What if I told you that there’s a secret garden situated high above one of London’s busiest high streets. A little green space that few people know of, and even fewer visit… Would you believe me? Well, there is and it’s filled with palm trees, winding passageways and plenty of flowers. Cue: Kensington Roof Gardens, an oasis of calm in the heart of central London.
2020 update: Though the Kensington Roof Gardens have been closed for several years, there is some hope that the beautiful London destination will be re-opened to the public at some point during 2020 in the form of a Member’s Club or fine-dining Restaurant.
2019 update: Unfortunately, the Grade II listed Kensginton rooftop gardens were closed to the public in 2018. After 37 years of operation (from 1981-2018), the space was officially closed to the public and there is no word as of yet as to when (or if) the beautiful garden will ever re-open.
Kensington Roof Gardens
The green spaces of Kensington Roof Gardens are separated into three distinctive themed and styled gardens. There’s a Spanish Garden, A Tudor style garden, and an English Woodland garden. All three are worth wandering through, though my favourite was most definitely the Spanish Garden.
There are small alcoves and benches situated throughout the garden. Sitting amongst the shrubs and flowering plants, it’s hard to believe you’re atop of one of London’s busiest high streets. After all, you can barely hear the traffic and you’re surrounded by plenty of greenery!
Spanish Garden. Styled on gardens in the Alahambra, this garden is filled with vine walkways, flower beds and Moorish architecture. At the top of the garden, there’s a covered and painted walkway running the length of the garden filled with comfy seats and sofas. It’s the perfect spot to sit, admire the gardens and enjoy a refreshing drink.
Tudor Garden. This pretty little garden is characterised by its secret alcoves, hanging wisteria and archways. The garden also contains plenty of roses, lavenders and other sweet smelling flowers.
English Woodland Garden. All streams and greenery, you’ll love wandering through this little piece of paradise set to the back of the three gardens. There’s a stream with bridge and ducks, four flamingos (yes, really), and over a hundred variety of trees.
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History of Kensington Roof Gardens
Once known as Derry and Toms Roof Gardens, the gardens started out as a passion project atop of a former department store of the same name, Derry, and Toms. The gardens were founded in 1936 (3 years after the construction of the department store) and completed in 1938. The landscape artist in charge of the project was Ralph Hancock, a prominent garden landscaper of the time.
Altogether, the gardens cost £25,000- a considerable amount of money for the time. Visitors to the gardens were charged a total of one shilling each, with all proceedings being donated to local hospitals. During the thirty years which entry was charged, it’s estimated that around £120,000 was raised for local hospitals.
Since 1998, the Gardens have been Grade II listed by English Heritage, signifying their historical importance and worth to London and the rest of the UK. This listing makes it hard to change anything without express permission by the council and means that you’ll be able to experience the gardens much the same as people have for decades. Overall, the gardens comprise of 1.5 hectares of land and the soil is many inches thick– 18 to be precise- perfect for growing all manner of plants and flowers.
Via Flickr CC2.0
Visit the Roof Gardens at Kensington and Tips to know before you go!
The Kensington Roof Gardens are located at 99 Kensington High St, Kensington, London W8 5SA. The terraced gardens are easily one of the best secret spots in central London and well worth a visit on any trip to the city! They’re free to visit and are typically open to the public throughout the day, as well as some evenings. The Gardens are occasionally closed to the public for private events, so it’s best to check opening times on the website prior to your visit! At the roof gardens, you’ll also find a luxury dining experience in the form of the Babylon Restaurant.
Approaching the lobby, I was unsure as to what to expect. I’d exited the tube station at High Street Kensington (the closest tube station to the gardens) and turned right, just as Google maps told me to. You really can’t see the gardens from the high street so it’s a bit disorientating trying to try and locate the entryway. However, a peek of a shrub above one of the rooftops and I knew I was heading in the right direction…
Head into the lobby on a little side street off Kensington High Street and ask at the reception for visiting the Roof Gardens. If they’re open, you’ll be directed to an elevator covered with flamingos and ferns. Get in the elevator and you’ll head up and up. Above the noise and above the hustle and bustle of everyday London life. Exit the lifts and head to the left. You’re here, in a little piece of paradise in central London. So sit back, enjoy a drink or simply wander the green alleyways…