“Look at this,” exclaims a middle-aged woman as she steps outside with iced tea in hand. “Such places simply don’t exist in London anymore”.
They do it when you seem to know where to look. “Places like this” is the café garden in the Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising in Notting Hill. The museum officially reopened in its new home earlier this year, and its garden is a beautiful green bonus.
To call it peaceful, however, would be a fib. In the first few minutes, drilling will take place in a nearby house – likely a basement extension or new luxury apartment. Only when we have half of our chocolate brownie from the café do the drilling stop and we realize that we are not alone. The quiet chatter of other visitors blows through the trees. We hadn’t noticed her until now. You can really hide in this place.
It’s not that it’s a big garden. You could do a lap in less than a minute, but it’s a space to enjoy, thick with vegetation, dotted with wooden tables and chairs.
The variety of plants is particularly impressive. It’s August and the garden is mostly green, although it can be more colorful in spring. Leaves of various sizes, shapes, and colors fill the space, from native trees to exotic-looking palm-style plants. Fuschias and lilies occasionally add splashes of color. Even the trees have hanging baskets, the natural fauna of which is clearly insufficient for anyone operating this ship.
The garden is surrounded on three sides by brick walls, climbing plants even cover the masonry. The fourth side is filled by an equally dense tree wall. You cannot see out of the garden and others cannot see in. It’s a satisfying feeling of isolation.
On one of the hottest days of the year, a light breeze rustles through the leaves. The natural canopy provides sun for those who want it and shade for those who seek it.
You would be forgiven if you missed the pond completely.
The raised terrace wants to be explored. Just two steps above the rest of the garden – although there is a ramp – are the garden’s two biggest surprises: a fish pond no more than 3 feet in diameter, complete with orange fish and … a kiwi tree.
Yes, those little furry fruits, usually labeled “Product of New Zealand” or something similar, are grown right here in London – and grown successfully, measured by the sheer number of them hanging from the branches.
A black cat roams past our table. We don’t know whether he is a resident or not, but he is certainly home and treats the garden as his personal jungle. He trudges over the cobblestones before disappearing into one or the other bush. The trembling leaves in its wake are the only evidence of its existence.
The garden is much older than the museum. A cherry tree seems to have been here for decades, while for the tree dwellers in the back corner it is probably more like centuries. Younger plants are grown in a mismatched collection of wooden and terracotta pots closer to the door.
Dedication and memorial plaques are visible in the entire garden, on benches and in bushes and give the strongest indication to date of the history of the brand museum’s new home.
Until 2015, the building housed the London Lighthouse, a meeting point and residential unit for people with HIV and AIDS. Princess Diana was a supporter of the center and visited it regularly. The garden was a memorial garden for both patients who did not survive and for volunteers from the center.
One of several memorial plaques and benches around the garden, evidence of its past.
It is fitting that the garden still pays tribute to its past and reveals its impressive fauna – and fruit – to new visitors.
The Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising is located at 111-117 Lancaster Road in Notting Hill. It is open Tuesday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. (the café closes 30 minutes in front of the museum). There is a fee to visit the museum, but visitors can enter the cafe, shop and garden for free.