Living in London means accepting that you’ll spend time searching for all of the peaceful places to enjoy amidst the non-stop activity of an eternally evolving capital city. Luckily, urban gardens are on the rise with the recent openings of the Sky Garden and Crossrail Place Roof Garden, and the Garden Bridge on the horizon. This means that those leisurely moments away from the madness of city life aren’t just restricted to parks and commons.
Over the last bank holiday I explored what must be one of London’s oldest urban gardens, the Barbican Conservatory, which opened its doors in 1984.
Like me, I’m guessing that nothing green comes to mind at the mention of Barbican, apart from its label as a concrete jungle. And for many, the following image comes to mind.
Being home to some of the ugliest buildings in London means it often gets neglected as a place to go at the weekend and the area is largely deserted.
But if you happen to find yourself nearby (perhaps on a brunch in Clerkenwell like myself), the Barbican Conservatory is a bit of a hidden gem.
It sits on the top of the Barbican (known mainly for its theatre) and whilst it looks unpromising from the outside, you’ll find a much prettier view to enjoy inside.
Full right up the ceiling with over 2,000 plant species, there’s no shortage of greenery to get up close to and it’s great place for any snap happy people like me to get lost in.
I’ve neglected my DSLR of late due to the convenience and size of my phone, so I really enjoyed getting to grips with the settings again and being absorbed in one of my favourite hobbies for a short while.
The Conservatory isn’t as grand as Kew Gardens (which is a royal garden after all), and it does feel a little tired and in need of some attention in places, but the result is definitely something more homely. It’s more like nosing around a the greenhouse of a green-fingered enthusiast than a regal gardener.
You’ll find plenty of pots of growing plants…
Different colours sprouting up among the greenery…
And you can be mesmerised by the Koi Carp (I am starting to take after my dad in the love of a good water feature!).
I was a little disappointed that a lot of the stair wells were closed off, meaning the views are a little restricted, but you can climb up to my favourite place of the Conservatory – the Cacti Corner (named by me). It felt like exploring someone’s exotic collection of plants.
Cacti remind me of both being abroad and (more randomly!) visiting my Nan. Similar to how most Londoner’s live now, she lived in a flat without a garden of her own and as a result had window sills and a balcony and full of plants. The small cacti in among her collection of plants are the only ones I can remember. They seem tiny now in comparison to these.
The Barbican Conservatory isn’t as sophisticated as the urban gardens that open up these days but given how deserted it is in comparison, it is certainly a peaceful place to explore for half an hour or more.
It’s free to visit, but unfortunately it’s not open in the week and it’s only open on certain Sundays. If you fancy visiting you should definitely check out the website first.
When you visit go up to Level 3 of the Barbican, head out the back doors, and turn right through the doors once you’re in the courtyard. (Handy directions from the Londonist as I got totally lost trying to find it!)
Have you discovered any great urban gardens?