Hidden amongst the Brutalist concrete jungle that is the Barbican is a huge conservatory, one of London’s biggest in fact, second only to Kew Gardens’. It’s one of those secret gardens hiding away in the city that we love to visit so much and while I’d been aware of the conservatory’s existence, its infrequent opening times (it’s only open to the public on Sundays) has meant that we hadn’t got round to visiting.
So when your daughter says to you “today is Mother’s Day, Mama, what do you want to do?” you think of the places you’ve always wanted to visit in town that’s cheap and enclosed for running children and so last week we finally got to visit this lush, green corner in the City.
The conservatory is fairly easy to get to once you’re in the Barbican complex, just follow the yellow line to take you to the arts centre and take a lift to level three where you’ll see the doors to the glasshouse on the right. A quick word of warning to parents with little ones – the conservatory isn’t pram friendly, but there are buggy spaces just next to the door.
It’s a rather wonderful place to explore, with a huge amount of tropical plants to look at, huge palms to gaze up at, big fat koi to watch, all the while you still get glimpses of the concrete buildings this glass house wraps around.
When I first read about the conservatory a few years ago I had also heard that it was quiet as it was such a secret. Not so these days. I don’t know if it was because it was mother’s day or because this was the first really nice day of spring or that word really has got around, but the area is now very popular and isn’t the place for a few moments of peace and tranquillity (although the afternoon teas that were being served there looked the height of elegance). But it is well worth an explore, it’s free to visit and even with all the people milling around the place is still awe-inspiring.
Up some stairs is a rather narrow gallery offering great views of the conservatory and leading you to another room consisting of cacti and succulents.
The kiddos loved it here, there’s nothing like being in a jungle to inspire them, is there? Betsy was amazed to see a black pepper plant and a banana tree and Arthur picked a little route where he’d run around a corner, over the little bridge and then sit down on a bench to watch the fish for a few seconds before doing the whole route again. There are a few animals to look out for while you’re there; the koi are the obvious ones but there are also terrapins and apparently birds too, although we didn’t see any of those.
Once you’ve finished exploring, head to the ground floor and go out to the courtyard where there is a cafe selling good coffee and excellent cakes and fountains to look at and if you’re Arthur, pigeons to chase.
Want to read about more of our adventures in urban oases? Here are a few:
- A meadow in Crouch End
- The garden at the top of the Canary Warf Crossrail station
- Spitalfields city farm
- Roots and Shoots in Waterloo
- Mudchute Farm