This time last month the wisteria on my street in south London was in full and fragrant bloom. And I miraculously had a free Saturday, so I packed my camera and headed up to Hampstead to search for something I’d read about for years but never found. The Hampstead Pergola and Hill Garden.
According to legend (and Instagram) the pergola features wisteria, so there is only a very short window of opportunity to see it in its full glory each year. I was too early. Apparently the Heath has its own climate and the wisteria hysteria started a good 3 or 4 weeks later than ‘down south’!
However, much as I’d have loved to see it, I have to say, the pergola and associated hill garden were utterly delightful without it. The architecture is lovely, the plants are varied and beautiful, and on a warm spring day it was a real joy to explore.
According to the City of London website (how is Hampstead Heath part of the City of London, you may ask. I have no idea, but the website claims it as a City of London Green Space, so who are we to argue?) the hill garden “was the dream of William H Lever, later Lord Leverhulme, a wealthy idealist, patron of the arts, architecture and landscape gardening; and Thomas Mawson, the celebrated landscape architect.”
It was constructed and built up over 20 years, from 1905 to 1925 (interrupted in part by the Great War), and its sweeping lines and elegant curves certainly speak of that era. It was incredibly peaceful and restful up there – if you could dodge the families, couples and individuals holding photoshoots against its classical backdrop.
If you want the wildness of the heath proper, you’re better off staying on the larger, eastern patch of ground, but for something tamed and cultivated by humankind, eschew Parliament Hill and Kenwood House, and head west to the pergola. It really is lovely.
Bonus: I needed a drink and an ice cream after exploring in the sun all morning, so I followed signs and the map to the closest refreshment house, and discovered Golders Hill Park, which was also really beautiful, and contained a small zoo and deer enclosure. Who knew?! That led me further from Hampstead station, but close to Golders Green, which was only one stop further up the Northern Line. Handy.
What: Explore the Hill Garden and Pergola
Where: Inverforth Close, Hampstead, London NW3 7EX (It’s not exactly obvious where to go from the maps – basically you want to walk round the back of Inverforth House, which you’ll spot easily from North End Way – it’s the massive house you pass with two blue plaques on its outer wall. Turn left onto Inverforth Close immediately after it. See map detail below for where to go from there.)
When: It opens at 8.30 every morning, and closes at a seemingly random series of times throughout the year. See this post for details.
How much: Free