A Mindful Walk in Regent’s Park’s ‘Secret Garden’
London’s Regent’s Park has a garden within a garden within a garden whose location is secret. It’s true, I’m not pulling your leg. Inside Regent’s Park’s outer circle sits its inner circle – a garden within a garden no? And within that inner circle, resplendent with Queen Mary’s Rose Gardens, there’s a little treasure of a garden tucked away and you would never know it was there unless you searched for it.
St John’s Lodge Garden is the real name of the secret garden. And a more delightful spot in which to wander, sit, meditate and relax is hard to find in the middle of a big city.
Regent’s Park was designed by John Nash which comes as little surprise when you consider the architecture of the houses on the outer circle. The south, east and most of the west side of the park are lined with Nash’s supremely elegant white stucco houses, giving this quarter of London some fine examples of the ‘Nash Terrace’.
However, the park has a history that long pre-dates Nash. In the Middle Ages the land was part of the manor of Tyburn, property of Barking Abbey. During the Dissolution of the Monasteries, Henry VIII appropriated the land and, save for a few years, it has been Crown property ever since. It was set aside as a hunting park until 1649 and then let out in small holdings for hay and dairy produce. When the lease expired in 1811, the Prince Regent (later King George IV) commissioned John Nash to create a masterplan for the area.
Personally, I’m very grateful to the King for this commission, as Regent’s Park is my favourite London park. Which is yours? It is better considered and more full of variety than any park I have visited in the world. Highly accessible in beauty and variety with lakes – including a boating lake – swans, crested Asian ducks and nesting herons; sublime rose gardens, fountains, an open-air theatre, a zoo and, last but by no means least, one of our finest vantage points – Primrose Hill. (Primrose Hill definitely deserves its own page so I will write about it another time). I don’t think a park could offer more enjoyment really. My next favourite? The Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, because it has a firework display every Saturday night. Then I would have loved to have wandered through some of London’s 17th/18th Century Pleasure Gardens. However, in this century, give me Regent’s Park any day.
On to the Secret Garden: St John’s Lodge Garden is the garden of one the remaining Nash villas. This one was built for the Marquess of Bute. He wanted his garden to be a place for ‘quiet contemplation’ and it was created as a series of compartments ornamented with statues by Robert Weir Schulz who created it as a garden ‘fit for meditation’. Nowadays, the Royal Parks Agency who tend this gorgeous spot still say at the entrance ‘This garden is designed for peaceful relaxation. We hope you enjoy your visit and trust you will respect the peaceful atmosphere’. Isn’t that lovely?
And people do respect the peaceful, ever-so-slightly magical atmosphere which seems to bring an air of calm to its visitors. Whenever I have visited (not often enough), it is so quiet you would never know you were in the middle of a city. People speak quietly, gently. When I was there a few weeks ago, there were one or two people walking small dogs. The dogs were scampering silently. There was a toddler sitting on the grass singing quietly to himself as his parents watched him from a little distance away, giving him a sense of space and freedom. They were smiling. I smiled to myself too sensing the garden was weaving its peaceful magic on everyone in it.
If I knew more than I do about plants I would tell you all about them – but I don’t – so I’ll say instead that it is full of lovely specimens of the green leafed and floral variety. You’re almost certain to like them a lot as I do. Take a seat on one of the beautiful benches and enjoy the fresh air, the soft energy and the sense of place. If you are someone who likes meditating in nature, I’ll bet this could become one of your favourite the urban retreats.
Now I’d better get to the reveal. The Secret Garden is, as you now know, on the inner circle of the park. Its near Chester Road, on the right hand side if you are coming from the Rose Gardens. The entrance is unprepossessing so if you see an open gate just go in. If you’re in the right spot, you’ll be under a wisteria bower that in the spring creates a tunnel of blooms.
After you’ve enjoyed your visit it’s bound to be time for tea. You can head to the main café in the park called The Regent’s, which is by the open air theatre. There’s also The Boathouse by the boating lake near Hanover Gate. Although I haven’t been there myself, I’ve just learned that there’s a café at The Hub which is a sporting facility within the park. See, just writing this leads me to find that there’s a whole other aspect to the park: sports facilities!
However, if you are happy to leave the park and make your way across to Marylebone High Street, you’ll find one of my favourite London spots for tea or a meal. Fischers is at number 50. It is a Viennese restaurant and café, serving excellent food and mouthwatering konditorei. If you enjoy French patisserie, I can only urge you towards Austrian cakes. Oh meine Güte, they are amazing!