Behind the iron gates

Garden squares provide private outdoor space, safe play areas and even tennis courts - and they're bumping up the price of prime London homes by up to 25 per cent
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The Independent Online

Snatches of green seen through iron railings is the only view most of us get of London's exclusive garden squares. But next Saturday and Sunday you will be able to snoop to your heart's content. More than 100 communal gardens across the capital are opening up to the public who, for a fiver, can visit as many as takes their fancy. Whether visitors choose to admire the plants, watch Scottish dancing or listen to jazz, the one thing they cannot fail to see is why the properties that provide a passport to these spots carry such a hefty price.

Snatches of green seen through iron railings is the only view most of us get of London's exclusive garden squares. But next Saturday and Sunday you will be able to snoop to your heart's content. More than 100 communal gardens across the capital are opening up to the public who, for a fiver, can visit as many as takes their fancy. Whether visitors choose to admire the plants, watch Scottish dancing or listen to jazz, the one thing they cannot fail to see is why the properties that provide a passport to these spots carry such a hefty price.

In residential areas they provide a place for children to play and unite communities through garden committees, tennis clubs and regular events. In commercial areas they are a refuge for office workers. In the West End, squares such as Dorset, Montagu and Bryanston feel miles, rather than minutes, away from Oxford Street.

Deborah Battsek looks back fondly on the time she lived in a flat in Montagu Square when her son was a baby. "It was a lifeline for me. I would push the pram until he was asleep and then I could leave him to sleep under the trees while I got on with some work," she says. "You can let children run around without having to watch them every minute because the gardens are locked and you feel completely safe. You also have all the benefit of a beautiful garden but none of the responsibility."

Martin Bikhit of estate agents Kay & Co says that prices in the terraces around the squares can be as much as 25 per cent higher than in other streets. "The most sought-after flats are on the first floors with their high ceilings and lovely views." Kay & Co has a flat for sale in Montagu Square for £1.25m, which occupies the raised ground and lower ground floors of a period house. It has a light reception room, three bedrooms and a split-level courtyard garden. There is also a 2,500sq ft ground-floor flat for sale in Bryanston Square with a long lease, planning permission for an extension and a price tag of £1.55m.

It wasn't until the late 18th century that the model square had been perfected, most notably in 1783 in the form of Bedford Square. But nowhere are they more prolific than in Kensington and Chelsea.

But assuming that all gardens are run along the same lines is a mistake. Dog owners will have to search for a welcome, while children are better catered for in some places than others. Gardens that appear to be private may be public, there are places where no one can tread, and don't expect automatic entry to the tennis courts. "They are run like any other tennis clubs," explains Deon Steyn of Cluttons' Chelsea office. "You have to be approved as a member. What people fail to realise is that by living on a garden square you do not automatically have the right to roam freely in the communal gardens. This will normally be arranged by separate negotiation and might cost around £200 to £350 per year."

Cluttons have a third-floor Cadogan Square apartment with unparalleled south-facing views across the length of the gardens for £545,000 leasehold, with 19 years remaining. In Cornwall Gardens, SW7, a two-bedroom flat with wonderful views over the communal gardens is for sale through Douglas & Gordon at £525,000 leasehold with 110 years left. It features an entrance hall and large reception room. Cluttons also has a three-bedroom apartment in Queen's Gate Gardens with a south-facing reception room overlooking the communal grounds; £950,000 with a share of the freehold.

Lulu Egerton of Lane Fox says properties in Chelsea's prime squares are always snapped up and carry a premium of at least 10 per cent. An exceptional Georgian house with rear garden in Wellington Square is for sale at £3.5m. Its owners can only admire the garden square with its Italian fountain from a distance, however - covenants ensure that it is purely ornamental.

Briefly the home of Mark Twain, 23 Tedworth Square does permit access. On the market for £3.45m, the corner house of 4,790 sq feet has a huge reception space and a roof terrace. Residents of the square are currently negotiating with the Cadogan Estate to take over the running of the gardens on a 20-year lease - a growing trend.

In Belgravia, Knight Frank is selling a first- and second-floor maisonette in Eaton Square, London's premier address, for £2.375m. The elegant drawing room with French windows overlooks the landscaped gardens. Access is by arrangement. The agents, together with Ayrton Wylie, also have on their books 20 Chester Square, a period façade with a modern interior. It has five bedroom suites and staff accommodation, a terrace, balcony and access to the square garden. Asking price is £5.95m.

Tom Tangney of Knight Frank's Kensington Church Street office says the houses in the Georgian Campden Hill Square are among the finest in the area. A terrace house on the western side is for sale at £3.5m. Its drawing room runs across the first floor and overlooks the communal gardens, which are popular with families.

When it comes to finding a safe play area for children, it would be hard to better the houses in Lansdowne Road, Notting Hill. A gate at the end of their own gardens leads into the communal gardens and the only people they are likely to meet will live in Elgin Crescent. No 76 Lansdowne Road is for sale through Knight Frank at £3.25m.

www.londongardenstrust.org

Knight Frank: 020-7591 8600

Kay & Co: 020-7486 6338

Cluttons: 020-7584 1771

Douglas & Gordon: 020-7581 1152

Lane Fox: 020-7225 3866

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