Cadogan Place Gardens, London

If you were to walk around Cadogan Place Gardens on a sunny Saturday in June, I’m quite sure you’d think it a very pleasant way to pass an afternoon. Whether you were wowed by the most healthy looking roses you’d ever seen, the sumptuous herbaceous borders, the Union Jack-coloured meadow or the green, green shady woodland, amongst an enormous three hectares of immaculate planting, something’s going to ‘get’ you!

Perennial colour at Cadogan Place garden

Perennial colour at Cadogan Place South Garden

But within this garden, even more than the planting, it’s the history that really took my breath away. My fourteen-year-old self, dropping the subject at the first possible moment, would be quite discombobulated by this fact. But oh, that history teacher was something else. If only Mrs Bannister had taught me history as well as maths.

Shady foxgloves and Hydrangea at Cadogan Gardens South

Shady foxgloves and Hydrangea at Cadogan Place South: so lush and abundant

Cadogan Place –North and South Gardens–is listed on the Historic England register and with very good reason: it’s hard to imagine a set of plants that could have more extensive links to our past.

Mixed planting at Cadogan Gardens North

Mixed planting along the boundary of Cadogan Place North Garden

Despite being just one kilometre west of Victoria Station, the area was no more than a set of fields and market gardens until 1777. But after the Great Fire of London, wealthy Londoners had not wanted to return to the crowded medieval City and so new estates were built in the ‘countryside’ to the west, offering a healthier way of life for this new commuter group. And so garden squares began.

Wollemi pine at Cadogan Gardens South

Wollemi pine at Cadogan Place South: the old houses with the clearly more newly planted Australian pine (a species which dates back some 65 million years, yet was only discovered in 1994)

No less than Mr Humphry Repton was brought in by Earl Cadogan to design the North garden, with extensive excavations undertaken to create hollows and hillocks between gently winding paths.

Meadow planting at Cadogan Gardens South

Meadow-style planting at Cadogan Place South Garden: the colours had high impact but I think a few more pink and orange poppies might have happily toned down the contrast

Meanwhile, the South garden was developed as the ‘London Botanic Garden’ by William Salisbury, who held botanical classes in the late eighteen century in the library, hothouse, greenhouse and conservatory buildings on site. Subscribers to the garden, all of whom lived within a mile of the site, were also treated to summer evening concerts.

Roses at Cadogan Gardens North

Roses at Cadogan Place North Garden: I adored the dual-tone off-white and yellow, resulting in both depth and cohesion. It was hard to take your eyes off them

The North garden continued pretty much as was right up until World War II when all traces of Repton’s design were lost. First, the railings surrounding the garden were donated to the war effort and a barrage balloon secured to the site. In 1942 the balloon was decommissioned, to be replaced by a military camp with tanks dug into the ground and anti-aircraft gun stations.

Herbaceous border at Cadogan Gardens South

A gorgeously full herbaceous border at Cadogan Place South; looking somewhat more serene than it might have done in the first half of the 1940s

Happily, a few of the perimeter trees survived the war, but, not so happily, many later succumbed to Dutch elm disease in the 1970s. At this point, the opportunity to construct an underground car park was taken; it is very hard to believe that today much of the space is purely roof garden, existing on 100 centimetres of soil.

Peep holes thought the planting at Cadogan Gardens South

Peep holes through the planting offer sight lines along the length of Cadogan Place South Garden

Meanwhile, the South garden had become a public promenade by 1820, but was redeveloped as private gardens in the late nineteenth century, as part of wider development in the area, which had become quite run down. Tennis courts replaced the old Botanic Garden glasshouses and new houses were built around the perimeter. The South garden escaped the war relatively unscathed, but those pesky Dutch elm beetles weren’t so generous and much replanting was carried out after the 1970s.

Mini beast hotel at Cadogan Gardens South

Mini beast hotel at Cadogan Place South Garden: one of the best I’ve ever seen

Charles Dickens once described Cadogan Place as “the connecting link between the aristocratic pavements of Belgrave Square and the barbarism of Chelsea”. I suppose he talks of the time just before his death, when the area became run down.

Beautiful toliets at Cadogan Gardens South!

If a new-build, brick block of toilets on a dull, dull day can look attractive, we should not let anything defeat us!

The Cadogan family still own large swathes of the very upmarket Chelsea today and are second only to the Duke of Westminster, the richest landowner in Britain. The Cadogans descend from Major William Cadogan, a cavalry officer in Oliver Cromwell’s army, but in fact their wealth predominantly came through marriage, when the second Earl of Cadogan married Elizabeth, daughter and heiress of Sir Hans Sloane, lord of the manor of Chelsea.

Gorgeous colours, textures and forms at Cadogan Gardens North

Gorgeous colours, textures and forms at Cadogan Place North Garden

Sir Hans Sloane was a botanist, physician and philanthropist, who contributed much to natural science and whose legacies include the British Museum, Natural History Museum and the wonderful Chelsea Physic Garden.

