There are two main gardens, Thomas More Garden and Speed Garden. Thomas More Garden is the larger of the two gardens. It is between Thomas More and Defoe Houses and runs from the west side of the lake to Lambert Jones Mews and Seddon House.
Many of the little houses in Lambert Jones Mews have doors directly onto the garden – the only homes in the estate which do open directly onto a garden. Thomas More House has several entrances onto the garden which the flat owners can access via their lifts and stairs. Defoe House garden flats overlook the garden but have no access of their own into it.
If you have sometimes wondered what a particular tree is, I have some answers for you. The Deputy Manager of Parks & Gardens once showed me round the gardens a few years back and told me the names of all the trees and all the dozens of bushes, in Latin. Since it seems I didn’t spell any of them correctly when I took notes, I can’t tell you all the Latin names, and I am only going to mention the main trees.
If you stand in the middle of Thomas More Garden, the big tree facing Lambert Jones Mews nearest to Defoe House is a Walnut.
The little ‘umbrella’ tree near the children’s playground is a Mulberry Tree, planted by the Queen Mother in 1984.
Planting mulberries is a royal tradition. James I paid Flemish silk producers a small fortune for mulberry trees which he planted all over London to support silk worms. But they had outwitted him. They sold him the wrong type of mulberry tree – one that silk worms could not live on.
The tree on the other side of the Magnolia is a Lime.
A while back, a swarm of bees took up residence in the lime tree and built a hive which hung down from one of the branches. The Corporation arranged for a professional bee-keeper to remove it. Apparently she just cut it off, stuck it in the back of her hatch-back, and drove off (presumably with seat belt firmly fixed round the bee hive).
Towards the lake, the tree with the purple hanging flowers is a Paulownia, which is apparently quite rare.
At the Thomas More House side of the garden, there are eight Horse Chestnut trees (formerly nine, but one had to be cut down).
Golden Indian Bean
There is also a Golden Indian Bean tree nearby, planted by the Lord Mayor. This was an award to the Barbican Horticultural Society.
At the corner of Lambert Jones Mews, near the playground, there is a Fig Tree.
Then there are three Acers. Apart from that there are too many shrubs and bushes to name.
The gardeners have been putting bird boxes on trees for blue tits. Blackbirds sometimes nest in the trees. This is a problem when it comes to the time for pruning, because it’s illegal to disturb their nests while they still have young.
The tree near Defoe House which is held up by a prop is a delayed victim of the gale of 1987, which flattened some trees and pushed that tree only half over. Probably health and safety commissars have decreed the rough and ready prop they have nailed under its branches.
The grass is mainly ordinary grass. In the past it has always tended to die off under the Chestnut trees during the Summer because of the lack of sunlight, so the gardeners have planted shade-tolerant grass in recent years in the hope that it will do better. The Corporation contracts out the grass cutting. The grass has to be kept no less than 10 cm and no more than 20 cm high, which means it is cut once a week in the Summer.
In the 1990s, they put 25,000 crocuses into the lawns of the two gardens. Not many have survived the birds, but in Thomas More Garden there is a batch under the Walnut and more by the Acers and the Mulberry.
Many of the problems encountered in Thomas More garden are due to its careless construction. When they built the Barbican, the area between the terraces was a dumping ground for rubble. To turn it into a garden, they just piled soil on top. As a result, there are some places where the soil is quite deep and some places where there are slabs of concrete as close as two feet to the surface. This is a particular problem at the Thomas More House end of the garden. When it rains in the Winter, this area gets waterlogged because the water can’t drain away. In the Summer, it dries out too quickly because there isn’t enough soil to hold the moisture.