Seven Urban Oases
The Barbican Conservatory Courtesy of the Barbican Centre
How to get your nature fix in the city? Take a walk through some of our favourite urban gardens.
For the nature lover, cities can be crippling, stifling places. Wildlife is more commonly found in the form of an overdressed late-night reveller or a mangle-footed pigeon than anything biologists might actually be interested in. And yet, more of us are choosing to live in cities than ever before (more than half of the world’s population at the last WHO count in 2014). With cities getting busier and outside areas getting tighter, landscapers are being forced to get creative with the concept of green space.
But creating spaces they are. From London to Mexico City, green-fingered enthusiasts are constantly concocting new ways to refresh the concrete landscape. On our aerial nature walk, below, we have selected some of our favourite city gardens, all unique in their ability to offer a little urban relief. Whether it’s meandering through the exotic plants in a glasshouse or discovering a miraculously soil-free vertical garden on a high-rise apartment block, these are gardens, just not as we knew them. Some even have Wi-Fi, making them perfect places for your mid-morning coffee, MacBook in tow, or perhaps even a date. So why not perch a while and allow the sunshine to photosynthesise your soul.
The kitchen of Ms Howard's apartment David S Allee/ OTTO
When Ms Barbara Howard, daughter of Mr Jack Warner of Warner Bros, moved to her penthouse apartment in Greenwich Village back in 2004 she was presented with the opportunity to realise a California dream – or at least curate her rooftop to look like it. “I always wanted to have a terrace in New York,” Ms Howard told New York Magazine. “Growing up in California, access to nature is just part of life.” She enlisted her friend, landscape designer Mr Alan Schrier, to transform three roof terraces outside the kitchen, bedroom and living room. The result? A planting of herbs, peppers and fruit trees for the kitchen, a formal arrangement to entertain guests off the living room terrace, and for the bedroom? Night-scented lavender, beach rose and a hedge of black pines, which serve a dual purpose as natural shutters: NYC in or NYC out.
The garden of the Petit Palais Courtesy Petit Palais, Paris
Built in 1900, in the Beaux-Arts style, and lit entirely by natural light, Petit Palais is the lesser known, infinitely more serene and diminutive sister of the tourist-weary Grand Palais. The formal symmetry of the half-moon courtyard at the Petit Palais is a blueprint of the garden across Avenue Winston Churchill in the grand palace, but is intimately more spectacular. The peristyle garden, along with the edges of three ponds, has been decorated with little blocks of marble. Mosaics cover the floors leading into the galleries, where works by Poussin, Doré, Courbet and the Impressionists grace the walls. If you tire of peace and serenity, there is an elegant little café to sit and take a nature break with a friend (or, even better, sip some dark French roast coffee). petitpalais.paris.fr
One Central Park’s cantilevered Sky Garden Roland Halbe
Its namesake might be the 750ft Time Warner Headquarters in New York, but these buildings could not be further apart. Named as one of the world’s best skyscrapers and commended for its innovative green design, Sydney’s One Central Park is urban architecture at its best. The key feature of the building is its hanging gardens designed by French botanist Mr Patrick Blanc, who surrendered 1,120m2 vertical patches of the building’s surface to more than 35,200 plants across 383 species. A predominant force in this ensemble is the tumbling acacia, a mimosa-like plant that colours each residential unit a charming bright yellow. Amazingly, this vegetation creeps along the building’s surfaces without the need for soil, gaining its sustenance, instead, from a remote-controlled irrigation system. This leaves shoots suspended while their roots attach to a mesh-covered felt soaked with mineralised water. Little wonder, then, that this project was the overall winner of the 2014 LEAF Awards. centralparksydney.com
Mr Irwin's Palm Garden in the grounds of LACMA 2010 Museum Associates/ LACMA
When it comes to botany, LA is a city of extremes: home to everything from the manicured lawn and the unruly freeway vine to Mr Jeff Koons’ “Tulips”. The sculpture park at LACMA is an inorganic sort of garden, composed mostly of large-sale sculptures by some of the most prominent artists of the 20th century. Works by Messrs Ellsworth Kelly and Henry Moore and Ms Alice Aycock share space with the iconic California fan palm. Inspired by how palm trees capture southern California light, Mr Robert Irwin has celebrated LA’s totem tree in his Palm Garden, which is composed of 30 different palm tree varieties. Planted in a T-shaped grid, the palms look skyward and the fan of the foliage offers a natural umbrella for those inspired to walk among them. lacma.org
The garden terrace of Duddell's Courtesy Duddell’s
Founded by three of Hong Kong’s most influential young minds, Duddell’s is a cultural destination for people who appreciate the arts. To design the interiors for the two Michelin-starred restaurant and garden terrace, the team engaged the internationally lauded interior designer Ms Ilse Crawford. For this project, Ms Crawford’s London-based practice, Studioilse, was faced with the great challenge of shutting out one of the busiest cities in the world. Luckily for us, they succeeded. Tropical plants adorn the roof terrace of Duddell’s with vibrant foliage and the windowsills in verdant shades of green. The garden theme continues indoors, where wooden furniture and organic materials mirror the external colour palette, creating a soothing environment for a weekend lunch. duddells.co
The interior of Ms Bo Bardi’s Casa de Vidro Markus Lanz
In our collective imaginations Brazil is a dense Amazonian jungle with the imposed metropolises of built environments like São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. Known as the most underrated architect of the 20th century compared to her modernist contemporaries Mr Oscar Niemeyer and Le Corbusier, Ms Lina Bo Bardi constructed some of Brazil’s most incisive buildings. Embracing tradition, adding mud, straw and indigenous vegetation to her pallet, Ms Bo Bardi’s designs were deeply rooted in the Brazilian landscape. Her naturalistic interpretation of modernism is epitomised in the Glass House (or Casa de Vidro), a structure that sits on stilts above a tropical vegetation mounting. Fusing her “fixed tropical jungle” inside with the Brazilian jungle outside, Ms Bo Bardi elegantly demonstrates how humans and nature can share common ground, harmoniously. institutobardi.com.br
The Barbican Conservatory Courtesy of the Barbican Centre
Nestled inside possibly the most prominent example of British brutalist architecture there is, the Barbican Garden Room and Conservatory in London is a tropical oasis second in size only to the glasshouses at Kew Gardens, only much lesser known. This, of course, has its benefits – particularly for the solitude-seeker. Under a pyramidal glass roof this concrete safari park is home to more than 2,000 tropical plants and trees. Aside from oodles of greenery, there is also a koi carp pond, terrapins in the rockery and an aviary that plays host to finches and quails – enough to sate the eyes of many an urban biophile. There is also an arid house, with an impressive collection of cacti donated by the British Cactus and Succulent Society. With private nooks and sheltered walkways, the Barbican Garden Room is a peaceful place for a date, or to unwind alone with a good book. barbican.org.uk