Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Around London: The Barbican Conservatory

Last Sunday was a very grey and rainy day here in London; I chose to visit the conservatory at the Barbican Centre, the performing arts center opened in 1982 within the Brutalist Barbican Estate. The Conservatory is open to the public only on Sundays from 12:00 to 5:00, though entrance is free. London's second largest conservatory, the space is filled mostly with foliage plants arranged around several water features, clambering up walls and support beams, and spilling from balconies and ledges. Innumerable potted plants line a ledge on one side of the large greenhouse, including a whole collection of scented geraniums, loads of ferns and examples of many tropical crops. A separate, smaller house, reached via a set of stairs and a little bridge, is filled entirely with succulents.

Brutalist balconies amongst the green

An ethereal spray of begonia blossoms

Palm trees and Ficus foliage

In the succulent house

A bird-of-paradise (Strelitzia reginae), one of the flowers providing splashes of color among the green and concrete grey here and there

Contrary to what the pictures might suggest, the place was actually very busy. It appears to be particularly popular with the hip(ster) crowd - I have never seen so many black beanies and large, angular, minimalist Scandinavian designer coats in one place, let alone in a conservatory! - and the succulent house in particular was packed. The space is impressive and a lovely green oasis in an otherwise concrete-, steel- and glass-heavy part of the city. However, the state of cultivation of some of the plantings could have been a bit better, and it also would have been nice if supplies, like plastic pots and bags of soil and such, had been less conspicuous. On the way out, I stopped by the Barbican Centre gift shop, where I came across The Plant, an uber-artsy magazine on plants and gardening that was entirely new to me. Of course I had to pick up the current issue.

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