I had an opportunity over the summer to visit the Barbican conservatory on one of it’s rare open weekends. I’m not personally a huge fan of the Brutalist architecture of the building, and so I was interested to see how this would translate indoors to a conservatory.
To my pleasure, I found that actually the combination worked very well. The stark use of metal and glass was a perfect, clean backdrop to allow the plants to shine. The conservatory houses over 2, 000 species of tropical plants and trees and it was genuinely enjoyable wondering through to see what could be spotted.
Based around a round pond in the middle, with high walkways above so you can see the whole thing from a birds eye view, the layout is such that you can feel really immersed in the humid, jungle atmosphere the place evokes. Beautiful, silky barked Ficus benjamina rose elegantly above beds planted up with huge Asplenium nidus and and the stiffly bristled fronds of Cycas revoluta.
In a little area tucked away up high, reached by a pathway lined with deep purple Oxalis triangularis, there was the succulents glasshouse. In there, we found all kinds of seriously weird and very wonderful plants, more alien life form than anything we might recognize as an inhabitant of our planet. And even for people used to botanical names, some of them were a real mouthful; such as Austrocylindropuntia subulata f.monstrose (centre) , a striking cactus, which has red flowers in the spring/early summer and originates from South America, where it can reach impressive heights in the wild.
The fat, flopping legs of Echinocereus scheeri var. gentryi (above) drew a lot of attention, being both slightly disturbing and undeniably phallic. As you can see in the photo, it has plenty of small, fluffy buds about to burst into bright pink flowers, which may improve it’s naked, dangling appearance somewhat.
The Barbican conservatory provided us with plenty of interest for a whole morning, and I would highly recommend it for any plant lovers, particularly those seeking the slightly odd.
Admission is free
Guided tours last 60 minutes and are £12.50, Concessions are £10.00
Opening times: Sundays only***, 12 noon–5pm
You can book a table to have afternoon tea in the Conservatory too. Fairly reasonably priced.