Hans Sloane Gardens at Cadogan Gardens South

At the centre of the South garden stands the Hans Sloane Garden, which was displayed at the Chelsea Flower Show in 2005

However, there is some irony in the fact that much of the Sloane’s (and hence Cadogan’s) wealth came from slave-worked Jamaican sugar plantations, as later on, William Wilberforce resided at number 44 Cadogan Place. It was here that he learnt, just three days before his death in 1833, that a bill had been passed to abolish slavery in the UK once and for all, the culmination of his life’s work.

A shady area to dwell at Cadogan Gardens South

Such a gorgeous shady woodland area to sit and ponder at Cadogan Place South

Number 52 Cadogan Place was also the birthplace, childhood and family home of Harold Macmillan, the UK’s Prime Minister from 1957–1963. And at number 30 lived Dorothy Jordan, who bore some ten children as the mistress to King William IV, and with a further five children in tow it’s hard to imagine how she ever had time to establish fame as a highly successful comedy actress.

Soft planting spills over the pathway at Cadogan Gardens South

Fally-over planting softens the pathway at Cadogan Place South

It’s certainly been all go at Cadogan Place Gardens over the years. It’s fascinating to think how much has gone on within and around this one garden. But with an estimated population of around six million in eighteenth century England and limited practicalities for travel, I guess everything was a little more interconnected back then.

Salvia at Cadogan Gardens North

Salvia sclarea (clary sage) was a real feature at Cadogan Place North

I have yet to become a real city person, but if I can sit underneath an ancient mulberry tree–rumoured, if unlikely, to have been planted by Charles II 300 years ago–learning about London’s history, there is just a small chance of me catching the city bug yet!

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An original Red Book of Humphry Repton’s from the late 1700s: I was beyond excited to see this at the Royal Horticultural Society’s Lindley Library a few weeks ago

30 thoughts on “Cadogan Place Gardens, London

  1. An Eye For Detail says:

    Oh, how absolutely fascinating! To think that tanks were actually dug into the ground during the war…and it has come back so beautifully, car park and all. I love reading all the history, so thank you Janna. Such beautiful color combinations and yes, a perfect way to spend a June day. Maybe this coming year I will see it!

    • jannaschreier says:

      I’m so glad it wasn’t just me that found the history fascinating! It’s always lovely to share these beautiful places and interesting stories. Do hope you manage to get to see some English gardens next year; if you particularly want to see this one, just make sure you check the dates on the Open Square website: many of them (including this one) is only open occasionally.

  2. Catherine says:

    And I see that you can rent an unfurnished 1 bedroom apartment in Cadogan for only £625 per week. And then ‘apply’ for garden membership. Very exclusive!
    Lovely garden tour but even more fabulous history tour. I hadn’t known about the Cadogans and Sloanes before. And were any of Repton’s features restored? Or was it way beyond that after the war and the 1970s carpark?

    • jannaschreier says:

      I should rent a couple, Catherine! Paul and I went to a really fascinating museum a few weeks ago: The Geffrye Museum. It shows how ‘middling’ Londoners (e.g. doctors) have lived since the 1600s and was very enlightening. Essentially, not so long ago, a ‘middling sort’ would have owned the whole 4-5 storey house in west London, where as now they struggle to own one level. Shows how mad house prices have become and what a problem it is for the non-middlers working in London.
      As far as I can see and read, there is absolutely nothing of Repton’s design that has been restored. Perhaps Repton wasn’t such a big deal in the 1970s, before garden design as a ‘thing’ took off more widely? You have prompted a good thought though: I should contact the Lindley Library and see if they have the Cadogan Red Book. Would be fascinating to see.

  3. Suzanne says:

    London’s squares are quite breathtaking. Cadogan Place is very beautiful and I loved the ones I visited in 2013. Most amazingly I think, is that after all that has happened Codogan Place is still a garden. The appreciation, respect and retention of open green space in England is something of which I am quite envious [sigh!].
    The invertebrate ‘hotel’ is very clever; such an interesting piece of garden sculpture. Hmmm, another one for my list of ‘one day’ projects?

    • jannaschreier says:

      It is indeed lovely that Cadogan Place still has it’s garden, although I’m sure we have our fair share of ‘non-retention’ in this country too. A bug hotel would work fantastically well in your playful garden, and I’m thinking if you could get the structure in place, there are two little boys that would love to poke bamboo canes into it for you! Although you might just want to read what Adriana has to say first…

      • Suzanne says:

        Thanks for pointing out Adriana’s comment Janna. I also had not heard about the disease factor in bug hotels. There doesn’t seem to be much about it on Dr Google but I read a little of what there is so that project has been scrubbed from the list. I don’t need to provide homes for my insects, they have enough al la naturale.
        Said little boys do find plenty of places to poke sticks and otherwise entertain themselves when they visit.

  4. Adriana says:

    I always find the first two lines of any writing are the ones that inspire me to read on. I loved the poetic and introductory lines to this blog Janna – and for some reason it also triggered a memory of Virginia Wolf’s reference to Cadogan Square (as she called it) in her book Night and Day. I digress! Wonderful Codogan Place – I love it – this is my next garden (yet given me more ideas). I loved the little sitting area under those shady trees – want that! The planting seemed ‘normal’ if you know what I mean – something you could do in your own garden given reasonable soil and weather. Overall it looks enchanting!

