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.