Let’s face it, for many, cities and nature don’t always go hand in hand. More often than not, cities are thought of as noisy, dirty, congested areas of a country, places a garden/nature lover would strictly avoid like the plague. However, I’m here to tell you today, that with an open mind and a closer look at any city, there is so much more than meets the eye and there will always be something related to the greener side of city life that a nature lover or gardener will find interesting in an urban environment.
Having spent the last few days on a mini-break in London, a city where I was born, I thought I would share with you, the things for me, which symbolise the greener side of city life. I’m not going to lie, where I live now is very different to where I was born. I live out in the countryside, surrounded by all things natural and pure, so much so that I can say without a doubt I am more of a countryside girl than a city girl. It’s safe to say there’s nothing more that I love than being in the tranquility of my garden, embraced by nature. Yet, as I told you in my last post, I have an inquisitive nature and I do have other interests too. I love to explore new places and meet new people. Travelling expands your mind, helps you to gain perspective and also reminds you to appreciate what you have! Our trip to London was primarily to celebrate a 30th birthday, however, I thought it would be fun too, to challenge myself to seek out the greenery amongst the concrete and to inspire my fellow gardeners and nature lovers to give cities a chance!
It’s very easy when you are in any city, to get caught up in the whirlwind of city life and feel like you are part of that ‘hamster on the wheel’ effect when you get swept along with the rapid tide of movement as city dwellers continue with their daily lives. The London Underground for me, when looking at it from a distant perspective, reminded me of garden ants in their interlinking tunnels, hastily moving along from one area to the next. It’s very easy in all the hustle and bustle, to forget to take a moment to be present in your life and to take in your surroundings. Yet, if you can, there are so many amazing things going on around you! I always try to remind myself not only to look around me, but also up above and down below. On our many walks around London, these were just some of the examples of those greener touches that I spotted sprinkled around the city.
• Beautiful flower displays in hanging baskets. Great examples of adding an easy splash of colour to any urban scene.
• Charming outdoor basement gardens, using the small space wisely so that it didn’t appear over cluttered. Each plant had a rightful place and a purpose, for example, climbers were used to make use of the height space but also hide marks on outside walls.
• Container gardening on balconies.
• Communal gardens outside flats, where neighbourly residents could meet for a chat.
• Rooftop gardens, allowing residents to take advantage of the spectacular views but also enjoy a small spot of gardening.
• Tiny ferns and other plants growing through small cracks in concrete at the side of shops, as well as tree roots popping through pavements, a true sign that nature will find a way to overcome the urban jungle!
These are examples of less obvious sightings, there are of course many more obvious sights, such as the parks and grassy areas dotted around inner London, bringing a true sense of calmness to the busy heart of the city.
Tried, tested and would recommend:
1. Chelsea Physic Garden:
We spent a thoroughly enjoyable morning here, so much so that time evaporated into thin air. Tucked away, just like a secret garden, you enter a world of beauty and amazement. It’s truly hard to believe that you are in a city during the time that you spend here! There is so much to see and the garden is split up into different sections, easily highlighting the different types of plants and what the world of gardening has to offer. From trees that have been around since the time of dinosaurs to medicinal plants that have chemical compounds to help treat cancers today, it certainly is a place of awe and one I would visit again. Our tour guide was friendly and informative, keeping us all entertained and intrigued right up to the very end! I came away with so much more knowledge than when I entered the garden, which in itself is a real tribute to the dedication of the people working here.
This is a floating garden on the river Thames that again we all thoroughly enjoyed visiting. To get to Farmopolis, you will walk through the reclaimed dockland areas which after a past of industry now boast pleasing, quiet grassy areas, perfect for time outs from inner city life. The garden can be found on a wooden pier that jets out onto the river. Surrounded by views of the London skyscrapers in the distance, it is the beauty of the plants that attract your eyes. These are no ordinary plants however, they are plants that are getting a second chance in life. They were featured at the Chelsea Flower Show and now that the show has finished, the plants have been rehomed by Farmopolis. What a wonderful idea to re-use them to create a garden oasis for city dwellers, some of whom may not have the chance to have their own garden! It’s true to say that when we visited, some of the flowers had gone past their flowering phase, but that didn’t matter! I loved the notion of not throwing something away and volunteers caring for them, particularly as we seem to be living in a world where throwing away has unfortunately become a fashion these days. If like me, you care for orchids after they have flowered in hope that one day they will flower again, you will indeed find Farmopolis an enchanting place to visit!
Both these two venues had a place to eat and having sampled on both occasions the tea and cake (I know, I know but it was a holiday after all and it was on different days!) they are definitely a must visit for any garden/nature lover.
Further examples of the greener side of city life I discovered in restaurants. For the 30th birthday celebration we had an amazing meal at the Gilbert Scott restaurant. The fruit and vegetables the chefs used as perfect accompaniments to the meat and fish, were sourced from local areas. Delicious!
A visit to the new building of the Tate Modern included a wonderful panoramic sight of the city and all the rooftop gardens from the museum’s viewing platform. Although we did not have time to see this, there was also an exhibition of Georgia O’Keeffe’s floral artwork, proving again that nature inspires!
At Heathrow airport there was a Cath Kidston shop, which I absolutely adore. All the pretty, floral materials on the products makes me go weak at the knees and I have to be so careful not to spend all my money. I have to say, so very tempting. I did at the very beginning of the mini-break treat myself to a Cath Kidston reusable, floral shopping bag which I have to say was a trusty companion during my shopping trips in London and also in turn helped to save the environment!
All in all, I have to say that I saw many different examples of a ‘green’ London and I’m sure I missed a lot along the way too! It’s impossible to do and see everything. I would love to hear if you have been to London recently and found any other examples. Londoners have made me proud and have found a good balance between nature and city life. If you are someone who loves gardening, loves nature but has never been tempted to sample city life, even for a small break, I hope this post has inspired you to visit London or another city. Set yourself the ‘green’ city challenge and see what you can spot!