
This is actually a great way to get to know a part of London that is unfamiliar, as gardens are often within only a few minutes' walk of each other. Notting Hill is a good area for this, but make sure you go on Sunday when most of its gardens are open, or the Barbican. Or you could choose a self-guided tour from the Open Garden Squares website, which take you round Kensington and Belgravia, among other places.
Pick a theme
Their website also has a Garden Selector with suggested themes such as gardens that are new this year, those with music or beehives (I can tell you now there are none with music and beehives). Alternatively, you can visit the Press page on the OSG website and use the search facility for a particular interest. “Forest garden” will bring up four, including the Alara Permaculture Forest Garden, which harvested over 750kg of fresh food in 2014 and has beehives, chickens and an anaerobic digester.
Pick a mode of transport
Cycling: If you don't fancy walking between gardens, then three group cycle rides are taking place (no need to book) or three self-guided rides can be downloaded from the website.
By Bus: This takes a bit more application, but by visiting the Press page again, you can search for the number of a bus route to bring up a list of gardens which mention it as one of their approach options. If you run out of gardens on that route, pick a dissecting number and start following that.
Check garden details
Once you've decided on your likely gardens, don't forget to:
- make sure that your first garden sells tickets, if you haven’t already bought them.
- cross-reference with the list of gardens selling plants (you might want to visit those last),
- check out which are serving food and drink (some will be using food they've grown)
- check which have toilets (plan to be comfortable).
If it all seems rather exhausting and you fancy someone else taking the strain, there are still places free on guided walks on Saturday and Sunday. But be quick; they're filling up fast.
Or why not pick a garden with lots going on, arrive early, and settle down to enjoy? Canary Wharf Parks and Gardens has a full programme across the weekend including a talk on Roald Dahl The Gardener, a panel discussion on Capability Brown, and a walking tour exploring the botanical background of the London Docks.
Whatever you do, now's the time to start planning.
Tickets are available in advance from the Open Garden Squares website, £12 (guidebooks will be handed out when you present your e-ticket), or over the weekend from any of the gardens selling tickets (£14 – but remember to check the first garden on your list has this facility).