The Garden Guide

London Garden History : A Chronological Tour [See note on transport and see illustrations]

(from Westminster Bridge)
Greenwich & East London Greenwich Park Greenwich Park and its surroundings are marvellous. The Canary Wharf Precinct and the Thames Barrier Park are modern projects, more likely to interest designers than traditional garden visitors. Train from Charing Cross or  riverboat from  Westminster Pier  to Greenwich. Walk to park. Take Docklands Light Railway from Greenwich to  Canary Wharf and then to Custom House.
Canary Wharf
  Thames Barrier Park
Westminster & Lambeth St James's Park St James's Park is one of the best urban parks in the world. Westminster Abbey is has two cloisters, one of them beautiful, and a a college garden on the site of its ancient Infirmary Garden. St Thomas's Hospital has a fine example of the modernist Abstract Style. The Jewel Tower shows the site of Westminster's medieval Palace Garden. The Museum of Garden History has good information, a good cafe (with toilet) and a small but delightful garden with herbaceous plants (a rarity in London parks). These gardens are within 15 mins walk of Westminster Bridge and the Houses of Parliament. The cloisters are accessed from Dean's Yard, near the main entrance to the Abbey.
Westminster Abbey
  St Thomas' Hospital
  Museum of Garden History
Chelsea & Battersea Ranelagh Gardens Once a famous pleasure ground and now a quiet park, used with the Royal Hospital for the Chelsea Flower Show. Tube train from Charing Cross to Sloane Square. Walk to the river on Chelsea Bridge Road, look in on Ranelagh Gardens and the Royal Hospital Grounds. Walk to the Physic Garden and then cross the road to Battersea Park.
  Chelsea Physic A renaissance botanic garden and the best place to see herbaceous plants in Central London.
  Battersea Park One of London's most successful nineteenth century parks.
Chiswick Chiswick House Chiswick is very important in garden history. Kew probably has the best plant collection in the world. Syon is one of London's best examples of an opulent family's estate garden. None of these three are quite as beautiful as one might expect. Train from Waterloo to Chiswick. Bus from outide Chiswick House to Kew (or taxi). Bus to Syon Park. Return to Central London by train.
& Kew Kew Gardens
  Syon Park
Richmond Richmond Park Richmond is the most splendid urban deer park in Western Europe. Ham House is perhaps the best example of a renaissance garden in Britain. York House has one of the best water sculptures in London. Hampton Court is perhaps the best example of a Baroque Palace garden in Britain. Underground train from Embankment (near Charing Cross) to Kew Gardens. Train or bus to Richmond. Walk to Richmond Park and Ham House (approx 2 km each). Riverboat, or long but beautiful walk, or bus, to Hampton Court. Return by train from Hampton Court Station.
& Ham Ham House
  York House
  Hampton Court
London's South West Fringe Claremont Claremont has the sweetness of a real 'landscape garden' and is an important example of the early serpentine style. Painshill has been restored and is a super example of the style which developed from Chiswick and Claremont. Wisley is run by the Royal Horticultural Society and is very popular. It has an excellent plant collection and is as close to the Arts and Crafts style as one can get in the London area. Train from Waterloo to Esher. Then bus (No. 515, approx every 50 mins) or taxi or walk (approx 20 mins) to Claremont. The same bus or taxi can take you on to Painshill but the best way is to take a bike on the train and, after Wisley, take the train back from West Byfleet (5km) or Woking Station (8km). Between May and Sept there is a special bus from Woking Station.


The Victorians boasted that 'London is the capital of the world'. It wasn't. But it could claim, then and now, to be a garden capital (comparable to New York for finance or Paris for fashion). As the S. E. Rasmussen, a Dane, pointed out  in London: the Unique City, what makes the capital's urban form unique is the exceptional proportion of houses with private gardens. The 'continental habit' of living in flats never caught on in the UK. In part this was because the English Channel and the 'wooden walls' (the navy) made living outside walled cities safe centuries before this was the case elsewhere in Europe. But more important than this, the English people have an ancient passion for gardens which, to everyone's amazement, grows more intense each year. But most of these gardens are private. London has has remarkably few good public gardens and parks to visit. This note was written for visitors who come to London,  are willing to seek them out and would enjoy a historical tour. Since transport is part of the problem, has proposed a 'River Garden Route' comprising 18 gardens. Except for the 3 gardens south west of the London, they are located along the river and much of the river. The travel can be done by bike, boat and train.

Transport in London

Finding one's way round a big city can be daunting. The gardens recommended on this page have been chosen to ease the transport problem - it is much better if you arrive in London with an idea of what to see and how to travel.

Young and energetic travellers can travel by bike and train. For those starting in Central London, there is a cycle hire shop at  on the South Bank (London Bicycle Tour Company, Gabriels Wharf, 0207 8928 6838). You can take bikes on London trains without charge except (1) on underground lines where the bike would have to be taken on an escalator (otherwise its OK) (2) at busy commuter times, when the trains are full.

Less-young and less-energetic travellers should do most of the travel by train (Underground or Main Line). For the short trips from stations to gardens they can use bus or taxi. By far the best way to find a bus from one point to another is to ask someone standing at a bus stop -they tend to be very sympathetic and helpful. The simplest way to get information on London trains, routes and times, is to ring the National Rail Enquiries line 08457 484950. Or see

River boats can be used to make most of the river trips. They are very enjoyable, but neither cheap nor fast . See the River Thames Guide . Between Richmond and Kingston one gets a wonderful view of the private gardens beside the river, and wishes one had a few spare millions to buy a house here. The houses are not so much opulent as intensely desirable. Where else can one find the same relaxed, calm beauty on the fringe of a World City? It makes being a millionaire seem almost attractive.

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