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At St Mary’s Secret Garden

June 22, 2020
by the gentle author

The garden is currently open for plant sales on Tuesday and Friday from 10am until 1pm

St Mary’s Secret Garden is situated in a quiet back street in Shoreditch and it comes as a welcome surprise to discover this verdant enclave amongst the dense maze of streets and housing that surround it. Yet two hundred years ago, this area North of Old St was the preserve of market gardens and nurseries, before the expansion of the city rendered what was once commonplace as the exception.

In 1986, some volunteers cultivated plants upon a piece of wasteground and, more than a quarter century later, there are well-established trees and a density of luxuriant growth that propose a convincingly leafy grove worthy of being described as a secret garden. You walk through the gate and you leave the realm of concrete and enter the realm of plants. Here nature is not something to be eradicated but is encouraged, where the enclosing trees induce a state of calm and urban anxieties retreat.

One overcast morning, with fine rain blowing in the wind, I cycled over to explore this Shoreditch Eden. I followed a path through an overarching stand of hazels with beehives in a line, leading round to the greenhouse and an old market barrow used to display plants for sale, while beyond this lay a vegetable garden organised in raised beds and a peaceful herb garden with a huge bay tree at the centre, with plants selected for their scent and texture.

Once you have made this journey you are at the centre of St Mary’s Secret Garden, and when I sat here alone to contemplate the peace, an hour passed before I realised it. Clearly it is not just me that finds gardens therapeutic because, as well being open to the public, St Mary’s runs gardening sessions for people with disabilities of all kinds.

Anyone can come to St Mary’s Secret Garden to seek solace. You can volunteer, take gardening courses, rent space to grow vegetables, and buy plants and seeds cheaply. Or you can simply escape the city streets to sit and dream surrounded by the green leaves – as I did – enjoying horticultural therapy.

Victoria Fellows and Israel Forrest planting Scabious

The garden where I lost an hour.

You may also like to read about

Heather Stevens, Head Gardener at the Geffrye Museum

or Thomas Fairchild, Hoxton Gardener

0r Andy Willoughby, Gardener.

12 Responses leave one →
  1. Jill Wilson permalink
    June 22, 2020

    I’m loving the phrase ‘verdant enclave’…

  2. Jeanette Hollick permalink
    June 22, 2020

    How lovely! Beautiful secret – shall visit.
    Thanks for posting.

  3. June 22, 2020

    Wonderful that such places survive

  4. Pauline Taylor permalink
    June 22, 2020

    Lovely, just lovely, I have never understood how anyone can live without plants and The Secret Garden cannot help but bring to mind the wonderful story by Frances Hodgson Burnett, an all time favourite of so many people. There is magic in the name, and this garden obviously lives up to it, how I wish I could visit ~~~ and buy some plants. SIGH !!

  5. Evelyn permalink
    June 22, 2020

    looks like a very special find, a haven amid the concrete! – perfect place for some peace. Thank you.

  6. June 22, 2020

    Precious precious oasis.

  7. Avril Towell permalink
    June 22, 2020

    Haggerston is where I lived as a child and this area was on the space left after the demolition of the many terraced streets which had been there since the middle of the 1800s. Your blog of February 16 2013 The Haggerston Nobody Knows shows the streets that were once there and I know from the many comments that it stirred the memories of people that had once lived there; including myself. It is so nice to see green spaces replacing flattened houses and although London has changed, Randal Cremer school opposite this garden still looks the same as when I was there in the early fifties. Avril

  8. Greg Tingey permalink
    June 22, 2020

    Reminds me of the Phoenix Garden by St Giles in the Fields – which I used to know well …

  9. June 22, 2020

    Such a Beautiful Garden and It’s Lovely Flowers!!??????

  10. AMANDA permalink
    June 23, 2020

    A feast for the eye, heart & soul. Such beauty.

    Simply gazing at the lovely photos brought peace.
    The many hues of green surrounding the revered tree has inspired what is lacking in my own Secret Garden – more greens.

    During my 4 month ‘retreat’ l created a safe sanctuary for all the bird babies to feed by day and a magically lit Fairy Dell after nightfall, of which l take the greatest satisfaction due to no physical shopping possible.
    I can’t stop staring out there ? ?

  11. June 23, 2020

    You write exquisitely. In these sad times I am transported as you weave your magic and I am so grateful. You take the East End that my grandmother and her ancestors still haunt and transport it to me in New Zealand, all the beauty, the fun, the hallowed spaces and this garden. Thank you so very much, you have a beautiful soul which manifests in your crafted words.

  12. June 24, 2020

    Urban gardens like this are a true joy.

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