Believe it or not, the tropically tiled, palm-fringed suntrap you can see above is not on some remote Greek island. It is right here in south London. Chumleigh Gardens is hidden away amid the rapidly redeveloping Burgess Park, in SE5. And it is just one of the many tranquil gems that writer Siobhan Wall has discovered on her global quest to find peace and quiet time in some of the world’s busiest cities. So far she’s nailed calming corners of Paris and Amsterdam, and is currently trawling New York for secret silent spots amid the bustle. But she started her quest, right here in London, where she lives. What got her started on this unusual urban journey? “Returning to the capital after a few years working abroad,” Wall explains, “London seemed to be a much more stressful city than ten years ago. Travelling during the rush hour, the frequent sound of emergency sirens, and having to stand in queues,” she continues, “it feels as if there is no respite from the strain of living in a huge metropolis.”
Unless you know where to look, that is. Which Wall does. So since spring is enticing us out outdoors once again, we asked her to share her pick of the loveliest, least-known – and, of course, quietest – green spaces below the river.
Chumleigh Gardens (pictured above)
A few years ago, the grounds surrounding the attractive former almshouses were transformed into a delightful world garden. As well as a striking square blue tiled mosaic pond, you’ll find Middle Easter, African and Mediterranean plants in raised beds and shady corners. The park was named after Councillor Jessie Burgess, Camberwell’s first woman mayor and has some magnificent flowering trees as well as an old lime kiln nearby. Unfortunately, the café plays music but there are plenty of tables and benches to sit outside on sunny days. Chumleigh Street, Burgess Park, SE5Tel (for café): 020 7525 1070
The Garden Museum
With a collection of over 9,000 items, from Edwardian garden tools to delightful sepia photographs of vegetable patches, this museum was recently converted from a former church and is located near to the Archbishop of Canterbury’s residence, Lambeth Palace. This is the ideal place to find out about formal and domestic gardens, and that very British institution; the allotment. The museum also has a nice vegetarian cafe serving delicious salads, home-made soups and spiced banana and pineapple cake. Diners can also sit outside in warm weather to enjoy views of the 17th-century inspired knot garden. Lambeth Palace Road, SE1. Tel: 020 7401 8865. We mentioned the Garden Museum, in last week’s bigger story about the regeneration of Vauxhall
Bonnington Square Garden
Known as “the Pleasure Garden” in homage to the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, this former bombsite and derelict playground was transformed by the imaginative residents of the Bonnington Square Garden Association. Amazingly, this south London oasis if full of lush tropical plants and intriguing public sculptures. Sadly, the vegetarian and vegan café nearby plays music so you may want to bring your delicious meal here to eat outdoors. Bonnington Square, Kennington, SW8
Red Cross Garden
Although the surrounding area may not seem very inviting, even locals are enchanted by this hidden gem on their doorstep. The delightful garden was recently resorted using original Victorian designs, and it now has an attractive pond with a small foundtain and yellow iries, some well laid out paths and pretty herbaceous borders. In April the garden is full of red tulips in honour of the Red Cross and during an afternoon in May local children dance around a maypole to celegbrate the coming of spring. Next to the outdoor table hangs an impressive mosaic of the garden’s history made by local school children. Redcross Way, SE1, Tel: 020 7403 3393
Centre for Wildlife Gardening
This idyllic spot is in a quiet residential area. The visitor centre not only supports people with learning diffiuculties but also gives invaluable advice to city gardeners. There is a small nature trail for curious children, which includes a stag beetle santuary.
Next to the raised beds you can buy plants and pots of honey produced by bees from the hives in a corner of the garden. 28 Marsden Road, Peckham, SE15. Tel: 020 7252 9186
Words and photographs: Siobhan Wall
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