Bugwoman on Location – 120 Fenchurch Street Roof Garden

Dear Readers,  while London has many splendid Royal Parks and city squares, the City of London itself can feel like something of a desert to those of us who enjoy the hum of bees and the whispering of the breeze. Furthermore, some of the sites that sound enticing, such as the Sky Garden in the ‘Walkie Talkie’ building, are completely enclosed, and require pre-booking. I remember visiting this site and being extremely disappointed: the public were promised a garden (indeed, this feature was what finally got the planning permission for the building granted) , and instead they got, in the words of Oliver Wainwright, the architecture critic of The Guardian, ‘a meagre pair of rockeries, in a space designed with all the finesse of a departure lounge’.

So, it’s fair to say that I didn’t hold out a lot of hope for the new Roof Garden just along the road at 120 Fenchurch Street. First signs were promising: there is, of course, security in place (bags are X-rayed), but then a lift whooshes you up to the fifteenth floor, without any id or pre-booking required. The lift doors open, and there you are.

One of the views from the Garden at 120 Fenchurch Street

This place is all about the angles. It is a mass of triangles. The water feature zig-zags eastwards towards views of Canary Wharf and the building work around Whitechapel.

Toddle round a bit further and the Gherkin appears. This building has gone from ‘unsightly’ to ‘icon’ in the space of fifteen years, and indeed it now seems elegant and modest compared with some of the other skyscrapers that are being thrown up.

The Gherkin

And indeed you can see the Sky Garden from here. I rather like the perspective that fifteen floors gives you as opposed to thirty-six.

The Walkie Talkie

But what, I hear you ask, of the garden? Well, there are actually plants, and there is much about the design to like. I love the effect of the wooden shuttering on the concrete, for example – it reminds me of the same effect in Sir Denys Lasdun’s South Bank Centre, but here the concrete is a soft cream colour. I think it will look very fine when the myriad of vines have grown up. The concrete itself is covering the services and plant for the building, and has the effect of breaking the roof garden up into smaller, more intimate areas.

There are some plants in flower already, and I see a lot of bulbs just waiting to pop.


Astrantia and narcissi

Japanese anemone


There are a healthy number of species geraniums, which will be great for pollinators later in the year.

There are also rafts of ferns and ornamental grasses.

And there is a whole area of low hedging which echoes the angles of the pergolas. I am a little miffed at the waste of an opportunity to provide more plants for pollinators in this space, but then I am a bit monomaniacal on the subject, as regular readers will know. I will be interested to see if bees actually do pop up to this height once they discover that there’s food available, and will have to revisit in the early summer when things have grown up a bit. As a study found that bumblebees are quite happy at heights of 3250 metres in the mountains of Sichuan in China I’d have thought that a mere 15 floors would be well within their range, provided there’s an incentive.

Low hedging with the Lloyd’s Building in the background

Wisteria is being encouraged to climb the struts of the pergolas, and very pretty it will be too once they get going. At the moment I quite like the starkness of the design, but plants will soon change all those sharp angles to something softer and more natural.

So, I am cautiously optimistic about The Garden at 120 Fenchurch Street. It is an exposed site, but because it is broken into ‘rooms’ by the concrete there will be a little more protection for the plants. I am sad that it isn’t a little more wildlife friendly, but it is not all about human convenience either. It is certainly a fine place to visit if you are in the City, and at some point a swish restaurant will open on the fourteenth floor in case all that ‘fresh’ London air makes you hungry. When I went, at 10 a.m. on a cloudy Thursday, the security staff outnumbered the visitors, and were very happy to chat. Apparently the place has been overrun with bloggers (I seem to have become part of an infestation), but the time to avoid is between 12 and 2, when everyone pops up for their lunch, although they aren’t supposed to. I don’t blame them – this would be a magnificent spot for a sandwich on a sunny day. I shall definitely revisit later in the year to see how the garden is getting on.