    • jannaschreier says:

      I’m learning, slowly! Thinking more about my opening lines so I’m thrilled you noticed; thanks ever so much for the feedback. Oh, Virginia Wolf also had something to say about Cadogan, did she? And of course she is linked to Sissinghurst so it just goes to show how small a world it was. With that cool, damp atmosphere in the Dandenongs you’ll be creating something very London-like! I remember visiting there in late spring/early summer and it being 13 degrees…which is exactly the temperature it is here, today! A little chilly but oh so good for gardening. And yes, the sitting area under the trees was one of my favourite bits, and so practical for an area that wouldn’t be the easiest for growing.

  5. Adriana says:

    Just a thought though – After helping to write a couple of articles on bees as well as contributing to a book on the same subject – I am a bit worried about providing insects with insect hotels. My research suggested that they may encourage many predators e.g. non native bees and non-native insects that carry disease which could be transmitted to native populations So instead of encouraging beneficial insects could they be doing more harm then good? Are they there to make us, rather than the insects feel good?

    • jannaschreier says:

      Interesting. I hadn’t heard that. I see the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds still recommends them, but then they also recommend feeding birds in winter. So could this be a difference between the conditions here and in Australia (certainly our cold winters may help kill off any diseases), or are we just behind the times over here?

      • Adriana says:

        No I wrote an article for both a UK magazine and an Australian one on the same subject – and there is some doubt it is a great approach. In Canada they are actually experiencing disease spread due to them.

        • jannaschreier says:

          That’s not good. I wonder if the downsides definitely outweigh the positives…if there has been enough research to say either way. You are probably right that bug hotels are more about us humans trying to feel good about ourselves though! Perhaps there is a case for them in very urban areas, but then if there aren’t many natural habitats, there probably aren’t many food sources either, so it probably balances out by itself. Thanks for highlighting this, I will watch out for more information with interest.

  6. germac4 says:

    Wonderful garden with such a rich history…I’m always pleased to see green spaces in a city .. Especially a big bustling city like London. I’m sure the Botanic gardens in Canberra would be pleased to see the Wollemi Pine with pride of place in Cadogan Place South.

    • jannaschreier says:

      It’s amazing how often you see Wollemi pines in London. I think English gardeners like the challenge of them. We are known for our persistence at growing all things completely unsuitable to our climate/soils! I’m not sure I’m going to be digging things up, covering them in fleece and putting them in a heated greenhouse once I’ve got a garden, but many are very dedicated to these tasks. Couldn’t agree with you more about green spaces in big cities. I am so very grateful to have Hyde Park on my doorstep…not sure I’d survive without it!

  7. kate@barnhouse says:

    How fascinating, Janna. As a garden maker, ex Londoner and historian this post made such great reading. Lucky you having access to these amazing places, be they the secret world of London squares or rare archives. Thank you so much for sharing your discoveries, reading this has really has brightened up a grey winter’s day.

    • jannaschreier says:

      Ah, thanks for your kind words, Kate. We do need these things on days like today, don’t we? I’m jealous of you presumably having a more inspiring history teacher than I did. If you are ever in London with an hour to spare I’d highly recommend booking an appointment at the Lindley Library. They have such incredible archives; I saw all sorts of garden design documents dating right back to 1640. I was like a kid in a sweet shop, open-mouthed! Contact Vanessa there, she is full of enthusiasm and I’m certain would absolutely love to share them with you. In fact I might come too!

  8. Sue Egan says:

    Hello Janna,
    Great to read the history of the gardens. I was staying very close by in June 2005, and was given a key to the gardens….wonderful place. Even some good ideas to bring back to an Australian country garden.
    Cheers
    Sue

    • jannaschreier says:

      Hello Sue! I’m really pleased you enjoyed reading about the gardens’ history; thanks for dropping a note. How lucky you were to have a key to the gardens whilst you were staying here; you will have got to spend time there almost by yourself, I imagine. I guess they looked just like my photos, given that it was also June that you visited. I’m glad you got some good ideas to take back to your own garden; despite the differences in our soils and climates, I agree that there are always little gems to take away. It can be even more fun to develop something we’ve seen abroad as we can tweak the concept to create something quite unique to ourselves. Happy gardening!

  9. Louise Dutton says:

    What a gorgeous garden to spend time in Janna. Exactly how big are the gardens in the open garden squares? They look like they take up quite a large volume of space. I did enjoy the selection and combinations of plantings. History was not a topic that I enjoyed in my younger years, it is something that interests me so much more the older I get. Happy Christmas Janna! May you share in some special times with family during this festive season.

    • jannaschreier says:

      So lovely to hear from you, Louise! You are right in thinking that the squares can be really big. This one is three hectares, which is incredible in central London. But more typically they are one to two hectares: still a good size. Most have really stately old trees–often plane trees–which are enormous, so it’s a good job they have space. The old trees give them history in themselves. Funny to hear you are like me with history. It all seemed irrelevant back then, but not at all now! Thank you for your good wishes. Thinking of you this Christmas.

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