“The principal open spaces enclosed by the long terraces of building south of Barbican are laid out on a large scale with grass, forest trees and water gardening, as is familiar in the London parks and squares.”
Chamberlin, Powell & Bon, Architects “Barbican Redevelopment” April 1959
Except for the area around St Giles’ church and along the old City Wall, the gardens around the lake are reserved for residents only – or ‘presidents only’, as I heard one small child inform her mother – and they are entered via high metal gates to which only residents have keys. Where lift lobbies open onto the gardens, they also can only be opened with residents’ keys.
We have marvellous gardens. You can live for years in the Barbican, just rushing head-down from flat to tube station, and seeing nothing but concrete. If you tell most people who work in the City nearby that there are gardens, and even a lake, hidden between the concrete-ribbed towers, they often just snort with disbelief.
But in a world where property developers try to cram as many flats as possible into any space, you realise what we owe to the City Corporation. They provided us with a fabulous amenity in the form of the two gardens, linked by the lake.
These are entirely private to residents. In the summer, during the day at weekends, the gardens are full of residents lying about, getting a suntan, reading books, even practising karate with their children.
In the evenings, families and friends have dinner parties, and you can look down from the highwalks onto the circles of candles and the rugs with food laid out on them.
At night, it’s a very pleasant experience to wander around in the gardens. You often see solitary people just sitting in the dark on the benches. If you have spent a long time in towns, you may have forgotten how it is to smell the scent of bushes and shrubs as you walk along the sides of the gardens. (In the Thomas More Garden admittedly you do risk sinking up to your ankles in mud at the Thomas More House end after it rains.)
Perhaps this is an urban myth, but one of the senior gardeners told me that the Barbican climate is up to 3 degrees warmer than the rest of London.
We owe a lot to the Barbican Horticultural Society whose members tend the log boxes of plants on the podium, and also to the many ‘green fingered’ residents whose window boxes overflow with colour every year.