Opening hours are currently between 10 a.m. and 6.30 p.m. until 31st March, when the evening opening times are extended to 9 p.m. There will soon be a coffee hut for any caffeine addicts. They are also currently trialling weekend opening from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Total capacity of the garden is only 207 people, so I expect that there will be queues when the weather is good, especially in the evening. If you want to see how busy it is, you can have a look here, which is rather cool.



13 thoughts on “Bugwoman on Location – 120 Fenchurch Street Roof Garden

  1. Anne Guy

    We visited last week and thought this new garden was very accomplished in its design and it’s planting …will visit again in summer to see how it develops! It was lunchtime when we visited and although we walked straight in when we left the queues we forming! Your people free shots are great and yes I am one of the future bloggers…you will see how busy it gets at lunchtime from my pictures when I publish!

    1. Bug Woman

      I shall look forward to your blog on the garden, Anne…I think the planners are demanding more green space from the developers, and this has all the ingredients to make a rather lovely space.

  2. Alittlebitoutoffocus

    It looks like it could do with a few pot plants as well, to break up the rather flat looking paving. We have several rows of bee hives dotted about around our valley, between say 1,000m and maybe 1,700m. I’ve never seen them at 3,000m+ mind you. But then not many apiarists would live at that altitude! (The highest village here is around 2,000m).

    1. Bug Woman

      I’ve seen bumbles and honeybees at high altitude in Austria ( the village we stay at is at about 4300 feet from memory) but i guess they only fly as high as they need ro get to a significant nectar source. Fascinating stuff though, eh? You aren’t supposed to have favourites, but i think i love bumblebees best of all…

  3. FEARN

    Thanks for the tour. I quite agree about the missed opportunity from the pollinators perspective. The Hampton Court style maze is just wrong for that location IMHO.

  4. tonytomeo

    How unfortunate that the Sky Garden of the Walkie Talkie Building was not more impressive. Los Angeles is in a desert region and San Jose is in a chaparral region; but both have somewhat impressive public gardens, including roof gardens. Although they are not as impressive as public gardens in old cities, they are quite elaborate in some regards, and very contrary to the natural desert or chaparral ecosystems. People think of cities as ‘concrete jungles’ but in the deserts and chaparrals, cities contain vastly more flora than would naturally inhabit the region. Just the urban landscape alone makes San Jose vastly more forested than it had ever been.

    1. Bug Woman

      Cities in the UK actually support more biodiversity than the agricultural areas that surround them, mainly because of intensive agriculture and the overuse of pesticides and herbicides. I loved visiting the high chaparral when I was in California, I even saw my first coyotes ( a mother and two cubs…).

      1. tonytomeo

        Biodiversity is important in urban areas where monoculture of certain common plants can be disastrous. (Although, I do happen to really like the conformity of Norway maple street trees that used to live in some of the big tracts in San Jose . . . before the succumbed to the same disease.) Yet, biodiversity benefits only the urban landscape. The natural environment on the outside must contend with some of the exotic specie that escape and naturalize. Many exotics are aggressively competitive with native specie.

      2. Bug Woman

        Too true, Tony….urban environments are already often a melting pot of plants and animals from other places, but fragile environments in other places can be devastated if a new species arrives with no natural predators….

  5. rescuedogdexter

    Thank you for showing this to many people. I wonder if they will allow Dog bloggers!? I like the busy indicator. Suspect that summer will be at capacity once the city workers find out about it. The weekend opening is a good idea, as the City is better for exploring when its a little quieter.

    1. Bug Woman

      Hi Rescuedogdexter – I think I saw somewhere that dogs weren’t allowed 🙁 but you could check. I’m sure dogs are much better behaved than some of the human visitors, but there you go….and yes, I’m sure it will soon be mobbed. Best to go during inclement weather I suspect – I purposely avoided the mini-summer we had last week, and went on Thursday when it was trying to rain.

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