Atop 20 Fenchurch Street, 155 metres above the City of London, perches the Sky Garden.
Created by landscape architecture practice Gillespies, drought resistant plants usually at home in the Mediterranean and South Africa sit in planted terraces alongside champagne quaffing City types and selfie stick waving tourists.
Whichever category of visitor you might be (I won’t judge), all are impressed by the view from 36 floors up. In the spring and summer the gardens and greenery of Regent’s Park to the west, Hampstead Heath to the north, Epping Forest to the east, and even as far as the Surrey Hills to the south, are all visible. But on a grey Winter Solstice afternoon, the view over London took on a greyish hue.
Despite the hype about the Sky Garden, I felt underwhelmed by the planting. There was little of the promised all-season colour to catch your eye, with the Bird of Paradise plants providing only tiny splashes of saffron and violet. The high impact that they would usually hold in any park or garden bed was lost under the weighty presence of the giant tree ferns. There were no ‘wow’ moments like those encountered on an afternoon exploring the Barbican Conservatory, where it’s easy to get lost in its sheer wilderness at any time of year. I suppose that the purposes of the two spaces are very different, though: the Barbican Conservatory is the main event, you go there to specifically marvel at all the cacti, succulents, fig trees and exotic triffid style planting and leave with an immense urge to turn your tiny London flat into a jungle; whereas the Sky Garden is there to decorate the space but not distract visitors from the 360 degree view. It did succeed in that aim, but it feels like a missed opportunity to be an equally stimulating view, whether you’re looking inside or outside. A visit in the spring may change my mind.
Back to those ferns. I am deeply fond of ferns. They remind me of childhood trips up to Bradgate Park in Leicestershire, where the bracken that hugged the rocky moorland provided wonderful hiding places, moving from luminous green to a dirty rust through the seasons. It pains me to see plasticky ferns in corporate environments like swanky office lobbies or perfumed hotel planters, but I’m sure the giant ones in the Sky Garden gave me a little knowing wink and nod.