6 inspiring city garden ideas from London
A city garden is a breath of fresh air in a crowded environment.
You can create a patch of green can be created in the most surprising places. I visited three to discover city garden ideas that you could adapt in your own town, city or village.
One is The Skip Garden, a portable garden on a building site. Then I visited the Eversheds Sutherland roof garden, followed by The Vestry Garden in the ruins of an ancient church.
They have typical city garden challenges, which range from lack of space and light to being unusually open and windy. And they are all open next weekend through London’s Open Garden Squares Weekend (June 8th and 9th 2019).
London Open Garden Squares weekend is a wonderful opportunity to see London’s secret city gardens and parks. Many people plan their trip to London to coincide with the weekend. And many of the gardens are created by volunteers and local people, often on a shoestring budget. These are not generally big money gardens. They are about creativity, recycling and communities working together.
You can also visit the cafe at the Skip Garden or hire it as a private dining space. But do check its official website before setting out, to make sure you get the right location for it now!
You can create a garden anywhere
The Skip Garden is on the 67 acre building site at Kings Cross. It’s run by Global Generation as an educational resource, helping children, young people, families and business to ‘create healthy, integrated and environmentally responsible communities.’
All the planting is in containers. These range from the skips to donated tins, boxes and pots. The cafe and offices are Portakabins. It can all be hefted onto a crane and transported when this part of the Kings Cross building site is needed for re-development. ‘It’s not easy to move the garden,’ admits Julie Smith, head gardener at The Skip Garden. ‘But we’ve moved it four times and it’s going onto its fifth location soon.’
In the past, developers were reluctant to allow people to build gardens on as-yet-unused patches of land. The gardeners often protested at giving up their space for development, but moving on is built in at the Skip Garden.
On a roof garden…
The Eversheds Sutherland garden is a roof garden, with a kitchen garden in a small area sheltered by the air conditioning system. There is a green roof, created and maintained professionally, but there is also a small area of roof shielded from the wind in case the services need to expand. The company chefs started to grow a few herbs here. Then they moved on and volunteers picked up the project. Currently it’s being gardened by two volunteers, Marta and Julie.
Vestry House garden, the garden of the Trull Foundation, is on top of a ruin. It follows the shape of a church that burned down in the Great Fire of London exactly.
You can grow anything in containers
City gardens are very reliant on container growing. All three gardens use containers in a major way.
You’ll see five skips At the Skip Garden, all donated. Each has a large u-shaped raised table bed in them. So you can step up and then down into the skips to garden comfortably.
The Vestry House garden has hard clay soil. And the garden designer had to work around the tombs of long-forgotten Londoners. And although there is one rose border, the opportunities for a flower border are limited. So the flower planting is in three smart containers, attracting bees and pollinating insects in a ripple of dappled colour.
Get support from local businesses
Local businesses are often very positive about helping gardens and gardeners. And when they renovate or move on, they’re usually only too happy to pass on anything useful.
When restaurants or businesses move on around Kings Cross, they often pass their containers on to the Skip Garden, complete with plants. Some of these even have wheels. And the skips were originally donated, as were various tins, pots and a wheelbarrow.
At Eversheds, volunteers Marta and Julie use potato bags to grow more everything from sweet potatoes to edamame beans and more. The containers have arrived on the roof in various ways. For example, a local restaurant chain donated the empty tomato tins. As the garden evolves, volunteers contribute pots or raised beds.
Always include a table and chairs…
A city garden needs at least one place to sit. There’s always a way of picking up seats, chairs and tables for little or nothing. For example, you could try Freegle or Freecyle for local swap and giveaway schemes.
You can try things out and move on
At the Skip Garden, the learning experience is the most important thing. Two of the buildings on the site were created by architecture students, including a greenhouse of recycled windows and scaffolding boards. It’s a wonderful space, but not entirely useful as a greenhouse because the scaffolding boards block too much light. It won’t be replicated in the next site. But they’ll try something else.
The Skip Garden is generally a learning resource – groups of school children come from the more deprived local areas to find out how plants grow and how farming works.
City gardens are shady gardens
If your little patch of land is surrounded by tall buildings and city trees, then it will be very shady. At the Vestry garden, ‘it’s all about texture, rather than colour.’ Create a green haven with shade-loving plants such as hostas, heucheras, hydrangeas and ivy. Find out more about how to grow a shady garden here.
Don’t try to turn a shady city garden into a sunny spot. Enjoy the serenity and calm of a largely green garden.
In a city garden, ivy is your friend
Hot, cold, windy, exposed, shady…it can be difficult to grow things in a city garden. Ivy can cope with it all. It looks great in pots. And it has flowers and berries for pollinating insects and birds.
A roof is a good place for bees and wildlife
You can help wildlife and pollinating insects by creating a city garden.
But people can be nervous of insects. So a roof is an excellent place to keep bees, because people can get worried by them at ground level, particularly when they swarm.There are usually beehives on the roof at both Eversheds Sutherland and the Skip Garden.
All three gardens also had bug hotels, often built by local school children. The green roof at Eversheds also has little piles of wood scattered around, which create a haven for wildlife.
‘A few visitors comment that we could do more with the green roof,’ says Julie. ‘One person said “there’s nothing here – it’s just wild”. But that’s the whole point.’
More about London Open Garden Squares:
Your ticket (£20/£16£10) buys you access to 130 usually private parks, squares, gardens and roof gardens. The event shows how important London’s green spaces are to the city and raises money for London’s Parks & Gardens Trust.
You will discover relatively traditional London squares, which have been gardens since Victorian times (Markham Square, Paulton Square, Earls Court Square). Normally only residents can access these. And some private communal gardens are also open, as are gardens attached to churches.
Above all, do see the gardens that have been squeezed into unusual spaces amongst the brick, stone and concrete of a city. These show how you can carve a city garden out of almost any small hard space.
These include St Quintin’s Allotment (on a former tennis court) and the award-winning Cranbrook Community Food garden on the iconic modernist Cranbrook Estate and the delightful gardens hidden away behind the imposing buildings at The Temple.
See more of these three city gardens in video
See more of these three gardens in this video:
More about creating a city garden
Read this post to find out what you really need to know about creating a roof garden . It has handy tips from award-winning urban garden designer Tony Woods.
And to find out more about squeezing a garden into a small space, see why a successful small garden needs a big idea. It’s great to re-use and recycle as much as you can in a city garden. So see charming small garden ideas in this post, with some wonderfully creative uses for charity shop finds.
And to find out more about setting up a community garden, read these interviews from St Quintins and the West London Bowling Club, two community gardens open for London Open Garden Squares.
The RHS also has advice on how to set up a community garden.
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