Dear Readers, for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee this year, the moat at the Tower of London has been planted up with over 20 million seeds, designed to attract pollinators. And very pretty it is too! You can get a good view for free from the walkway around the outside….
..or you can pay £13.20 to wander amongst the flowers (there are special tickets for families), and in July and August it’s open until 21.00. Superbloom finishes on 18th September, for anyone who wants to come and see it, and the future after that is currently uncertain – while it’s likely that the moat will continue to be planted up, it might not be open to the public.
There’s also a slide which is advertised as depositing you in the middle of the flowers. Well, that’s true, but it’s a very small patch of flowers. The schoolchildren were thoroughly enjoying it anyway.
On the way to the entrance, there is a sculpture of a pride of lions made out of chicken wire by artist Kendra Haste – I’ve seen her work before, and have always been impressed by it. There have been wild animals at the Tower since Norman times – there used to be a ‘lion tower’ where the lions were housed. There was also an unfortunate polar bear who was shackled by one leg, but allowed to go swimming and fishing in the moat.
And once in the moat, it reminds me, superficially at least, of the meadows at Waltham Abbey where I used to play as a child.
There are a wide variety of plants here. A lot of it is what I’d describe as ‘prairie planting’, and the word ‘Superbloom’ comes from what happens in the desert regions of the world after rain, when everything flowers at once. However the chief gardener, Nigel Dunnett, has designed the garden so that different plants emerge at different points. At the moment, there’s a lot of poppies, daisies and cornflowers. Later, there will be cosmos and more rudbeckias. Dunnett has ‘form’ with this kind of planting, having done the display at the Olympic Park.
There are some bald patches which will presumably flower later in the year – it was apparently very difficult to get the display going, what with the cold spring. Some annuals were sown, some were brought in as planted turf. I do wonder how they managed to dissuade the pigeons from eating the lot.
Further round the moat, the cornflowers are exquisite – there are the usual blue ones, but also white, chocolate brown and magenta varieties. As usual, I like the wild-type ones best.
And then there are swathes that are less multicoloured, filled with yarrow and bladder campion.
At one point there is some ‘ambient music’, which is meant to dull the sound of the traffic. I am a little allergic to the use of music in what is meant to be a ‘natural’ spot – I have a similar loathing for the sounds used in places like Sealife, where the poor old sharks have a constant soundscape that I imagine is meant to inspire awe. It would be interesting to know what the flowers thought. It is also entirely possible that I’m just being a curmudgeon.
As we wandered away from the soundscape, there was a sudden eruption of blue from the Viper’s Bugloss, so hardy that, as Dunnett says, ‘You could have a hurricane run through it and it would still stand up‘. This is one of my favourite plants.
Further along there’s a red patch, with lots of poppies and those magenta cornflowers that I mentioned.
And then there’s this extraordinary woven willow structure called ‘The Nest’ and sculpted by Spencer Jenkins. I particularly like the way that the live willows are woven into the structure.
But what made me sad, looking at all this floral abundance, was the lack of pollinators. There were plenty of honeybees (which made me think that there’s a hive nearby, maybe in the Tower itself). There were a few bumblebees, and a few white butterflies. It was a little breezy, so maybe the flying insects had stayed at home. But when I think of the meadows of Austria, or the meadows of my childhood, it’s clear that something is missing. Looking after our pollinators isn’t only about growing pretty flowers, it’s about keeping and creating habitat where they can breed and hibernate and where young insects can feed and pupate.
There is a rather lovely insect sculpture by Mehrdad Tafreshi. It feels to me like a eulogy.
Superbloom feels like a labour of love, and every volunteer that we spoke to was delighted to talk about the effort that had gone into creating the space. To see so much colour, especially on a lovely summer’s day, lifted the spirits. If you are interested in plants, it is well worth a look. And if, like us, you walked over Tower Bridge, you get some wonderful views of what is still, in spite of everything, the best city in the world (forgive my bias 🙂 but I am a Londoner).