At Coal Drops Yard

The roof at Coal Drops Yard, designed by Thomas Heatherwick

Dear Readers, it would be fair to say that Kings Cross, so long a combination of railwaylands, derelict buildings, architectural gems and dodgy kebab shops, has become something of a chichi destination. Take Coal Drops Yard, for example. There is an Alain Ducasse chocolate shop, an outpost of designer outlet Wolf and Badger and a branch of Miller Harris, the upmarket perfume emporium, on the site of what were once the warehouses for coal from South Yorkshire, transported to the station by train and then distributed via the Regent’s Canal. Bagley’s nightclub was also here, and many a loud and leery night was experienced here by a younger version of Bugwoman. But these days, I am here with camera in hand to give the landscaping a once over, before retreating to the relative affordability of East Finchley.

First things first though. I wanted to see what had happened to the gasholders that were once such a feature, just along the canal. The metal frames were carted off to North Yorkshire for restoration, and have now been reinstated. Three of the gasholders have been converted into luxury flats, while the fourth is left as just a frame, with a ‘park’ inside. Standing inside is a rather disconcerting experience – mirrors multiply the metalwork, and amplify and distort the landscape.

Someone clearly appreciates the park as a backdrop, as the grass is scattered with red rose petals, maybe from a wedding photographic session.

The flat conversions look very luxurious, as indeed they might ( I note that one is on the market, with Savilles, for £2.75m). But surely they must be very small, and awkwardly shaped? There are allegedly 145 flats in these three gasholders, and not a jot of affordable housing. Some folk, methinks, have more money than sense. Though if you work at Google it’s just a short jog to work, as the company is headquartered just across the canal.

However, I am here to look at the planting, and I find it very interesting, in a Piet Oudolf, swathes of grasses kind of way. I do like a seedhead at this time of year, and there are some truly spectacular ones on offer here. I would argue, however, that one of the loveliest plants that I saw was the magnificent alder tree on the other side of the canal – I was so impressed that it was my Wednesday Weed last week. This is a tree completely in keeping with its boggy, workaday surroundings, and none the worst for it.

Alder ( Alnus glutinosa) catkins and cones, Kings Cross London

But back to the actual gardens. Acclaimed plantsman and garden designer Dan  Pearson was responsible for the choice of plants – he has form in Coal Drops Yard, having created an installation called ‘Colourstream’ last year. Pretty, but not much here for pollinators, and I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s a moral duty to help invertebrates when given an opportunity like this in a public place.

Photo One from

‘Colourstream’ from Coal Drops Yard last year, designed by Dan Pearson Studios (Photo One)

Still, Dan Pearson’s planting has more than made up for this with his planting in the gardens themselves, as you can see from the images on his website here, giving an impression of what it will all look like when it’s grown up a bit. At the moment, it’s still full of interest. There are several varieties of witch hazel, with its highly-scented, spidery flowers.

Lavender-blue irises are unpeeling their petals, exposing the tiniest hint of the egg-yolk yellow at their heart.

There are some magnificent seedheads. These below remind me of the reedmace in the pond, but I’m happy to be told otherwise, so don’t be shy!

Reed mace?

And look at these truly magnificent thorns. I thought that this was something desperately exotic, maybe from Australia, but I am now persuaded that it might be a winged-thorn rose (Rosa sericea subsp omeiensis). This variety is known as ‘pterocantha’, which might mean ‘winged thorn’ (think ‘pterosaur’ and ‘pyracantha’).  The plant is grown specifically for its thorns, which apparently glow scarlet when backlit. Who knew? It apparently also has small white flowers and bright red hips, so it is definitely a plant for all seasons. It looks more like razor wire than any plant I’ve ever seen, and might be just the thing if burglars are regularly hopping into your garden and pyracantha hasn’t put them off.

The king (or queen) of the seedheads though is probably this plant – Chinese licorice (Glycyrrhiza yunnanensis). This is a member of the pea family, and the flowers look rather like giant mauve clover. If you had a big enough garden it would be worth growing just for that mass of brown, spiky seedcases though – they remind me of a cross between an ancient weapon, a hedgehog and a Sputnik. They were rustling most delightfully in the pre-Storm Dennis wind too, reminding me that a garden can be a complete sensory experience.

Chinese licorice (Glycyrrhiza yunnanensis)

To round off the experience I decided that I would have a proper look in Coal Drops Yard. As usual, my eyes were drawn to the plants, and in particular the pots of heavenly bamboo (Nandina). Contrary to the name, this is not a bamboo but a member of the barberry family. What I love is the combination of bright crimson berries and the delicate foliage, and I’m not the only one – the plant seems to be having a ‘moment’ in the County Roads of East Finchley where I live, with several peeking out of pots and hedges.

Heavenly bamboo (Nandina)

And so, it’s time to wend my way back to Kings Cross station and to head home. Overall, I’m pretty impressed with what’s going on at Coal Drops Yard and round about – there are some interesting and unusual plants with year-round interest, and it certainly makes a change from alyssum and lobelia. I shall have to take a trip back in a month or so to see how it’s all developing, and to admire some of these plants in their summer garb.

And somehow, I manage to avoid buying anything in the shops. Sometimes, a bit of time spent with plants is more satisfying than anything that money can buy.

Photo Credits

Photo One from





4 thoughts on “At Coal Drops Yard

  1. Pingback: Wednesday Weed – Liquorice | Bug Woman – Adventures in London

  2. Pingback: Wednesday Weed – Heavenly Bamboo | Bug Woman – Adventures in London

  3. Pingback: A Revisit to Coal Drops Yard | Bug Woman – Adventures in London

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