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The history of Lettsom Gardens

Situated on part of a large, abandoned Victorian garden near Camberwell Grove, Lettsom Gardens were established in 1980 after a successful campaign to save the site from development. The gardens have been managed since then by the Lettsom Gardens Association, an active and enthusiastic community group with over 1200 members. The site contains two small areas of secondary woodland, as well as grassland and a children’s play area. The woodland is dominated by sycamore, but contains a wide variety of other tree species, including oak, ash, willows, hornbeam and several exotic species such as mulberry. The latter is thought to be a relic of the 18th century garden of Dr. John Coakley Lettsom, a well-known Quaker doctor and financier of botanical expeditions, who obtained some of the first seed of several American plants and cultivated these on this site. There is a well-developed shrub layer dominated by elder, privet and bramble, with numerous other species, both native and exotic. The ground flora consists of a luxuriant growth of ivy interspersed with pendulous sedge, black horehound, creeping buttercup, hedge garlic and several exotic species.

The grassland consists of closely mown areas and also rougher, more herb-rich areas that are cut annually. Herbs present include buttercups, bristly and hawkweed ox-tongues, soft rush, Aaron’s rod, wild angelica and Michaelmas daisy. The gardens support foxes and bats, a range of common woodland birds including great spotted woodpeckers, at least ten species of butterflies and numerous other invertebrates such as the rare Stag Beetle. 

Access from Grove Park and Grove Hill Road is available to Association members through a key holder system and the gardens are much used, especially by children.

Nature Conservation in Southwark - Published by London Ecology Unit 1989

John Coakley Lettsom (1744–1815) 

John Coakley Lettsom (1744–1815) was a physician, natural historian, philanthropist and founder of the Medical Society of London. Born in the British Virgin Island, he later moved to London. Lettsom Gardens occupies part of the land that used to be Lettsom's country residence in then rural Camberwell.

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