Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

The Gates Are Open; from Sumptuous Georgian Gardens to More Homely Spaces, Find out What Lies Behind the Railings of London's Historic Garden Squares. Homes & Property

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

The Gates Are Open; from Sumptuous Georgian Gardens to More Homely Spaces, Find out What Lies Behind the Railings of London's Historic Garden Squares. Homes & Property

Article excerpt

Byline: JANE BARRY

FOR the eighth year running, London's secret gardens are opening to the public. During Open Garden Squares Weekend (11-12 June) you can explore the delights of more than 100 of the capital's 640 historic garden squares.

Many are residents-only and normally just a tantalising glimpse of foliage through the railings.

For the first time, the event takes in garden squares in Islington and Hackney, while highlights include the Japanese roof garden owned by The School of Oriental and African Studies in Bloomsbury's Russell Square, and the community garden at Bonnington Square, Vauxhall, which features a 30ft water wheel and a boat sailing on a sea of wisteria.

Garden squares are a unique part of our cityscape. Long before the Victorians created public parks, Georgian developers laid out open, rustic spaces to compensate residents for the erosion of the real countryside.

Nowadays, these urban oases of tranquil greenery are more valued than ever.

According to estate agent Knight Frank, one of the sponsors of Open Weekend, a property overlooking a garden square can fetch 35 per cent more than a similar home in a neighbouring street.

Our growing enthusiasm for our heritage has also had its effect. Garden squares have seen tough times in the past 60 years, despoiled of their railings during the Second World War and vandalised by unsuitable innovations in the Sixties and Seventies. But proud square-owners are restoring authentic-looking wrought-iron work, rooting out overgrown Victorian shrubs and recreating the original garden designs.

Ernest Lee, gardener to the Belgrave Estate, owned by Grosvenor, has been carrying out the restoration of two of London's grandest squares, Belgrave and Eaton. "They've been upgraded in terms of plants," he explains. "The trees have been pruned, we've installed self-watering systems and improved the soil. At Eaton Square, we've put in a little walkthrough garden with different grasses, such as a hidden maze."

Grade II-listed and originally designed by the Grosvenor family, both Belgrave and Eaton Square gardens, jointly managed by the Grosvenor Estate and residents' garden committees, were first established in the 1840s.

The restoration is part of a management plan for all Grosvenor's garden squares. "We review the history of the gardens," says Grosvenor's Nigel Hughes, "and get them back to the original as far as one can."

While the grander squares tend to be managed by landlords, some residents of smaller squares are more hands-on. All 40 homeowners o f Here ford Square, South Kensington, make up the committee that runs the garden and employs the gardener.

The garden was used as a baseball ground by US soldiers during the Second World War, but the residents have restored it to its original 1848 design and pay [pounds sterling]75 each a year towards its upkeep, which is also funded by the London Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. …

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