One hundred feet above the hustle and bustle of Kensington High Street in London, the spectacular Roof Gardens are home to three themed gardens including fully grown oak trees, a running stream and four resident flamingos.
They have been part of Virgin Limited Edition, Sir Richard Branson’s portfolio of unique retreats, since the early 1980s – but they date all the way back to the 1930s and for decades, until 2012, were the largest roof gardens in Europe at 6,000m2 (1.5 acres). See our side panel on the right for more about their history.
Visiting is a very special experience – it’s not often that you can enter a lift at street level, go up six floors and emerge in a leafy garden.
Since its opening 80 years ago The Roof Gardens has consisted of three themed gardens, each with its own unique style and planting:
- English woodland garden: home to fully grown oaks, this also features a flowing stream stocked with fish and a garden pond that’s home to four flamingos. It’s at its best in the spring when crocuses and narcissi burst into life.
- Spanish garden: based on the Alhambra in Granada, Spain. Fountains, vine-covered walkways with palm trees and colonnades give this a distinct Moorish flavour.
- Tudor garden: herringbone brickwork, impressive wisteria-covered arches and wrought iron give this an authentic Tudor feel. In summer the scent of roses, lilies and lavender fills the air.
Sir Richard has rented the Roof Gardens since 1981 and opened Babylon Restaurant on the seventh floor in 2001. From Babylon’s terrace, as well as enjoying the luxurious decor and delicious cuisine, diners can enjoy birds’ eye views over the Woodland Garden (not to mention the London skyline) and – if the gardens aren’t booked for a private event – enjoy an explore outside.
In legendary Virgin style, the venue also accommodates a rooftop Club, open on Friday and Saturday nights for partying the night away.
Our slideshow selects some of The Roof Gardens’ highlights.
A day in the life of the Roof Gardens showing the various gardens at their best and being enjoyed by visitors.
Sir Richard’s mother Eve and son Sam chat as they plant trees at The Roof Gardens.
The Roof Gardens’ head gardener and Babylon’s head chef are among those discussing how they work together sustainably.
The Roof Gardens’ history
Inspired by the Rockefeller Center gardens in New York and initially known as the Derry Gardens, they were laid out during the 1930s, on top of the then Derry and Tom’s department store.
Before planting and building could start, thick bitumen had to be laid on the roof for strength, then rubble for drainage and finally a 36 inch layer of topsoil – meaning that only small spades and forks have ever been used in order to avoid damaging the roof below.
The gardens survived two direct hits from enemy bombers during World War Two to enjoy a golden era in which royals visited frequently. One particularly memorable highlight was in 1964 when the gardens were used as the set for the BBC music video of Roy Orbison’s number one hit Oh Pretty Woman.
The gardens’ protection with Grade II listing by English Heritage in 1978 means that all maintenance is in keeping with the original spirit of the designs – such as the recent repainting of the Spanish Gardens’ walls in ‘flamingo pink’, their original 1930s colour.
The site has over 100 employees, all contributing to the Gardens’ ethos of sustainability: food scraps from Babylon, for example, are used to make compost that in turn is used to help grow salad and herbs for the restaurant.