Garden Squares are a ‘Central London’ feature. Residents in the suburbs have their back gardens, residents in the centre have parks, and if they are very lucky a Garden Square.
Few and far between they may seem, yet when we wander around Chelsea, Kensington, Mayfair and Belgravia, squares pop out from everywhere and we’re told over 500 garden squares can be found (although a good few are hidden). As with the lovely Rosmead Gardens (W11) that Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant broke into in the film Notting Hill, most of these garden squares are private – and require a key to access.
Lock and Key = Money !
Gaining a key to access the gardens usually means you have to own a property fronting the Garden square. In some cases Mews houses lining the back of Garden Square properties also get access – be aware there has been many a case of a home buyer assuming they will get access only to find for some anomaly (front door doesn’t face the garden / strange clause in the deeds) they won’t get a key!
Holding a key to a Private Garden pushes property prices up from 5% to 20% above a similar property without access. Rents usually command a 10% premium. Access comes at a price. Owners pay anywhere between £200 to over a thousand pounds a year as a ‘service charge’ for the gardens. A group of residents usually forms a committee to manage the garden, employ gardeners and perhaps host events.
Open and Hidden
While most Garden Squares won’t be visible from the busy thoroughfares you may travel through in an area, the majority are visible as being in the centre of the houses and flats they serve, often surrounded by roads in a square, rectangular or oval boundary, used for residential parking. In Mayfair there are many smaller garden squares hidden in between the buildings they serve – acting as more of a communal back garden and are often very formal in appearance.
Around Chelsea, Kensington, Maida Vale and South Hampstead there are many large communal areas – mostly grassy with trees, hidden behind the tall Victorian or Georgian properties. The only tell-tale sign is a gated entrance, in the middle of two houses every so often. While some gardens are shared by a few properties the larger ones can cover acres of land and are more akin to small parks – with some hosting over a hundred residents. Even so, you’ll always find these spaces quieter and more personal than any local public green space.
In recent times Garden Parties held in the summer have grown in popularity. The basic organise picnics, with bring your own food and drink, the posh organise catering from local hotels, hire bands, kids entertainers and run celebrity raffles (in addition to charging for entry). Garden Square events are often the only time central London neighbours meet each other. Some of the squares in Westminster even organise ‘Shakespeare’ evenings, with local theatre groups performing or kids days with clowns, bouncy castles and games. For those living close to squares who can gain access to such events – they are a must!
A clever way to recoup the cost of funding gardeners, maintenance and parties is to hire out the garden for corporate events. This is common in W1 and becoming common in SW1 and SW3. Companies will pay handsome fees and if you combine the timing with a garden party for residents you can share the tents, tables and chairs, while having the cost paid for by the corporate event(s). More than 5 events will begin to disrupt and annoy neighbours. We find two or three evening events followed by the residents party is the best balance.
Private NOT Personal
As delightful as a Garden Square is, it is not your own garden and most residents associations managing the Squares impose ‘anti-fun’ rules. This means no ball games, barbeques, dogs or large groups. Draconian they may seem yet it avoids one or two unruly households ‘taking over’ the space and discouraging other neighbours quiet enjoyment. If you don’t like rules move to a property closer to Public green space!
Remember the usual rules of good etiquette: don’t invite groups over for birthday parties/ celebrations and take over your communal garden square, without requesting your neighbours permission – the easier way is to ask the Garden committee for permission. Have fun, but keep noise levels reasonable, especially after sunet. Take your rubbish away with you (there will always be someone watching from behind a twitchy net curtain).
NEW Garden Squares
Given most Garden Squares date back decades if not centuries, there has been a resurgence of popularity which has caught developers eyes. At first developers created spaces around concrete squares – often apartment blocks like Gainsborough studios in Islington, perhaps with a water feature or sculpture. This quickly moved into grassed areas: Fulham hosts one of the newest squares – Farm Lane, modelled on Wellington Square in Chelsea.
Queen Mary’s place in Roehampton is an enclosed development with a garden square at it’s centre too. Arsenal football club converted it’s old ground – Highbury Stadium – into modern apartments, centred around the old pitch!
Ealing will soon play host to new squares at Dickens Yard – a huge 700 flat development. Gentrification of Elephant and Castle has brought about a design that includes new squares and a park. Entering South East London, Harper Square is the first shared-ownership scheme we know of that gives residents access to courtyards.
Explore, Find out More
Once a year, usually in late June or early July over 200 of London’s Garden squares open up to the public. For a small fee you can explore as many gardens as you wish, over the one weekend. It’s a must-do event. The contents of some gardens – from famous sculptures to exemplary topiary and hidden playgrounds may surprise you. The view of surrounding properties is also delightful and often gives a much more panoramic perspective than simply looking up from the street.
Detail on London Open Squares weekend can be found here: London Open Squares
Looking for a general list of Garden Squares and green spaces to satisfy your curiosity or help with your home search? Look here: London Gardens Online