Today’s post is the third in my HPH visits… series + the first of 2021. As I’ve said previously, this seasonal shift means that houseplant repotting will pause for a few months as many plants take their winter rest. So in lieu of my regular ‘repotting diaries’ blogposts (+ as we are spending more time indoors) I wanted to take this time to share some of the green spaces I have visited instead. I thought it would be a nice way to virtually visit botanical gardens together as I’ve not shared any of these trips before. I’ll save these under a ‘HPH visits…’ tab on my homepage + I hope you enjoy!
As I write this post, it’s currently a chilly 10°C indoors + there’s snow + a howling wind outside. So join me in making a hot drink of choice + lets meander through some verdurous views.
*FYI, my normal houseplant content + care posts will continue through the Winter months as always, so please send any blogpost requests my way if there is anything you’d like me to cover. Despite the sub-zero temperatures of the last few weeks, the incremental lighter evenings carry the optimism that Spring is not too far away…
For this instalment of ‘HPH visits…’ we are London bound. As I put this post together, I am daydreaming about a time when hopping on the train to London is not an impossibility. Pre-pandemic, I would visit the capital regularly + this is the longest time in over 14 years that I have been away from it! As I’ve said previously, I love train travel + I have a really good new train route since moving which I look forward to riding in the (hopefully not too distant) future. It’s the train which runs from Kings Cross all the way to Edinburgh Waverley — a pretty straight line from one end of the country to the other. I’ve only done part of this journey a few times + the changing landscape along these tracks is quite something.
The Barbican building is a renowned piece of Brutalist architecture + its imposing concrete presence might not seem the most fitting of homes for a conservatory garden. But for me, it’s precisely this juxtaposition that makes it work so well because it speaks so clearly of the connections we find in urban spaces, to nature. The everyday sight of daisies growing out of a crack in the brickwork, a fern unfurling between a paving slab, that moss coating the top of a wall. Furthermore, as a material then, concrete has that strong, imposing form that acts as a counter to the softer, verdurous foliage. The Architects behind this project were Chamberlin, Powell + Bon, who first worked together after winning a competition for the nearby Golden Lane Estate project (1951 — 1952) + the Barbican was their second collaboration.
On entering the Conservatory, the strong concrete construction inside leads the eye straight up to the steel + glass roof, which covers 23,000 square feet. This vast, structural span has a cocooning effect which feels instantly tranquil + comforting. The appeal of city greenhouses (+ arguably any greenhouse) is that they act like a portal to another place as the outside world becomes that little bit more hazy + these viridescent surroundings transport you to somewhere decidedly more tropical. Planting here began in 1981 + was completed in 1984 to give an indication how long some of these plants might have been here.
This Conservatory really appeals to me as a houseplant enthusiast because the planting feels immediately familiar. In the photo above right, I notice a Cholorphytum sparsely planted next to a clump of Oxalis triangularis + a Maranta leuconeura kerchoveana, all of which are no larger in scale than my own pots of these at home.
Another favourite area is this part along some of the perimeter (pictured below), which when viewed in isolation, just feels like a scaled up + slightly unwieldy greenhouse potting bench! Propagation experiments are nestled in a gravel bed + there are smaller pots being grown on before planting.
The areas I always make a bee-line for in greenhouses + conservatories are the potting areas + propagation zones. I love the correlation between the majestic, mature specimens on display + these modest experiments which give a more ‘real’ perspective on plant care + protecting + sustaining plant collections. As I’ve said in other posts in this series, things here always look slightly unkempt + to me they feel full of potential. I enjoy the feeling of experimentation + uncertainty in these areas — whether the cutting will successfully root, trying out a different propagation method etc. To those of us that propagate at home on our windowsills, these views create a comforting sense of familiarity. I think I’ll put together a collection of photos from these areas for another blogpost in the future! Below left — potting bench envy:
Something I will say is that on my visit, some of the plants were really quite dusty! In comparison to more rural botanic gardens I’ve visited, this site in in the heart of London + both the air pollution + the sheer volume of visitors this place receives is the likely culprit. The planting along pathways like these aspidistra (above right) + the large monstera below were near the exit + did look quite bedraggled + in need of a shower. But for anyone that has lived in London, you’ll know that the hard city water can undoubtedly leave markings on foliage plants + it’s not viable to clean all these leaves regularly. I guess there’s a comfort in knowing my collection is manageable enough to keep the leaves dust free every few weeks… I would not want to contend with leaf cleaning on this scale!
The asapargus fern in the following photo reminds me of my own pot of this + just how it looks like an explosion of feathery fronds as it matures… which reminds me, I really need to pot mine on in Spring… I also loved seeing the statuesque old crassula to the right:
Next, the Arid house… this is a popular hangout + it was pretty busy, but I did manage to take some photos.
One of the plants in the Barbican that has it’s fair share of popularity on instagram is this sedum morganianum (burro’s tail), it was in flower when I visited too:
Quite a few pots of Senecio haworthii (since re-classified as caputia tomentosa — read my taxonomy blogpost here) in bloom here! Those lilac flowers look so good next to the cocoon plants’ pale colouring.
The rows of hanging baskets with jungle cacti were a sight to behold — I hope I can display my plants in a similar way in my next place, the ceilings are too low in my current place + I keep walking into my epiphyllum/disocactus anguliger…
I also did some drawing from this visit which I intended to share here but typically, I can’t find my sketch book in all these packing boxes! I promise I will put a post together of my ‘HPH visits…’ sketches when I’ve found them!
So there we have it, two posts for you this weekend! It’s been a cold, snowy week + I thought it’d be nice to share my Barbican post today — I’ve really enjoyed perusing the photos + revisiting this trip, albeit digitally. I know many of my blog readers are from further afield places + I hope you enjoyed seeing around a Conservatory in the heart of London. For the next post in this series I think we’ll (virtually) jump on that train out of Kings Cross I have been longing to ride again + head all the way to the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, Scotland. I’ll see you there! Hope you are all staying warm.