Tucked away and out of sight are London's fabulous secret gardens. Discover the perfect place for al fresco events with our round-up of top 10 secret gardens. Just don't tell anyone else...
With summer fast approaching (a couple of sunny days and we're anybody's) we're turning our attention to London's often hidden outside event spaces. Of course, all these event spaces also have indoor options for the first sign of inclement weather but there's a certain mystique to these frequently quirky outside spaces, all of which have a rich history having withstood the ever encroaching City-scape within which they are nestled (or, shoehorned as the case may be!).
Never underestimate the power of a beautifully presented natural event space.
One of the best weddings I've ever been to was one of the simplest and least lavish. Two of the most successful entrepreneurs I know are also two of the most creative people I know and, a few years ago, they got married. They could have spent a fortune on their wedding but they didn't. They got creative. Instead they staged a mysterious Mad Hatter's garden party in their own country garden and it was so simple, yet undeniably magical. Their entire garden was awash with hundreds of little lanterns hanging from the trees and they'd cut several metal barrels in half for sporadic open fires and barbecue buffets (the idea was that you cooked your own). It was the most basic yet best wedding reception I've ever known (even though I wasn't doing a speech at this one!). Funnily enough, I recently compered their tenth wedding anniversary at their now, much bigger, country house and, needless to say, the guitar came out! I've got a sensational ghost story about these guys too but that's for another time...!
The point is that these spaces are magical, whatever the weather, and coupled with their equally high quality indoor options, they're definitely worth considering for your summer events programme.
And if you don't have a summer events programme, then get one, because face-to-face events (however modest or lavish) are statistically proven to be the most successful means of sales and marketing after websites and that’s a fact!
Here are our Top 10 to get you started:
1. Cannon Bridge Roof Gardens
Anyone for croquet? This venue is so secret that you approach it via somebody's Cannon Street offices - up the lift, through the office, out of a fire escape door, up a spiral staircase and WOW (even WTF!), this is awesome!
With one of the finest lawns you've ever seen and possibly the greatest rooftop views of Tower Bridge as well as up and down the Thames, Cannon Bridge Roof Gardens, with the famous station several storeys below is undoubtedly one of the best venues in London.
I still remember the first time I went up there with Moving Venue Caterers, several years ago, and I even remember the result of the most surreal game of croquet I've ever had (I won, of course!). With an eclectic and plentiful array of canapés and Champagne laid on in the pretty rooftop pavilion/marquee this venue is the perfect indoor/outdoor city venue space with absolutely breathtaking views. It’s still a bit of a hidden gem too.
2. Warren House
One of my favourite venues in London, Warren House is a stately home in miniature, nestled in the West London 'countryside', a stone's throw from central London yet in a world of its own. Set in it’s own four acre parkland in sunny (sometimes!) Kingston-Upon-Thames, Warren House has the added benefit of being custom-renovated for conferences and events, yet without being institutionalized in almost any way at all. With 46 beautiful bedrooms, each unique in their own way as well as a spa, two bar areas, a restaurant and a Victorian ‘country garden’ style terrace area, Warren House has a stunning secret garden complete with water features and a maginificent rococo grotto.
3. Century Club
Nestled amongst the chimney pots, above the fifth floor, is the largest private roof terrace in Soho. And it’s a really cool space too. I’ve attended PR Agency and various other ‘meeja’ parties here. An old school friend (who’s the Retail Editor of The Daily Telegraph) is also a member and he gave me the inside track on a very clever idea the owner had a couple of years ago.
Century underwent a major refurb/upgrade and, to pay for it, many of the members made advance bar payments to give the Club the cash to do something extra special with the place. They then drank their investment over the ensuing few months (or weeks, as the case may be!).
One of the upgrades was their fabulous roof terrace, complete with new retractable roof, making this central London events venue completely weather-proof. With stunning views over the West End, Century Soho is a great inner sanctum for parties and events, particularly in media circles...
4. The Home House garden
As one of the most high profile private members’ clubs in London, it’s surprising that more people don’t know about their utterly fabulous garden. Guests make a suitably grand entrance via the impressive Venetian Window style rotunda portico at the rear of the building and are immediately seduced by the beautifully manicured pebble garden and its veritable piece de resistance, the central open-sided Raj tent. Flanked by luscious borders and the beautifully classical foliage-clad mews house at the far end, this central mecca is a simply stunning location for summer soirees and receptions. It’s particularly good during Wimbledon as they have big screens (and an abundance of strawberries and cream, of course). This summer Home House is partnering with Moët et Chandon to create a fabulous champagne bar in the garden.
5. Shoreditch House rooftop
If there was a London Riviera, this would be it. Although it’s ironic that the venue is nowhere near the river but you know what I mean!
Following a recent re-vamp, the members’ only (unfortuanately!) sixth floor at this modern classic London venue is a jewel in the crown of London’s rapidly expanding skyline.
