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Drama on the Rooftops at the Barbican

Whilst on my way to the gallery at the Barbican recently I was stopped in my tracks by the simple beauty of the new planting orchestrated by Nigel Dunnett.

Its simplicity is deceiving as the scheme is a finely balanced system, produced by building up communities of plants to fit the differing situations of the rooftop areas, from full exposure to sun and wind to deep, dry shade between the tall


The planting has to look good year round and Nigel Dunnett is renowned for his skill in building up plant layers which will emerge one after another through the seasons. He has also chosen a select range of shrubs and trees which give added structure and height to the planting. The Amelanchier is a fantastic choice for year round interest having the white blossom, seen here, as well as edible black berries and good red Autumn colour.

In order to create drama on such a large scale Nigel relies on just a few species at a time to produce the main display. These change from month to month as the year progresses against a background of silvery evergreen grasses.

The lime green plant visible in the above photo is Euphorbia characias subsp. characias 'Humpty Dumpty'. It is shorter and more compact than the other charachias Euphorbias making it useful for the smaller London Garden. It produces its flower early in the year, providing interest when most other plants are still dormant. Once the flowers finish, it's mounded hummocks of spiky leaves still create a strong architechtural statement.

Another great plant, providing delicate white pom pom dots which soften up the whole overall look is the grass Sesleria nitida. It's silvery grey leaves are evergreen and the seedheads stay all year. You can see it at the bottom of the above photo.

This area which was further into the shade of the buildings had a more colourful range of plants in blues, pinks and white. Plants flowering at this time included, Brunnera, Tiarella, Vinca, Ajuga, and Libertia. The Geranium sylvaticum 'Mayflower' (the pink flower above) is a good choice if you want a Geranium for a shady spot.

I am really impressed by the way in which thought about the sustainability and ecological value of large scale planting has changed over recent years and in the way that large corporations and councils are embracing it. The new scheme here no longer relies upon a mains irrigation system to keep it alive and when compared to the lawns, shrub borders and bedding displays that proceeded it, the benefit to birds and insects must have increased dramatically.

I will have to take another trip down to the Barbican later in the year to see how things have evolved. Can't wait!

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