THE JUNGLE AT 20 FENCHURCH STREET | Sharon Henry
A soft mist falls, leaving glistening beads clinging to the furry furls of the New Zealand tree ferns, 37 storeys high inside the Sky Garden at 20 Fenchurch Street. Like a light shower of rain, it moistens clusters of waxy ginger flowers and dampens the leaves of 100-year-old palms whose roots once veined the soil at the foot of Mount Etna. This is the Sky Garden on the top floor of 20 Fenchurch Street, aka the ‘Walkie Talkie’ building, in the City of London, and it’s pretty amazing.
I Can See For Miles…
Exotic plants were transported all the way here from South Africa, Australia and the Mediterranean to create this small tropical jungle up in the sky above London’s urban jungle.
My ears popped in the quick elevator ride up and I was awe-struck the minute the doors slid open. We stepped out into a huge atrium, three-storeys high, entirely encased in glass (roof included) which looks directly across (not up) to the pointy top of The Shard skyscraper. Behind us stood what looked like a slice of a mountain side, green, leafy and lush.
We made a beeline to the open air terrace, there was so much detail to consume of this iconic cityscape I didn’t know where to look first. The Shard, HMS Belfast, More London, Tower Bridge, boats on the Thames, red double-deckers, ant people crossing London Bridge, the golden pinnacle of The Monument, down onto rooftops, Battersea Power Station… Seen at this height and perspective with the wind in my hair, my spine tingled. Suffice to say, umpteen photos were taken.
A Little Bit Of St Helena In London’s Sky Garden
It took a while before we ventured back inside. There’s a café on the lower floor level of the Sky Garden and up above are two restaurants which are flanked by green slopes on either side. To the far left and right are stairways leading to the gardens themselves and top-most floor where you can stand eyeball to eyeball with the ‘Gherkin’ and ‘Cheese Grater’ buildings.
Unfortunately, the gardens had to compete with the spectacular bird’s eye views of London and it took a while before we felt sated enough to turn away from the cityscapes below and follow the path under the tree fern canopy inside.
But now that I’m here I don’t want to leave. The range of plants here in the Sky Garden reminds me of home; the tree ferns of our own cloud forest up on Diana’s Peak and the succulents, creepers, ferns and shrubs – the rest of St Helena. Red hot pokers, agapanthus, birds of paradise, cockroach grass… It’s so calm and peaceful here, light and airy and for a few moments the sun shines directly onto my skin. Bliss.
The Sky Garden has its own microclimate and there are three planting zones, the shade tolerant forest at the top, sloping to the sunniest area at the bottom. The plants are ‘drought resistant’ and were carefully selected to give colour and flowers throughout the year. The misting units come on automatically to regulate the humidity to 75%. I love the smell they generate; earthy, just like any garden after a shower of rain.
Can You Believe This Is FREE?
A visit to the Sky Garden is highly recommended. Admission is FREE although places limited in availability and in one-hour time slots. Unsurprisingly for such a brilliant attraction tickets are snapped up fast. Although we got lucky, we booked our tickets online just last night. It’s a simple and instantaneous process and you can either print a copy or bring it on your phone.
There are queues, and a security check but it’s reasonably fast moving, it took us just over half an hour to get in. Come at least half an hour early.
Oh, and don’t do what we did and go into what is the actual front door of 20 Fenchurch Street. This is the reception area for the corporate side of the building – not for tourists. The Sky Garden entrance is around on the opposite side, to the right as you approach from the front. The queue should’ve been a clue, eh… duh!
The Sky Garden is a relatively new attraction, only opened to the public in 2015. The property developers were granted permission on condition that free admission was given to the public.
And even though we’ve been allotted an hour, there are no obvious signs of anyone monitoring this. No one has tapped us on the shoulder to say, ‘time’s up,’ guess it’s self-regulating; some people who queued with us left a while ago.
We should go too, shouldn’t overstay our welcome. Oh, but what a place, what views, we love it. Let’s just take one last photo…