Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Is this the coolest gardening club in the world?

You may have heard of the Roof Gardens in Kensington, an astonishing 1.5-acre plot 100ft above street level. Nearly 70 years old, they were designed by landscape architect Ralph Hancock for the rooftop of what used to be Derry and Tom's department store in Kensington High Street.

Hancock also designed the Rockefeller Center gardens in New York City, which each had a national theme. The Roof Gardens follow the same pattern, with three themed gardens - Spanish, Tudor and Woodland - containing more than 70 trees, a stream stocked with fish and the famous resident flamingos. Both the Roof and the Rockefeller gardens date from 1933.

The Roof Gardens are now part of Virgin Limited Edition, Sir Richard Branson's portfolio of unique retreats, but I first visited them when they were part of Biba in the 1970s. Since then, they've had a bit of a chequered career until Branson bought them in 1981. I've never been quite sure whether they are open to the public or not, although they are used for big private parties, such as media launches and showbusiness events.

So I'm happy to say that following a makeover last year, they are once more open to the public, on selected dates. If you want to visit, go here for more information.

Most fascinating of all, however, is the news that this month, the Roof Gardens have launched their own gardening club. For £25 you can have access to the gardens, and an invitation to a Sunday morning event where members will be able to listen to a speaker from the gardening world on subjects from urban bee-keeping to summer bedding followed by a demonstration from Head Gardener, David Lewis.

The first event will take place on Sunday 18 April 2010 and the speaker will be Philippa O’Brien, garden designer, Capel Manor lecturer and urban bee expert. Subsequent member events will take place on Sunday 25 July, Sunday 24 October and Sunday 23 January.

Those who sign up will get a branded gardening shirt, a quarterly newsletter containing seasonal expert advice and Roof Gardens news, and can enjoy up to 15% discount when dining at the venue’s award-winning Babylon Restaurant on selected weekdays.

David Lewis, the head gardener, writes a blog about his gardens, which you can read here. I was amused to see that while the rest of us were worrying about how our garden birds were surviving the worst British winter for 30 years, David was worrying about his flamingoes.

The gardens are now protected by preservation orders for the trees, and a Grade II listing but that doesn't deter David from a very practical approach to gardening. This season he's keen to not only grow more veg for the restaurant, Babylon, but also get the chefs to help with the planting.

The entrance to the Roof Gardens is in Derry Street, just across the road from my office, and they're one of the things that makes working in Kensington so exciting. I shall certainly be joining the gardening club - if only for the pleasure of taking friends there for lunch.


Moonstone Gardens said...

Oh, if only I lived on that side of the pond! I would love such a garden club.

jodi (bloomingwriter) said...

Lol about the flamingos! It just shows that our worries are relative, aren't they? We don't have anything nearly this delightfully tempting to visit around here, alas.

Edith Hope said...

Dear Victoria, I was most intrigued with this posting as over the last goodness knows how many years, I had completely forgotten all about the Roof Garden on top of what was, in my day, Derry and Toms. This is such good news that it is once more accessible to the public and is clearly in capable and caring hands.

The 'club' membership seems to me to be an excellent idea.

Gary said...

That sounds fantastic, I have seen them on TV , sadly it's a bit far for me to come. When I used to work in London my 'secret' garden was the Conservatory in the Barbican. A lovely place to spend your lunch hour.

Muhammad khabbab said...

Seems to be a very beautiful garden. I like the pond as well. This being my first visit to your blog, very attractive blog. Keep posting.

Lucy Corrander said...

Sounds extraordinary. Haven't heard of them and am torn between thinking 'how wonderful!' and worries that the whole thing might cave in. If it weren't February, I would suspect April Fool. When you say £25:00, is that for the one entry and talk etc. or can you go back later to visit the garden at quiet times?


Ms B said...

Thanks for that info Victoria. I have always fancied visiting the gardens so I will have to make an effort to go even if I don't join the club!

Helen said...

I visited the gardens several years agon, just walked up. It must be one of the most enchanting places in London - that I know :-))
In your post you twice mention links for further reading, I can't see them. Have they gone missing or am I doing something wrong?

VP said...

Oh wow, that is just fab!

When can I come for lunch? ;)

VP said...

PS Forgot to say your links don't appear to be there...

Delete this comment afterwards if you want.

Arabella Sock said...

Thanks for that Victoria - they certainly look extremely intriguing!

patientgardener said...

I am jealous - thats the only word for it.

petoskystone said...

oohh man! *that* is a garden! i want a tour of the underneath--what kind of supports needed to stablize the water feature, drainage routines, etc., etc. diffently a garden club worth the fee!

Dirty Girl Gardening said...

I love roof gardens... just installed one in SF last month. So cool... great post.

Victoria said...

Cindee: Isn't it great? You get the most wonderful view of London from the gardens as well, just as a bonus.

Jodi: I'm sure there are lots of tempting things to look at in your garden!

Edith: The idea of the lectures is brilliant, I think. And the choice of speaker for the first one is really imaginative.

