Usually secrets don't stay secret for very long. That's why I was genuinely worried that my "secret garden" in central London would be gone, ruined, or not secret any more, when I went back after an absence of nine years.
Early one evening, I headed for the Inner Circle in Regent's Park, took a right at the Rose Garden, and followed the road as it curved past the Park Office. And there it was, an alley with one gate open and one gate closed. At the end of this wisteria-clad tunnel, my secret garden was looking more ravishing than ever.
Photographs by Kendra Wilson.
Above: Like a country house park in the middle of town, the garden is overlooked by a large Regency villa. A line of potted shrubs separates the garden from the private house, which is owned by the Sultan of Brunei.
Above: Our business, however, is the garden, which has been open to the public since 1928. For 40 years before that it was a designed garden, intended by its owner, the Marquess of Bute, as a place for "quiet contemplation." Part of its secret charm may lie in the fact that it was a neglected corner for many years after becoming public.
Above: It is still a place of quiet contemplation, partly because no one is around. It is also a glamorous garden, and the attention lavished on it by invisible gardeners (do they work through the night?) sets it apart from the other Royal Parks.
Above: Pleached limes are used to enclose two smaller, even quieter gardens, satellites to the main pond area.
Regent's Park is a highly cultivated public playground, with impressive floral displays. In contrast, the St. John's Lodge Garden (for this is the name of my secret garden) is more personal than civic. The soil is richer and darker, and the plantings are not intended to withstand the hurly-burly of the general public.
Above: A rustic arbor among the pleaching. Some very informal cow parsley stands waist high.
Above: Tulips and a giant urn. Similar urns are much in evidence around the avenues of Regent's Park, but here in the secret garden they are put together in a different way.
Above: Cardoons and delphiniums prepare to surge outward and upward in the formal borders.
Above: The lupines are also ready to go. Woven willow structures, long associated with yurts and festivals, are now part of the vernacular of grand gardens. They can also be spotted in the highly formalized front gardens along Peto Place, one of the Regency terraces designed by John Nash in the early 1800s, adjacent to Regent's Park.
Above: White violets, hostas, and euphorbia enjoy the moisture of an English dusk.
Above: Free glamor for those who seek it, in London NW1.
For more of London's little-known gems, see An Under-the-Radar Food Market, Beneath London's Railway Arches.
This is an update of a post originally published May 15, 2013.