‘Gardening and drinking go really well together,’ says Lottie Muir, aka the Cocktail Gardener. And she should know – by day she’s a volunteer gardener at the Brunel Museum and by night she mixes delicious cocktails using botanical ingredients.
I’d never heard of the Brunel Museum, let alone its roof garden, before the Chelsea Fringe. The garden sits above Brunel’s Thames Tunnel and was created last year by Lottie, with the help of a small grant from Capital Growth and Southwark Council. Triangular raised beds are laid out like a Trivial Pursuit counter around a fire pit and sun dial. Volunteers in the garden can take the produce home, but Lottie admits that she’s increasingly favouring plants that she can infuse, distill or use as a garnish for her cocktails.
Ah yes, the cocktails. I don’t generally drink in the afternoon but that policy went out of the window the moment I clapped eyes on Lottie’s Midnight Apothecary menu. First up was a Chelsea Fringe Collins (jasmine-infused gin, St Germain elderflower liqueur, rose petal syrup, lemon juice and soda). It was long and refreshing, sweet and sour, pale pink and sparkling, and garnished with sweet william petals and a sprig of lavender. I could have drunk that all afternoon but for decency’s sake I moved on to the non-alcholic but equally amazing Lavender Honeysuckle (lavender-infused wildflower honey, lemon juice, lemon balm, mint and sparkling water – see the pic above).
If I wasn’t such a lightweight I’d have tried the deep crimson Silver Rose Hibiscus (silver rose tea-infused vodka, Cointreau, hibiscus syrup, lemon juice and bitters). As it was I had to be driven home in a daze – the sun, the alcohol, the hum of the bees, the gentle chatter, the fragrance of the lavender I’d been sitting next to and the fact that I was wearing a jumper in the 20-degree heat had all conspired to make me feel a little… sleepy.
The roof garden is a lovely and unexpected space, free to enter, and it’s a real sun trap too. I urge you to go, especially while Lottie is dispensing her cocktails – every Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon. Just make sure you don’t have anything important to do afterwards.
I’ve waxed lyrical about the Queen Elizabeth Hall roof garden a couple of times on this blog, and that definitely qualifies as a secret garden. But there’s a new kid on the block now too, a few hundred metres away: the garden outside the National Theatre.
These grasses had caught my eye several times from Waterloo Bridge, but I couldn’t figure out exactly where they were. I eventually got up close and personal with them last week (they’re a couple of floors up, near one of the Olivier theatre’s bars). They’re planted in large blocks, intercut with rows of box, and their buff colouring complements Denis Lasdun’s concrete perfectly.
And you know what? On a balmy summer’s evening, most of the bar tables were empty. So if you want a quiet drink in London with a view to die for, you know where to go.
My friend Jo works in a darkened room in Hammersmith, in a TV editing suite. If she manages to escape for a lunch break, this is where she goes. It’s the roof garden of the Lyric Theatre, funded partly by the 5p charge for carrier bags at M&S and created by Groundwork London. It contains some pretty neat ideas, such as the benches with raised beds behind them, that could work well in a smaller garden.
Sadly it was so cold and wet when I visited last week that a lone smoker had the garden all to himself. Let’s hope we have a decent summer so that it can be properly enjoyed.
I’d heard that there was a new roof garden on the top of the Queen Elizabeth Hall, but not having read anything about it I was expecting a few cursory bamboos in pots. How wrong I was. It’s been created in partnership with the Eden Project, and they don’t do things by halves.
There are lush lawns, wildlife meadows, fruit trees in brightly coloured pots, a long scented pergola, abundant raised beds of veg and a scarecrow. On a fine summer’s evening, people were making full use of it – lounging on the lawns, chatting on benches and having a drink – but it wasn’t overrun, and I can’t help thinking that a lot of people don’t know about it. Which is a shame, because I can’t think of a nicer place to meet up this summer.
Sadly, the garden is only temporary. I might have to throw myself down on the lawn and refuse to budge when they dismantle it in September.
PS Have just found a lovely account of how the gardens were created – read it here.