Deep within the heartbeat of London’s West End, away from the well-trodden tourist paths, lies a secret garden, waiting to be discovered. The Phoenix Garden, nestled amidst the urban maze of Bloomsbury, is a remarkable urban retreat, a testament to the resilience of nature and community spirit. Meanwhile, the Post Building Rooftop offers a different yet equally enticing perspective of Bloomsbury’s greener side.
The Phoenix Garden: An Urban Oasis
Surrounded by Charing Cross Road, Phoenix Street, and Flitcroft Street to the west, and Shaftesbury Avenue to the east, the Phoenix Garden is a tranquil sanctuary. It’s a retreat amid the city’s hustle, a place where time seemingly stands still. The garden’s name honours the Phoenix pub, which once graced the site until World War II bombings reduced it to rubble.
For years, the site lay derelict, neglected, and eventually transformed into a car park. But in the 1980s, a wave of community gardens sprung up, breathing new life into such overlooked spaces. Opened in 1986 by local MP Frank Dobson, the Phoenix Garden is the last survivor of this green movement, resisting the encroaching tide of urban redevelopment.
The Rustic Charm of the Phoenix Garden
Operated entirely by volunteers, the Phoenix Garden is a charmingly disorganised space. Its informal planting scheme, the ever-present promise of new developments, and its quirky character all contribute to its appeal. Here, you’ll discover a pond brimming with goldfish, a modest raised vegetable garden, and a lawn perfect for picnics.
However, the Phoenix Garden’s true allure lies in its many benches and tables. These welcome spots invite local workers and visitors to unwind, read a book, enjoy a meal, or listen to music (quietly, of course), offering a precious slice of tranquillity amid urban chaos.
The Garden’s Botanical Star
Among the varied flora within the Phoenix Garden, one plant stands out: the Viper’s Bugloss (Echium Vulgare). This rare plant thrives in the garden’s unique microclimate, shielded by the surrounding buildings. These towering plants, living for only two years, provide an annual spectacle before self-seeding for future generations.
In 2016, a community centre was built in the garden, complete with a green roof that blends seamlessly into the environment. This centre, licensed for weddings, offers one of the garden’s few income streams, ensuring its continued preservation.
For more information see: https://www.thephoenixgarden.org/
The other hidden garden could not be more different to the Phoenix Garden except that it is also both very hard to find and occupies a triangular site.
The Post Building Rooftop: A Green Vantage Point
Meanwhile, a very different kind of garden graces Bloomsbury—the Post Building Rooftop. This free public roof garden sits atop an office block wedged between New Oxford Street, High Holborn, and Museum Street. This garden is somewhat elusive, marked only by a small sign above the building’s entrance.
To access the Post Building Rooftop, you must pass through a series of security measures, much like those at an airport. But once these formalities are completed, a lift escorts you to the 9th floor, where the expansive rooftop garden awaits.
The Sky-high Retreat of Bloomsbury
While half of the rooftop garden is reserved for the building’s occupants or private hire, the remaining public area is generously proportioned. From this unique vantage point, you can appreciate Bloomsbury in all its architectural diversity. To the north, the panorama extends all the way to Highgate and Hampstead.
Directly ahead, a collage of iconic structures unfolds. The unusual steeple of St George’s Bloomsbury is silhouetted against the
British Museum, which, in turn, frames the University of London’s Senate House. Towards the east, you can see Canary Wharf and the City of London, while to the west, the winding Thames is punctuated by the unmistakable silhouette of the London Eye.
Embracing the Unexpected
What sets the Post Building Rooftop apart is the unexpected contrast it offers. Amid a hub of corporate activity, the rooftop garden provides a green escape, a place where one can catch their breath and reconnect with nature. Surrounded by skyscrapers and a constantly changing skyline, this rooftop garden remains steadfast, providing a consistent, peaceful retreat.
Bloomsbury: A Beacon for Urban Green Spaces
Bloomsbury’s green spaces, in their varied forms, highlight the area’s commitment to fostering urban biodiversity and providing residents and visitors with accessible green spaces. These hidden gems offer more than just a break from the urban grind; they serve as vital community spaces, fostering social interaction and promoting well-being.
As the city continues to grow and evolve, Bloomsbury’s commitment to maintaining and cultivating these green spaces becomes ever more crucial. They are not just decorative additions; they are integral parts of the urban fabric, demonstrating that nature and the city can coexist harmoniously.
The Phoenix Garden and the Post Building Rooftop are more than just pretty spots; they are breathing spaces in the truest sense. They show us that even in the busiest corners of a bustling city like London, there is always room for nature and tranquillity.
In the heart of Bloomsbury, amid its storied streets and iconic landmarks, these green spaces serve as silent reminders of the resilience of nature and the importance of community. And as long as places like these exist, the spirit of Bloomsbury remains vibrant and invincible. In their own unique ways, the Phoenix Garden and the Post Building Rooftop encapsulate the charm, diversity, and enduring appeal of Bloomsbury.
So, next time you find yourself in the heart of London’s West End, remember that a breath of fresh air and a touch of tranquillity are never too far away in Bloomsbury. Whether you choose the rustic allure of the Phoenix Garden or the sky-high vistas of the Post Building Rooftop, you’re sure to discover a side of Bloomsbury that offers a refreshing change of pace from city life.
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