It is often said that nature can make itself at home in the unlikeliest of places. Tucked away on the third floor of London's Barbican is a tranquil oasis, offering respite from the brutalist architecture all around it.
The Barbican Conservatory was officially opened in 1984, though planting began some three years earlier. When visitors were finally allowed inside they were treated to a space which surrounded the beating heart of the building: Barbican Theatre's fly tower, from which scenery for all its productions is lowered down six stories to the stage below.
Although you wouldn't know to look at it from the street, the Conservatory is actually the second largest in London, eclipsed only by one at Kew Gardens. It's home to over 2,000 species of plants and trees and has three ponds where you can find Japanese koi and even terrapins.
It's free to enter though only open on selected Sundays - click here to plan your visit - and if you're so inclined you can even have afternoon tea there though advance booking is essential.
I visited late one afternoon and it was quite busy, but not uncomfortably full. Benches dotted around the lower level were strewn with couples on dates though I couldn't quite tell if they were swooning with romance or had succumbed to the tropical temperatures. If you do plan to visit the Conservatory dress for Summer - it's a toasty, temperature-regulated environment so leave your jackets in the cloakroom before entering.
THE ARID HOUSE
Among the many species of cacti found in this space you'll also find the unique opportunity to study the lesser-spotted Gen Z-er, losing their mind over succulents. This was by far the busiest spot, with nigh on everybody using the Instagram-friendly backdrop as their own personal photo studio. If you're here for plants over poses, get in early. While the Conservatory may be largely hidden from view, the dedicated social media guru can sniff out a photo op at a hundred paces. You have been warned, (by pot - friend of kettle.)
While green is by far the dominant colour I enjoyed hunting for splashes of colour here and there. It was easy to spend an hour wandering around the various levels and walkways taking time to stop and sniff the flowers or just marvel at the consideration that has been taken to create this green space when all around it are harsh metal lines and thick concrete walls.
This would be a great place to help children get up close to nature. There's not much in the way of signage but the jungle-style layout is sure to spark the imagination of children - big and small - alike.
One of the downsides I noticed was that while the rest of the building prides itself on its accessibility, the Conservatory has rather a long way to go before it can become a space everyone can enjoy. Pathways easily become too crowded for prams or wheelchairs to move freely and much of the space is accessed solely via stairs which lead to different levels. It's a shame to restrict the space in this way, particularly when green spaces are so few and far between in the heart of the city. If you're planning a visit to the Conservatory please don't be put off by this. Be sure to drop the team a line at firstname.lastname@example.org to let them know you're visiting and hopefully they will be able to accommodate any access issues you might have. Perhaps they'd also welcome suggestions on how to make the space more accessible for all its visitors. It's 2019 after all!
The Conservatory opens at midday and final admission is at 16.30, with the venue closing at 17.00. However, if you fancy sticking around after take the lift or stairs back down to the ground floor and head outside to the rear of the Barbican Kitchen. There's a lovely terrace by the water - perfect for picnicking or relaxing in the sun. Just please remember to take your litter home with you at the end of the day. There are bins onsite but unfortunately they only seem to be located at exits so be sure to keep an eye out for them. They're easy to miss!
I hope you enjoyed this week's post. It definitely does my soul good to be surrounded by plants - I hope you can feel the same joy from them as I do!
Have a great week and I'll see you back here next Sunday.