This hidden, little-known Mayfair square – festooned with exotic trees and endowed with two fascinating churches – gets few visitors. But it’s one of London’s best secret gardens. The discreet gate entrance, slightly set into an alleyway, doesn’t even graze the corner of tourists’ eyeballs, which are too fixed ahead as they make a beeline for the nearby Grosvenor and Berkeley Squares.
Even locals are oblivious, what with it being hidden behind a squadron of millionaire mansion blocks.
But Mount Street Gardens is one of the most stirring small green spaces in London for a stroll.
I love the incongruity of the palm trees scattered across the lawn. There’s a Canary Islands date palm at the far end, which always gives me amusement because it’s so fat and squat; it always looks like someone cut off half the trunk then replanted it. There’s also a smattering of tall Chinese windmill palms with broad, rustling, spiky leaves that resemble shredded umbrella heads. Their soil beds are fringed with camellias and holly shrubs. Apparently palm trees are quite suited to London, as they are hardy enough to withstand the changeable weather, and pollution.
In summer it’s like walking into an Asian pleasure garden.
But even in winter, I enjoy coming here and walking through slowly. In fact, this is when Mount Street Gardens seems most ethereal. The air has a watery, cold, country smell thanks to the ice-slicked grass. It might be due to there being some micro-climate, but there’s always a thin layer of frost licking above the lawn like a delicate white stretch of angel hair, even in the middle of the day.
It makes the cavalcade of memorial benches, which go all the way along the garden even more eerie.
The two churches in the gardens are unique in their own ways.
The first one (if you’re coming from Mount Street) is the Church of the Immaculate Conception, a lavish Gothic Revival edifice dating back to 1849. It’s very imposing – all sky-raking finials, pointed arch windows too black to look through, and lacy latticework darkened in the crags with age.
Don’t be intimidated to go in though, even if you’re not a church-goer – inside it’s unusually colourful, full of splendid stained-glass windows and rich carving work that was outlandish for the time, and vociferously criticised. Evelyn Waugh converted to Catholicism here.
The second religious building in the square is Grosvenor Chapel, which dates back to 1730. It’s a simple, small classical building, rather in the shadow of the Church of the Immaculate Conception.
But if you come here at the right time of day you might hear Renaissance organ music wafting from the windows. The robin birds, which also love Mount Street Gardens, like to join in with their fruity whistle too. The perfect soundtrack for your walk.