The Roof Gardens
1938, Ralph Hancock
99 Kensington High Street w8
020 7937 7994 or 020 7368 3993; www.roofgardens.virgin.com
If you're tiring of the summer crowds in Kensington, turn down shaded Derry Street and look for a large, imposing doorway marked 99 Kensington High Street. It appears to lead to the offices of some well-heeled company, but go inside, sign in at reception, take a lift up to the roof, and then step out into one of London's strangest secret gardens. Floating an improbable thirty metres above the traffic of Kensington High Street, and sprawling out over one and a half acres, the Roof Gardens boast fully grown oak and fruit trees, a stream stocked with fish, and four resident flamingos, named Bill, Ben, Splosh, and Pecks. There are fine views over the crowded cityscape of Kensington and Chelsea. Opened in 1938 atop what was then the Derry and Toms department store (part of the Barkers group), the gardens were created at the behest of Barkers' vice president, and designed by Ralph Hancock (architect of the Gardens of the Nations at Rockefeller Center, New York). Today the Roof Gardens are owned by the Virgin Hotels group and open for public viewing on select days only: phone in advance of your visit to check access, and then wander through a 1930s departmentstore president's dream of a gracious shopping experience.
Helen Gordon is a journalist, editor, and the author of Landfall. She was formerly an associate editor at Granta magazine. She lives in East London.