On the last Friday of my recent trip to London I stumbled upon the most magical place in West End (Harry Potter play included): The Phoenix Garden.
I’ve never felt more like Mary from “The Secret Garden” in my life: right behind the Phoenix theatre, in the last place you’d ever expect, is a beautiful community garden. At first I thought it was a private garden, one of the many gardens around central London that are accessible only to residents or others lucky enough to have their keys. I was taking a shortcut from Charing Cross Road to Shaftesbury Avenue when I saw the wall around the place, and inside glimpses of the planting. I was about to pass by when I noticed that there was someone sitting with their carry on luggage on a bench.
“That’s not right for a keyed garden,” I thought to myself, and went to investigate. I met a duo of lovely ladies at the entrance, volunteers that told me a little about the place and told me to go exploring. It was love at first sight.
The Phoenix Garden is a community garden, run by volunteers and funded by charitable donations (I donated and I urge you to both visit them and donate to them). It was founded on a parking lot, which itself was founded on a WWII bomb site, so talk about challenging growing conditions! Rubble, rubble everywhere and not a bit of earth. It’s also a very small plot, only 1/3 of an acre, which gets very little rainfall. The volunteers managed to create a sustainable green oasis that feels much larger than it is, requires no watering, and is a haven to wildlife. Sitting there, a minute from the bustling Charing Cross Road and you’ll encounter birds, squirrels, bees, and even frogs within moments of sitting on one of the garden benches.
The garden feels larger because it has been cleverly planned: there are winding paths, tall plants that screen you from the rest of the garden and provide privacy, little hills and deep valleys. It’s a miracle of planting and construction.
The planting is quite varied and suitable for dry and relatively warm conditions (a bonus of being a city garden), so there’s a lot to look at beyond the wildlife.
It’s also a wonderful place to just sit in and decompress and unwind. You can’t help but smile looking around you, taking it all in. Take some time off your next West End visit and go say hello to its secret garden.