London’s Most Unexpected Garden


At the risk of turning this blog, which is primarily meant to be about creativity, into a London travel guide, I should have added this because the mere fact that it survives is a marvel.

I used to go here in my twenties, but the one and a half acre rooftop gardens (the largest in Europe) with restaurant, streams and flamingoes is still going strong, although these days I never meet anyone who’s gone there, so perhaps it’s just for tourists.

The gardens were laid out between 1936 and 1938 by Ralph Hancock, a landscape architect, on the instructions of Trevor Bowen of Barkers, the Kensington department store giant that owned the site and constructed the building in 1932. The building housed the department store Derry and Toms until 1973, and then Biba until 1975. The Gardens was listed as a Grade II site by English Heritage in 1978.

There are over 30 different species of trees in the woodland garden, including trees from over sixty years ago, despite having only a metre of soil in which to grow. It all looks particularly nice in the snow.

The gardens feature regularly in Michael Moorcock’s Jerry Cornelius books.

3 comments on “London’s Most Unexpected Garden”

  1. Stephen Groves says:

    Hi Chris,
    I’ve been there.Mrs Stalky used to work for the investment branch of HSBC,who would hire the roof gardens for their annual staff party and because partners were invited I got to go.Nice place,good flamingoes, had to dress in black tie.Looked like James Bond’s embarrassing cousin.

    All Best

  2. Alan Morgan says:

    They do indeed crop up in Cornelius and I’ve wanted to see the gardens since because of it – but with the fear there’ll be less slick 60s counterculture secret agents discussing the nature of the catastrophe than corporate lawyers on a jolly.

  3. Helen Martin says:

    The staff party was black tie!? I’m beginning to realize how incredibly casual we are out here on the West Coast of Canada. I’ve been to museum openings, weddings, numerous staff parties, and the school district’s retirement dinner but the only event that was listed as black tie was the provincial trucking association’s annual banquet which was at the Empress Hotel in Victoria. We just wore “good clothes”.

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