The epitome of urban cool, New York style, the Shoreditch House rooftop is, by default and by design, one of London’s coolest locations to look, feel and, let’s face it, be cool at.
6. The Barbican
Often overlooked (and I don’t mean from on high) this indoor tropical garden is amazing! Imagine the Reptile House at London Zoo without the excessive heat (or excessive smell!) and you’ll probably come up with something close to this almost ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ fairty-tale style oasis of twisted and vibrantly coloured undergrowth.
Huge waterfalls and concrete half-pipes channel rushing water to cascading crechendos and vertical gardens climb the surrounding soaring concrete towers taming their brutal dominance and transforming them into majestic monuments.
7. The Hurlingham Club
Set in an astonishing 42 acres of landscaped gardens, the Hurlingham Club is a beautiful white neo-classical building on the Thames in Fulham and a relic (for want of a better word!) of a bygone era – an era where a swathe of polo fields stretched as far as the eye could see, across this hidden little corner of West London, where there are now four (albeit, very expensive!) tenement blocks.
An era where one would don a boater and spend a leisurely afternoon sipping a gin in the mature ornamental gardens watching the sun set over Putney. It may now be more ‘screaming jets on final descent into Heathrow’ (although significantly quieter at around 4pm, now Concorde isn’t around) and beeping horns but, having said that, it’s still a beautiful location in a relatively tranquil oasis on the inner Thames, which is rare.
What’s more, you can now even arrive by boat as they have their own private pier at the bottom of the gardens. With world class events such as the BNP Paribas tennis Classic and Polo in the Park, the Hurlingham Club is a hidden gem that demands to be rediscovered (again!).
8. Kensington Roof Gardens
The classic outside space in London and, arguably, the best roof garden anywhere in the world. It's certainly one of the oldest and, having been planted some seventy five years ago as the coffee area for a Kensington department store, it's actually a natural London park because its grown organically and has taken on a life of its own for almost a hundred years!
What's really fascinating is that the entire one and half acre garden sits upon just eighteen inches of soil, yet trees have found a way to thrive and grow to their natural size. If you ignore the sensational views you really would believe you were in Regent’s Park. What's more, their beautifully cultivated Italianate Gardens, cloisters, ponds (complete with famous flamingos) and terraces make a sensational series of outdoor and indoor event spaces which would rival any on earth, regardless of whether they're suspended within the London skyline or not!
Amazingly, the office space below has never suffered from a leak or breach of any kind due to the original waterproof skin which was laid all those years ago when the department store first came up with this crazy idea - a great example of old school ingenuity, engineering and attention to detail. This space is so versatile you can even crane cars onto the roof for car launches (it’s a long way up though)!
9. Drapers' Hall garden
Perfect for summer parties and events, this tranquil oasis of calm in the heart of the City benefits from pedestrianised walkways flanking all sides of the manicured square.
Famous for movies such as Goldeneye and the King’s Speech, filmed on location here, Draper’s Hall is one of those rare combinations – beautiful on the inside as well as the outside!
10. The House of St.Barnabas
This enchanting garden is a small and secluded oasis in the otherwise bustling Soho. What makes this courtyard extra special is the huge, mature tree which, as a resident, you'd almost certainly want to chop down, for all sorts of logistical reasons not least because of its light blockage (who needs light in an ancient church yard though) and its root systems which are probably intrinsically intertwined with all the neighbouring foundations now, anyway.
The net result though is a magical hidden space, ivy clad and dominated by the magic faraway tree. At night, it's stunning. Awash with sympathetically situated up lighters, the garden at the House of St.Barnabus is a little known secret garden, perfect for evening soirees in the heart of the West End, yet somehow, a million miles away!
And in at number 11: Crowne Plaza Kensington
Who would have ever imagined that behind the glittering façade of Cromwell Road's boutique Crowne Plaza Hotel lies one of the biggest and most impressive private gardens in London? With a sensational and expansive lawn, this secret outdoor space really is magical, especially in summertime as it's not overlooked and it's almost entirely secluded, backed onto by a large Church. There's a large tented structure too, enabling you to transform the garden into a winter wonderland, especially if they switch on their snow machine…(Yep, they've even got one of those!)
And finally, I can’t bear to write an article on garden event spaces without mentioning Greenwich. And, by Greenwich, I mean actual Greenwich. Pretty much the whole place, especially the Observatory and Inigo Jones’ original 1632 masterpiece, the Queen’s House, which was, incidentally, the first classical Italian building in the UK and inspired by the great Andrea Palladio.
These vast and majestic sweeping lawns have been greatly enhanced by the gargantuan rise of Canary Wharf opposite, juxtaposing the ornate classical Capability Brown landscape with the glistening reflective towers of modern London, creating a spectacular paradox spanning multiple eras. In effect, the dawn of neo-classicism may be dwarfed by Canary Wharf, but it is in height alone as they majestically co-exist to create a stunning backdrop for events of distinction.
Here comes the sun…
Will Broome CEO