Come summer, Londoners love a good garden party — if the often-grueling commute out of the city doesn’t kill the good times before they start. But this summer, one upscale department store in downtown London is throwing a season-long shindig on its lushly landscaped roof that's like a chic speakeasy for green thumbs, sun worshippers, foodies, and social butterflies alike — no fancy hats, seersucker suits, or secret password required!
The Gardening Society is a pop-up restaurant/cocktail bar/coffee and juice bar/yoga locale/all-around respite from the hustle and bustle of central London that even most locals don't know about. Nestled atop John Lewis' flagship location on Oxford Street, the verdant setting boasts an herb garden, a lawn beneath your feet, and splendid city views — perfect for Instagramming drool-worthy vacay pics.
“We wanted to use classic British flowers,” designer Tony Woods says of the open-air space, which teems with lavender, roses, salvia, and allium. “Mature olive trees provide shade to the dining areas and a pergola is dripping with grape vines… In other areas, we spent a lot of time poking succulents into nooks and crevices. Many of the planters, tools, and wheelbarrows were hand-picked from antiques markets and salvage yards to add age and atmosphere to the project.” For those keen on taking in the views, Woods kept plantings low along the roof where some of the city’s famous sights — including Westminster Abbey, the London Eye, and the Battersea Power Station — await. For a more Zen atmosphere, one corner serves as a “secret garden,” with a fountain and tranquil seating areas surrounded by tall hedges.
Much of what grows atop the store is not just lovely to look at, but also to eat. “We have created a kitchen garden growing everything from potatoes to edible flowers,” explains Woods. “So many people can enjoy the garden with lunch being cooked as you sit next to the produce growing; in central London, it’s a truly unique experience.” To take advantage of that produce, a short list of local restaurants will take turns proffering bespoke menus designed to incorporate the harvest on hand and complement the verdant vibe. “The menu is is a fun riff on more classic and traditional preparations,” says Rob Dann, whose B.O.B.’s Lobster will handle The Gardening Society’s kitchen through July 31.
“It is summer, it is native; it is also is an opportunity for us to flex our culinary diversity.” His selections include a picnic menu featuring warm-weather favorites like lobster and crab rolls, ahi tuna tacos, and lobster mac and cheese, plus a broader, more indulgent restaurant menu that includes warm rabbit terrine, steak tartare with green goddess and smoked almonds, and Dorset crab salad with shaved asparagus, chicken skin, fried quails egg, and hollandaise sauce. Cocktails will likewise take advantage of the garden’s herbs: Think gin and tonics, cucumber coolers and other thirst-quenching tipples that put a little summer in your glass.
While reservations are recommended for morning yoga sessions, as well as dining at night under the rooftop’s partially covered seating area, walk-ins are more than welcome. The rooftop’s ample bench seating is first-come-first-served, and the “Potting Shed” coffee and juice bar is open throughout the afternoons for a quick pick-me-up. Shoppers can also peruse a tiny shed filled with adorable gardening books and supplies.
Perhaps best of all, the pop-up channels the personal passions of the store’s namesake — Woods notes that John Lewis “was a very keen gardener, plantsman and naturalist” — into memorable touches that any modern traveler will cherish. “We put a painstaking amount of work into crafting Instagrammable moments that people will see and feel that they have to share,” says Woods. “It might be a vintage object planted with flowers or some pre-loved furniture — you have to make a lot of magic moments in a garden that people will share.”
The Gardening Society runs through September 4 and opens every day of the week starting at noon.
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