Sep 102012

Queen Elizabeth Hall Roof Garden

I suffered rather an ordeal the other night. In other words, I had my photo taken. My friend Naomi at Out of My Shed is writing a book, and she plans to include me in it.

It is an undisputed fact that I always look awful in pictures. I was once photographed for Which? Travel magazine (clutching a bottle of tequila… it’s a long story). The photographer said that the harder the person is to take a picture of, the longer the job lasts. Taking one picture of me took FOUR HOURS. In the resulting shot I looked like a burglar with a drink problem (bottle of tequila + the unfortunate choice of a stripey top).

Anyway, Naomi rather sprung this picture-taking session on me and it was just my luck that I was having a bad hair (and bad cold) day. But one does not say no to Naomi, so off we went to the Queen Elizabeth Hall roof garden for the ultimate urban veg growing vibe.

The place has got a lot more popular since I last went (and rightly so – it’s fab), and there were people sitting everywhere. Naomi snapped away, doing her best with such a lousy subject, while everyone no doubt wondered why a woman was having her picture taken next to some vegetables.

The ordeal over, we had a beer and admired the gardens. I loved this informal screen that has sprung up the length of the pergola that leads to the Hayward Gallery. The raised bed underneath it is probably one and a half feet wide and deep, and is stuffed to the gills with Verbena bonariensis, Solanum jasminoides, Joe Pye weed, the odd rose, nasturtiums and herbs. Edible, ornamental, and scented.

Aug 172012

South Bank

I’ve waxed lyrical about the  Queen Elizabeth Hall roof garden a couple of times on this blog, and that definitely qualifies as a secret garden. But there’s a new kid on the block now too, a few hundred metres away: the garden outside the National Theatre.

These grasses had caught my eye several times from Waterloo Bridge, but I couldn’t figure out exactly where they were. I eventually got up close and personal with them last week (they’re a couple of floors up, near one of the Olivier theatre’s bars). They’re planted in large blocks, intercut with rows of box, and their buff colouring complements Denis Lasdun’s concrete perfectly.

And you know what? On a balmy summer’s evening, most of the bar tables were empty. So if you want a quiet drink in London with a view to die for, you know where to go.

Jul 052012

South Bank

I love it when I find an area that you wouldn’t expect to have been planted up, but is. This walkway at the South Bank Centre could be forgiven for just being a link to one part of a concrete building to another, but care has been taken to line it with lots of tough little plants such as thrift.

The walkway leads from the Hayward Gallery to the Queen Elizabeth Hall roof garden, which is looking better than ever this year – the wildflower meadows are currently at their peak and the raised beds are already full to bursting with herbs, salad and beans. If the weather ever improves, it’s the best place to hang out in London.

Jul 052011

South Bank

I’d heard that there was a new roof garden on the top of the Queen Elizabeth Hall, but not having read anything about it I was expecting a few cursory bamboos in pots. How wrong I was. It’s been created in partnership with the Eden Project, and they don’t do things by halves.

There are lush lawns, wildlife meadows, fruit trees in brightly coloured pots, a long scented pergola, abundant raised beds of veg and a scarecrow. On a fine summer’s evening, people were making full use of it – lounging on the lawns, chatting on benches and having a drink – but it wasn’t overrun, and I can’t help thinking that a lot of people don’t know about it. Which is a shame, because I can’t think of a nicer place to meet up this summer.

Sadly, the garden is only temporary. I might have to throw myself down on the lawn and refuse to budge when they dismantle it in September.

PS Have just found a lovely account of how the gardens were created – read it here.