The hanging gardens of Barbican

Blog, Sights

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Many of London’s great landmarks are easy to love. The architecture is straightforward, quite obviously attractive, easy to photograph and aesthetically pleasing without question.

The Barbican is a place that my eyes aren’t quite sure what to do with. I find it truly fascinating and it’s one of my favourite spots in London.

I love the great rhinoceros-grey sprawl of concrete and the way its long round legs trudge through the still green ponds. I love the contrast between the brutal straight lines of the buildings and the window boxes overflowing with flowers that tumble over the edges.

At the same time, there’s something quite ugly about it.

I realised, in order to describe how I feel about the Barbican, I need a very specific word. After some searching, I found a term that ticks the box: “Jolie-laide”.

Jolie Laide: a woman whose face is attractive despite having ugly features.

During my semantic search, I came across an article by Stephen Bayley in the Architectural Review, talking about this whole idea of beauty and ugliness. In the article he suggests that “we only enjoy the ephemeral deliciousness of beauty if we have an active concept of ugliness…

“Heaven needs hell.”

 

I work nearby, so I took a lunchtime stroll recently. Here are some picture taken on my wander.

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Misadventures with a wildflower window box

Blog, Writes

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I had high hopes for our balcony when I started gardening in September last year. I saw our modest concrete enclosure through rose, tulip and poppy-tinted spectacles.

It would become an urban jungle, I thought, filled with hanging baskets brimming with trailing ivy and big, beaming flowers, birds and bees making the glorious space their home. It would be a balcony garden to rival Mr Hoppy’s, the green-fingered star of Roald Dahl’s Esio Trot. 

Mr Hoppy balcony

The dream.

We were in the garden shop on the hunt for plants when I spotted the sale rack. The sale rack always tugs on my heartstrings. I look at the sad, wilting flowers, disfigured petals and droopy leaves and I just want to scoop up the whole grotty lot and take them home with me.

I looked at Gavin. He did a reluctant nod. He knew resistance was futile. I bundled carton after carton of sorry looking pansies into the basket and with glee skipped off to the checkout.

On my way to pay, another garden centre misfit caught my eye.

It was a hefty bag of wildflower seeds, reduced to 50p. Without a second of hesitation, I threw the seeds in the basket and off we went.

That afternoon, I spent a good few hours carefully potting all my new planty friends in their containers and window boxes.

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The final touch, the pièce de résistance if you will, was the bag of wildflower seeds.

With what can only be described as “reckless abandon” me and Gavin sprinkled the whole bag all over the balcony – no pot escaped the seed sprinkle.

“WE’LL HAVE A BALCONY MEADOW!” I declared with joy, arms flung wide Hills are Alive style.



Let’s fast forward to June shall we? We’ve just returned from a two week holiday. After much umming and ahhing beforehand about what to do with our plants, we bunged some in the bath, and the rest we left outside at the mercy of mother nature, hoping that while we were away it would rain enough to keep them all alive.

The balcony now looks atrocious. It’s like the scene from the Lion King when Scar takes over the Pride Lands. Everything is parched and impoverished. The window boxes are barely visible beneath swathes of yellow grass and weeds. The once blossoming strawberry plant has shrivelled. I’ve never considered lawn-mowing a window box before, but at one point it looked like the most sensible option.

To say the wildflower window box was a mistake would be unfair and perhaps premature. I think it’s more a case of unrealistic expectations, combined with a long period of time without water.

In fact, despite everything, I spotted a fuzzy little bee hanging out among the stems the other day, which was the main purpose of the wildflowers in the first place. 

A little bee having a rest in what’s left of my strawberry plant.

Plus, after significant plucking and pruning, trimming and watering, I think they’re starting to look a lot healthier and might just be on the mend. I’ll keep you posted.

But in the meantime, a gardening tip from someone who knows nothing about gardening: Don’t plant a metric ton of wildflower seeds in containers and then abruptly stop watering them. They. Will. Die.

 

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