Jens Jakobsen is a horticulturist and florist who is on a mission to bring people closer to nature. He has created The Onion Garden in Westminster, a sustainable, peaceful oasis in the heart of London where people come to relax, recharge, and connect with the natural world.
"Life at the garden is simple.
It's not political , it's not about religion, it doesn't matter where you came from, what you have been through, you will be welcomed.
The main thing is to be kind each other"
The Onion Garden - 2023
The Onion Garden was previously an unloved area of concentrate between high rise office blocks next to a residential property close to London Victoria Station
It now houses 150 different varieties of plants from all over the world which collectively sit in containers alongside carefully handcrafted willow sculptures, nests, bird boxes and feeders to attract wildlife to the area.
Here Jens plays with nature, working potatoes, cabbages, blueberries into floral arrangements and teaches people through workshops to do the same .
A horticulturist and florist by trade, Jens nurtures and works from the garden almost everyday of the year.
Sometimes it is hard for him to get his gardening work as passer by's and visitors love to chat to him - his enthusiasm for life and nature is infectious.
Volunteers, supporters and helpers are crucial to Jens as they help him to maintain the garden.
Jens began to create the second Onion Garden in 2021 after he had to leave his previously established garden at the Blewcoat School in Westminster where he had been working alongside his late friend the designer Ian Stuart .
After two years of hard work on1st June 2023 the new Onion Garden was officially opened by the Lord Mayor of Westminster.
I caught up with him after the opening as I was curious to find out more about how it all came together.
How did you come to be in London ?
"Over 20 years ago I came to London from Denmark for fresh start, to change my life and challenge my creative side. I believe in life that all of us can be a painter, a baker, whatever you want to be. But, if you don't give yourself freedom and challenge you will standstill .
I was just out of my 10 year recovery from a bad car accident which had left me seriously injured.
Nature played a big part in my recovery. I spent a lot of time in the forest which helped me heal and discover the restoring power of nature.
I had many conversations, including one with my Sister about change. I realised I had to change, to have freedom to be creative, I needed to move.
I held a party for my friends and gave most of everything I owned away. Now when I return to visit I can see all my old things again.
I arrived in London with couple of suitcases and £500. I wasn't worried, I just trusted that everything was going to be alright.""
Did you have a job to go to ?
"Within a couple of days I had a job with the florists Moyses Stevens. This lead to me doing the flowers for Ian Stuart's first Catwalk Show which lead to me working with Ian at the Bluecoat School for more than 12 years and a friendship of over 25 years."
You may have seen Ian and Jens on TV when they featured in the 2018 series - The Posh Frock Shop on Channel 4
Where did you do you train to be a florist ?
"I trained in Denmark, the system is slightly different to here . I went to College for four years studying to be a Horticulturist and Florist. "
He is keen to emphasise his belief in whatever education we have, it is most important that we add of ourselves to our work to make it our own, to be unique. That the education is just the start .
What sort of work do you do nowadays ?
"I do both flowers and gardens for my customers as well as installations for hotels, events, and businesses, which can take me to other countries. My work is extremely varied.
We are just finishing a garden for a couple in Hampstead. They asked me to create a garden with my philosophy, transferring it to their garden. They want my soul and ideas in their established garden. We have worked on nest designs, to bring a different way of thinking to the garden . When we started out it was planned to be a two month project, it is now eight months . They are delighted."
What are the nests all about Jens ? Do they attract birds to the garden ?
"Jens laughs out loudly. NO !
They are like a walk in the forest, life appears into them .
Birds will not be attracted to them, they do not go to man made nests, but other wild life will.
Nests are a representation of love, care and hope. They are a thing you want to snuggle down, they bring forward peace and childhood memories . They are therapy, made of twigs and branches in a circular shape - the circle of life."
Why did you create The Onion Garden ?
"The project is to give people a green space to come to visit within the city to stop, relax, recharge and refresh. The whole project is built around kindness, positive thinking and healthy living, connecting people with nature. Through which you can be healed and get new energies."
I ask him if he is proud of the garden ?
"I never use the word proud. When you work, with whatever material, the most important thing is to be humble and grateful . I am happy that I am able to use the gifts I was given, working with it and see how much joy it can bring!"
The Onion Garden has just gained permission to expand across the adjoining piece of ground owned by Transport For London. This space will be the home of an exciting new project - The Hanging Gardens of Westminster for which Jens has secured the first part of funding from Green Westminster. This means he can start work but still needs to raise money to complete the project .
The Hanging Gardens of Westminster will have a central undercover space for inspiration, education and entertainment. Available for hire to community groups, tour guides , locals and businesses, it will be free of charge for those who need it to be and paid for by those who can afford it.
What ever happens it has to be organic, sustainable and holistic .
Does he have any concerns I ask ?
No, I have no concerns, I trust and live in the moment.
I ask finally what he is thinking about today?
How to make a parasol for the garden out of twigs! As we laugh together I hear him being called by a visitor into conversation. He apologises and rushes off to give them his fullest of attention as always .
The Garden is open everyday and free to visit, Jens is there most days.
The Onion Garden
5 Seaforth Place , Westminster
Find via Google :
Flat Cap Coffee Co has a stall at the Onion Garden Monday - Friday
Find Jens on Instagram
In this clip he talks about the positive effects of gardening and bullying
The Onion Garden is a non -profit organisation
Donations can be made to the Onion Garden Projects via Just Giving https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/theoniongarden
Further Reading :
The Nature Fix - why nature makes us happier, healthier and more creative by Florence Williams
Nature Cure by Richard Mabey - memoir - overcoming depression and connecting with the British Wilderness