Aptly named pleasure gardens are taking over our urban jungles, and we’ve never felt so satisfied to witness the rise of a new exterior trend. But exactly how new are pleasure gardens? While the spaces are blessing the most contemporary of settings worldwide, the concept is certainly nothing new.
A pivotal scene from the hit Netflix show Bridgerton transports viewers to the glittering and heady Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens of the early 19th century for an outdoor ball. Pleasure gardens such as this spectacular example were one of London’s most significant leisure innovations at the time. Laid out as formal gardens, they were dedicated spaces for pure indulgent fun – hosting masquerade balls and art exhibitions. Today, however, they're shaping our urban gardening ideas.
Now our desire to escape the urban grind and indulge in timeless delights burns stronger than ever – and the most innovative architects and landscapers are answering our call. Here are our five favorite pleasure gardens that are kissing the city with greenery. Thank you, the Duke of Hastings.
1. Little Island, New York
Rising out of New York’s Hudson River, the newly opened Little Island (opens in new tab), designed by Heatherwick Studio and funded by media mogul Barry Diller and his fashion designer wife Diane Von Fürstenberg, is a floating island oasis.
Featuring rolling hills and over 100 species of trees and shrubs, winding pathways lead to iconic skyline views. Little Island also had a 700-seat theater for year-round performances, with an illustrious roster of independent entertainers – located at various vantage points lending a festival feel to the space. While Little Island is by no means little, we're still taking design notes for our small garden ideas.
2. Camden Highline, London
Due to open in 2024, the new Camden Highline (opens in new tab) is the latest project from James Corner of Field Operations – the architect behind New York’s legendary High Line – will turn a disused stretch of a railway viaduct into an elevated park and organic walking route.
‘Promenading is about strolling in the context of being amongst other people,’ shares James. ‘Implicit is the idea of alternating between seeing and being seen. Designing the promenade is about curating this sequence of settings, inviting journeys and strolls while choreographing the unfolding experience, opportunity, and interactivity.’
3. The Rail Park, Philadelphia
Spanning for three miles above Philadelphia, The Rail Park (opens in new tab) uses abandoned railway tracks to create an arty but no less idyllic space for urban dwellers. While the Park remains under construction, the first phase is complete, meaning people can already indulge in the best views of Philly whilst enveloped in verdant greenery, intertwining pathways, and playful bench swings.
The subsequent phases will continue to pay homage to the rail’s industrial heritage – creating a juxtaposition of a mechanical charm with a countryside aesthetic. We expect nothing less from the historical heart of America.
4. Umeda Sky Building, Osaka
When gazing at the 19th-tallest building in Osaka’s metropolis, we might not expect a garden to sit at the forefront of our minds –but it should be. Consisting of two 40-story towers, this iconic glass structure includes a rooftop Floating Garden Observatory (opens in new tab), which aims to mirror the ambiance of ‘Osaka in the early 20th century.’ The garden also continues to the foot of the structure, including a curated collection of Japanese plants and water features that form a calming maze amid the urban rush.
5. Natural History Museum, London
While we eagerly await the opening of Camden Highline, Londoners can look forward to another new pleasure garden 30 minutes south in Kensington. The Natural History Museum (opens in new tab) has unveiled plans to transform their esteemed 19th-century building’s five-acre gardens into a paradise transporting visitors back to an era when pleasure gardens were first trending. The gardens will include plants and fossils and exhibitions that celebrate different geological eras running from the Cambrian period 540 million years ago to the contemporary day.
There’s also the promise of coffee and cake (or tea and cake, as we are in London, after all) so mark 2023 on your calendars. However, in the meantime, we’re stealing modern garden ideas from these timeless settings.
Written in collaboration with the pleasure gardens news report by Rohini Wahi for Livingetc July 2021.
Megan is a News Writer across Future Plc’s homes titles, including Livingetc and Homes & Gardens. As a News Writer, she often focuses on micro-trends, wellbeing, celebrity-focused pieces, and everything IKEA.
Before joining Future, Megan worked as a News Explainer at The Telegraph, following her MA in International Journalism at the University of Leeds. During her BA in English Literature and Creative Writing, she gained writing experience in the US while studying in New York. Megan also focused on travel writing during her time living in Paris, where she produced content for a French travel site. She currently lives in London with her antique typewriter and expansive collection of houseplants.
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