In the centre of London, just a few minutes walk from Covent Garden station and the bustle of the Seven Dials streets packed with shops and restaurants and cafes is a pocket of serenity. I first stumbled upon Phoenix Garden many years ago when I was wandering around with my camera and spotted a Stik face staring out at me from a bright yellow wall down a side street. That piece of street art is still there and and well protected, at the very end of the garden.
The site used to host the old leper hospital of St. Giles-in-the-Fields that was set up in the 12th century. Later, it became a WWII bombsite as a result of the Blitz and then was turned into a car pack. So, this is very much an improvement (as any garden in the middle of an enormous city would be) and the garden has existed for more than 30 years now. It even won the first prize for Best Environmental Garden in the “Camden in Bloom” competition six times.
You can tell a lot of care goes into maintaining it and making it look so pretty. It’s a registered charity and is run by the local community with the expertise of community gardener Chris Raeburn, a management committee and volunteers.
It’s a tiny space, but full of character with its quiet corners, wild pear tree, fleeting field poppies that spring up unexpectedly through the years, dripping purple clumps of wysteria lining the fence along the edge of the park, bees flitting about the bramble and ponds where frogs occasionally splash in from the edges. There even used to be a cat who lived in the gardens, though I didn’t see it this time, so not sure if it’s still there!
There are also wonderfully inviting wooden benches that add personality with their quirky inscriptions: “I like worms and woodlice”, “For Sheila who always knew where the hidden places were”, “Oak bench: just you”, and “100,000 greenfly = 1 blue tit”.
Surrounding the benches and along the narrow pathway through the park that’s slightly overgrown, you’ll spot big yellow bushes of Coronilla and towering pink Giant Bugloss that are native to Spain’s Canary Islands. Wood pigeons wander about and the occasional butterfly flutters its wings around the plants.
If you’re ever looking for a break from the Covent Garden of Soho crowds, pop in with a friend or a book and enjoy a slice of serenity in the centre of London!