Dear Readers, I am intrigued by the number of new imaginative green spaces that are springing up in Central London. Not long ago I popped in to see the roof garden at Fenchurch Street , and I was most impressed. However, I have been hearing great things about the roof garden at Canary Wharf. and so on a wet day earlier this week I took the Jubilee Line to Docklands, and popped in for a look.
The garden is part of the Crossrail (now the Elizabeth Line) station, a project which, as we know, is well behind schedule. When completed, the trains will arrive on Level Four of the station, below the shops and restaurants and the garden. The architecture is typical of its designer Norman Foster and Partners, who was responsible for the Great Court at the British Museum and the new Kings Cross Station. What is particularly interesting however is that large sections of the roof of the garden are open to the elements (you can see an aerial photograph here. I had a chat with the gardeners who told me that this makes it quite a challenging space, with very differing levels of moisture and humidity. However, it looked absolutely splendid when I was there.
The planting design is based around the kinds of plants that would originally have arrived in the docks, either as food plants or as ‘stowaways’ – there is sugar cane and banana, tea, coffee and black pepper. The garden is divided in two, with plants from the east on one side of the main path, and plants from the west on the other. This could make for a right old jumble, but actually it is a lovely place to stroll through, and the plants are in excellent condition.
I was pleasantly surprised at how quiet it was at 10 a.m., though the gardeners told me that it is rammed at lunchtime. There are restaurants at either end, and a performance space called Giant Robot. There is a space for cookery lessons, and it was advertising sessions on Cuban and Persian food. By the time I left there were lots of London Mums from a dozen different cultures, walking their toddlers along the paths. It is a surprisingly child-friendly space, with lifts and escalators taking you down to very swish toilets with bright red glass doors.
But what is so lovely about this place is that, unlike more enclosed spaces, it is full of birdsong – the full-throated warbling of a blackbird, and the bell-like chimes of a flock of goldfinches, feeding on the seeds of the American Sweet Gum tree.
So my advice is to go to the gardens early, avoid lunchtime and the evenings if you want a quieter experience, but do go and have a look. I suspect that it will be very attractive when some of the leaves change colour later in the year, and I have rarely seen a garden where the plants are so well looked-after. And who knows what other animals will move in? I saw several bees and hoverflies, all enjoying the plentiful flowers.
So, if you are in London and want to visit Crossrail Place Roof Garden I would definitely make a detour to see it. I suspect it will be much busier once Crossrail actually happens, so don’t hang around! It’s only a five minute trot from Canary Wharf Station, and you could catch the whizzy Docklands Light Railway from Bank or Tower Gateway or Stratford. Try to sit at the front to get the full ‘rollercoaster’ experience.
I have always thought of Docklands as being a soulless realm of men in suits, but it really is developing, finally, into something else. I was pleasantly surprised by how much fun it was, and by the variety of people who were enjoying it. London never ceases to surprise me.