Some people know about our neighborhood in London from the popular movie Notting Hill, staring Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant. Other people can rattle off musicians who currently live here or used to—Peter Gabriel, Annie Lennox, and James Taylor, to name a few. Still others, seeking bargains and antiques, flock to our neighborhood every Saturday for the Portobello Market. Thousands come here for two raucous days of partying every summer at the Caribbean Carnival. And, finally, some shop at the over-priced, yet adorable boutiques along hip Westbourne Grove, or meet friends to sip ridiculously priced cocktails at some of the trendiest bars in London.
None of these reasons, however, has anything to do with why we choose to live here—certainly, the insane amount we pay in rent wasn’t the main attraction. No, as my husband put it: “The best thing about Notting Hill is that it is literally littered with private gardens that provide residents a welcome respite from city life. They make living in the heart of one of the biggest cities in the world bearable.”
These gardens, which are key-access only, allow parents a breather. Children can run free, explore, and play, and if Mommy and a friend get to talking, and the children slip from view, there is no reason to panic. This certainly isn’t the case in New York and Los Angeles, both cities where I have lived and where moms have to watch their children like hawks every minute at city parks for fear that a stranger can take hold. No, in Notting Hill’s private gardens, everyone knows each other and summertime is glorious. Neighbors have picnics up until ten p.m. (as the sun doesn’t set until then in summer) and children happily run amuck.
If you have a dog, as I do, your world opens up and you meet some of the nicest people in the city who you chat with daily as you throw balls with your “other children”: your beloved beasts. (Our dog adores having six and a half acres to run with abandon in every day.) We have events in our garden, such as fireworks and bonfires in the winter, and jazz concerts in the summer. The jazz evenings are a wonderful way to relax under the stars, have a romantic picnic, or mingle and catch up on gossip with neighbors.
The English are the best gardeners in the world. It’s like having a state park at your doorstep. In between fields, with perfectly sculpted walkways and hedges, are wooded areas for privacy. My son, in the middle of a huge city, can run through a wooded area with his best friend, climb a tree and pretend to be protecting a fort, and jump out to scare his neighbors who can’t see him—all without Mom watching his every move. It’s a luxury that brings back the days when my mother would say, “Go out and play, but be home for dinner.” We can’t live that way anymore in most cities, but in my private, six and a half acre garden in Notting Hill, I can close my eyes and it almost comes back.