Gary: Yes, the Barbican is wonderful too. A friend of mine lives there and I tease her about being in the Hanging Gardens of Barbican. I must go over there and do a post...

Muhammad: it's such a surprise, isn't it, to find a pond and flamingoes way up above the buses and taxis on Kensington High Street.

Lucy: To be honest, I'm not sure about the actual details for visiting - the website gives a number you can ring in advance, in case there is an event going on. If anyone wants full details of the membership, go to http://www.roofgardens.virgin.com/en/the_roof_gardens/the_gardens/gardening_club

Ms B: Definitely worth a trip - and easy to get to on public transport too. It's just a two-minute walk from High Street Ken Tube.

Helen: No, the links are there, but I had a lot of trouble with the type size and colour, because I was cutting and pasting details in. So they ended up the same colour as the text. I've gone back over them and hopefully they'll be easier to find now.

VP: We should definitely try to go - at least to have a look - when you and PG come up for Chelsea. See above for answer to the links problem.

Arabella: Because our offices are in the same street, people often try to get into our place to see the Roof Gardens, and start cross-examining my colleagues who are trying to have a quick cigarette in peace outside. I don't know who gets crosser - the stressed-out colleagues or the tourists...

PG: We'll go when you come up for Chelsea!

Petoskystone: Apparently, the Roof Gardens are insulated from the floor below by a layer of membrane. Everything is planted in 1.5m of soil. The original building itself is huge - it's like one whole block - so there is plenty of loadbearing capacity. But I was amused to see that at one point the membrane started causing problems and water started pouring into the Rainbow Room, the nightclub below. It's nice to know it's not just us ordinary gardeners who have these sort of problems. Indeed, I think that's what prompted the latest makeover - they had to dig everything up and repair or replace the membrane.

Dirty Girl: There's something really romantic about them, isn't there? A friend is opening one in the Yellow Book this year - I'm dying to see it in its full glory.

Sabrina said...

Is that bottom photo also a rooftop garden? I can't imagine that trees could grow that large on a roof!

Robin said...


I run the Ralph Hancock website (www.ralphhancock.com)

Would you be interested in a longer piece about Ralph and his work for your blog?

Also, I can't find anything about the gardening club at TRG.... love to know more!


Carrie said...

Holy spades of hades, that is amazing!!! I have never heard of the roof gardens before and know I NEED to be wined and dined there. Wow - gorgeous! More pics throughout the year please

debsgarden said...

Wow! How I would love to join that garden club, but it's on the other side of the ocean, so I'll just participate vicariously. I can't imagine these gardens on a roof! Really? With a pond? That's amazing!

The Galloping Gardener said...

Thanks for this Victoria - I've been wondering how to get access for ages! GG

Bay Area Tendrils Garden Travel said...

I'm green with envy. Thanks for sharing this, Victoria. I'll dream about joining, and perhaps one day, visit!

Karen - An Artist's Garden said...

I am going to come and have lunch with you one day - if we can go there.

I used to work as a Saturday girl in Biba ... it was an experience.

Dawn/LittleGreenFingers said...

This is one of those times I wish I still lived in London. A gardening club with flamingos is my kind of gardening club..

Grace Peterson said...

Hi Victoria~~ Those photos can't possibly be of a roof garden, can they? Just dazzling. As usual Great Britain is way ahead of us westerners who are only now getting on the roof garden bandwagon.

I look forward to more photos when you're a proud member.

Gail said...

it sounds like a perfect garden club~No compulsory flower arranging at all! I wonder if Frances and I will be in London on one of their Open days! gail

Tatyana@MySecretGarden said...

I am envious. Please, Victoria, join! Please, show us the pictures!!!

Victoria said...

Sabrina: Yes, that's the roof garden too. There is quite a lot of soil, so the trees can make quite a lot of growth.

Robin: I would love a guest piece about Ralph Hancock for my blog! Sorry to take so long to reply to your comment - life has just been manic. Email me at v.summerley@independent.co.uk

Carrie: I'm going for a tour of the gardens next week, so hopefully I'll remember my camera, and hopefully the sun will be shining, and hopefully I will be able to post more pictures.

Debsgarden: I think to be honest I'd worry a bit about having a pond on my roof. But yes, there is a real pond.

GG: It's definitely one for your collection, Charlotte!

Alice: You must put it on your list of things to see when you come to London - I'll come and have a cocktail with you.

Karen: Definitely, it's a date. I just loved Biba. Even if you couldn't get to the store, you could buy their makeup, which was incredibly elegant and quite cheap, I seem to remember. And you got one of those iconic bags.

Dawn: All I seem to get are b***** herons. Not the same at all! I wonder if flamingoes eat goldfish?

Grace: I'm hoping to have some photos to post next week.

Gail: I'm sure we can arrange something when you and Frances come to stay...

Tatyana: I'm dying to have a good prowl round. I haven't been up there for years, and they've had a couple of revamps since.