The bright colours in this woodland garden are so vibrant that any visiting hippy might be forgiven for thinking he's in the throes of an intense acid flashback. The rich reds, pinks and purples of blooming rhododendrons and azaleas line the pathways amid hidden ponds and tranquil clearings. Richmond Park as a whole is a delightful place, but this enclosed 42-acre space would give any garden in the world a run for its Monet.
INSIDER TIP: Climb up King Henry's Mound for one of London's most famous protected views: of St Paul's Cathedral, ten miles in the distance.
Thousands wander across Hampstead Heath's wild and undulating parkland every year, but very few discover this eerie and elegant pocket of faded grandeur on the West Heath. Built by Lord Leverhulme at the start of the twentieth century as a setting for his extravagant parties, it includes impressive gardens and a dramatic elevated walkway, where overhanging plants create a lush canopy and tangled roots twist around smooth stone columns. A little window into the world of the Edwardian super-rich.
INSIDER TIP: Visit in the early evening and you might catch a glimpse of the long-eared bats which roost here.
A short walk from St Paul's Cathedral lies one of London's most touching monuments: George Frederic Watts's 'Memorial to Heroic Self-Sacrifice'. Within the quiet Postman's Park, nestled beneath a tiled roof, are just over 50 ceramic plaques, each commemorating an ordinary person who lost their life trying to save others.Many of the descriptions are truly heartbreaking, and you can easily spend an entire lunchbreak contemplating their selflessness.
INSIDER TIP: There's a free app called 'The Everyday Heroes of Postman's Park', which you can use to learn more about each individual memorialised on the monument.
A picturesque waterfall flows into a peaceful rock pool, where koi carp dart beneath the surface and peacocks stalk past on the banks. It might sound like the setting for a Japanese fairytale, but this is in fact one of west London's most serene spaces: Holland Park's quaint Kyoto Garden. It's the perfect spot to unwind with a book, linger with your thoughts or fight your samurai rivals to the death.
INSIDER TIP: Round off your visit with some property porn. Wander through one of London's most fancy postcodes, filled with grand Victorian townhouses and city mansions.
Four unassuming walls near the western edge of Brockwell Park enclose one of the most enchanting – and perhaps only – respites from the buzz of Brixton. The urban clamour melts away as you meander along stone pathways, between beds of vibrant plants and flowers, to discover bubbling fountains and secluded benches. This was once the kitchen garden for Brockwell Hall, but is now an oasis of calm in an area of London that needs it more than most.
INSIDER TIP: Make your way uphill, towards Brockwell Hall, for a beautiful view over central London.
Kingfishers perch on reeds by the riverbank, and an old-fashioned waterwheel is slowly turned by the gentle current. It sounds more like an idyllic country village than a public space just a few minutes' walk from the Northern line, but therein lies the charm of Morden Hall Park. Once the sprawling estate of a wealthy family, it's still home to watermills that used to grind tobacco into snuff. So, to all you Morden naysayers: stick that up your hooter!
INSIDER TIP: Don't miss the lovely Victorian stableyard at the centre of the park, which was renovated in 2011 and turned into a café and secondhand bookshop.
Next to the deer and goats that graze in Stoke Newington's small 'zoo' is a sanctuary for our most beautiful insect family. Native and tropical butterflies flit between flowers and plants in the warm glass dome, which is open for periodic free tours from May to September – just watch where you're treading!
INSIDER TIP: Wander through the park at night on one of its regularly scheduled tours to spot local owls and bats.
A beautiful, balmy meadow, scented with brightly coloured wildflowers, humming with the buzz of busy bees – welcome to the pastoral paradise that is, er, Hackney. This delightful piece of flower power might feel a little out of place next to London Fieldsí rowdy crowds of summer drinkers, but that only adds to its bucolic charm... so please donít trample through here after your Sunday cider sesh.
INSIDER TIP: You can buy honey produced by the very bees that frequent the meadow. Check out the E8 range by Barnes & Webb.
This network of head-scratching hedgerows is almost as old as the dinosaurs – the Crystal Palace dinosaur sculptures, that is (had you going there, didn't we?). Dating from around 1870, the puzzle is tucked away near the park's northern lake. After falling into disrepair, it was renovated in 2009 to commemorate the centenary of the Girl Guides. The movement was founded at a Scouts rally in the park, after some young ladies demanded that Lord Baden- Powell do 'something for the girls.'
INSIDER TIP: Head to the Canada Gates to discover the movie location where Michael Caine blew more than the bloody doors off in 'The Italian Job'.
Creep through the overgrown woods of Abney Park Cemetery, past the crumbling gravestones, and you will eventually emerge into a large central clearing dominated by the menacing shell of a derelict chapel. The impressive gothic-revival building dates from 1840, but was gutted by fire in the 1970s and closed. This of course just adds to its eerie allure, and you half-expect to hear sinister organ chords and a clap of thunder as you step out of the trees and into its shadow.
INSIDER TIP: Among the cemetery's more notable residents are William and Catherine Booth, the founders of the Salvation Army, whose grave is near the Church Street entrance.
Just as the Geffrye’s period rooms trace the development of the British domestic interior from the sixteenth century to the present, its ‘garden rooms’ illustrate changing planting styles across half a millennium, from modest designs for Elizabethan townhouses to hothouse exotics loved by the Victorians, and the Edwardian template on which many modern gardens are based. There’s also a traditional herb garden that examines the various uses of over 170 specimens and includes arbours with secluded seating in its traditional, geometric scheme.Read more
Across the road from the better-known Highgate Wood, there is something more magical and quiet about Queen’s Wood – witness its hilly pathways through the oak, beech, mountain ash and cherry trees. It might be only a few hundred metres from Highgate tube station, but native bluebells, wood anemone and countless species of small animals and creepy crawlies make this a wonderful retreat.Read more
The party queen of community gardens. Apart from thriving organic fruit and veg and stunning flower beds, there’s a host of activities, including wine tasting, a tea club, and talks on everything from medicinal herbs, to ice cream making. Annual keyholder membership is £10; free public access is on weekends from May to September, and Saturdays throughout the year. The garden will open between 6pm and 9pm on July 3 for an evening of music, wine and art.Read more
With all those wide-open public spaces and all that statement architecture, King’s Cross has really transformed of late. That’s brilliant, but sometimes the heady buzz of progress can start to grate. Find a bit of peace and quiet close to the Eurostar terminal at St Pancras in this two-acre garden on the banks of the Regent’s Canal. London Wildlife Trust volunteers help maintain the pond, meadow and woodland, making it a haven away from all the hectic commuters.Read more
You’re sitting at your desk, fuming. Graham in accounts hasn’t processed your expenses claim, again. Oh, Graham! Time to head to the Japanese Roof Garden at the School of Oriental and African Studies. Built in 2001, this serene space is dedicated to forgiveness (there’s a Kanji character engraved on the garden’s granite water basin that says this). A period of repose among the artfully placed rocks and pebbles and combed sand will set you right, and you will forgive Graham.Read more
Tucked behind Charing Cross Road, this is a super spot for a leafy lunchtime break. Look out for frogs and sparrows, which are thriving thanks to an enthusiastic conservation initiative. The garden closed last autumn for redevelopment work (which has been delayed) but has reopened in time to take advantage of our long-awaited spell of improved weather.Read more