We recently visited the Barbican Conservatory Garden on Silk Street, on a dull-grey London Sunday morning.
It is no secret that I am very partial to a glasshouse. Particularly when it contains an oasis of towering dark fronds and vines, intricate paths linking chambers of exotic flora and fauna, and ponds of Japanese Koi carp idling in the shadows of overhanging palms.
There are over 2,000 varieties of plants housed within the conservatory, and a great many beautiful orchid and cacti, all hermetically sealed under a ribcage of metal and glass.
I have lately been immersed in reading about the relationships that gardens have with their settings; the juxtaposition between the wild and the tamed, the natural and the cultivated, and this is a particularly intriguing site for a botanical garden, sequestered at the heart of a 1960s estate containing the largest performing arts centre of its kind in Europe, the Guildhall School of Music, a lake, several cinema screens, three restaurants, a number of seven-floor terrace apartment buildings, and three of London’s tallest residential tower blocks (housing over 4,000 people).
This is the second largest conservatory in London (after Kew).
Unquestionably less picturesque than the Victorian-built glasshouses, it is nevertheless a fascinating place to visit; more aesthetically startling than exquisite; but still there is an enchanting magic to the way the vines clutch and creep along the harsh grey tiers and balconies and the way the light catches the glass and makes the leaves gleam. It is an oddly beguiling place; fearfully ugly and yet beautiful at the same time.
At the epicentre of the Brutalist jungle that contains it, the garden is an intimate arcadian wilderness snug in the urban architecture of its surroundings; a somehow-clandestine pocket of green in a concrete kingdom.
Visit the Barbican website to find out when the conservatory garden is next open to the public.