Kensington Roof Gardens

London's Hanging Gardens of Babylon

Kensington Roof Gardens
Oli Scarff/Getty Images

Not to be confused with Kensington Gardens, Kensington Roof Gardens is London's equivalent of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. 

In an unlikely location on top of a department store on Kensington High Street, these tranquil gardens were planted in the 1930s and feature a Spanish garden, a Tudor garden, an English woodland garden, and even resident flamingos!

Kensington Roof Gardens Introduction

I learned about Kensington Roof Gardens from David Long's book Spectacular Vernacular.

Virgin Limited Edition - the luxury portfolio of Virgin Hotels Group Ltd - has owned the gardens since 1981, and renamed them 'The Roof Gardens' (although everyone still refers to them as Kensington Roof Gardens).

Combine your visit to Kensington Roof Gardens with a meal at the Babylon restaurant which serves contemporary British cuisine and overlooks the gardens.

Themed Gardens

There are three themed gardens, with over 70 full-size trees, a flowing stream stocked with fish and resident flamingos: Bill, Ben, Splosh and Pecks.

  • Spanish Garden
    This is the most formal and is based on the Alhambra, the Moorish fortress complex in southern Spain. There are fountains and vine-covered walkways, all centered around a curved sun pavilion designed by Bernard George.
  • Tudor Garden
    A smaller formal walled garden with archways and secret corners. It's very much a scented garden with an abundance of lavender, roses, and lilies, plus panoramic views over west London through windows in the walled edge.
  • English Woodland Garden
    This meandering garden overlooks the High Street to the south. There are a huge variety of trees, many with Tree Preservation Orders to protect the garden. There's also a stream and a garden pond that is home to pintail ducks and flamingos.

Kensington Roof Gardens History

The Roof Gardens cover 1.5 acres on top of the former Derry and Toms building on Kensington High Street, making it the largest roof garden in Europe.

In the 1930s Trevor Bowen (the vice-president of Barkers, the Kensington department store that owned the site and constructed the building in 1932) commissioned Ralph Hancock, a leading landscape gardener, to create the gardens. The gardens were laid out between 1936 and 1938 at a cost of £25,000.

The department store building was Derry and Toms until 1973 and some people still refer to the gardens as 'Derry and Toms Gardens'. It was then the infamous Biba store until 1975.

The Gardens were declared a Grade II listed site by English Heritage in 1978.

The gardens were pretty much abandoned until Virgin took over in 1981. Virgin uses The Roof Gardens for private luxury entertaining but the good news is that the gardens are open to the public unless pre-booked by a private party.

How to Visit Kensington Roof Gardens

The Roof Gardens is located at 99 Kensington High Street, London, W8 5SA. Access to the building is via Derry Street which branches off Kensington High Street.

Nearest Tube Station: High Street Kensington

Use Journey Planner to plan your route by public transport.

The Roof Gardens is open to the public, unless in use for a private event or for the annual winter maintenance. Always call first to check: 020 7937 7994.