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Nature in the Centre of the City

Even in the most built up and busy centre of the Capital there is a surprising amount of flora and fauna, although sometimes it is hidden away.

In the City of London and just next to the financial district The Barbican is a concrete city within a city, with giant blocks of flats, enormous rectangles of buildings and regimented lines of windows and balconies. Even many of the gardens and water features have straight lines and right angles.

Around this modern complex are the ancient walls of the City. These walls, which once provided protection for its citizens, now shelter plants - without their benefice they would not survive.

The walls are greened with mosses and everywhere there is evidence of nature creeping around and pushing through - peep down the deep shafts and there are ferns sprouting up from the bottom; alongside the well trodden pavements there are delicate flowers.

Tiny flowers on the edge of the pavement

There is the sound of birdsong in the trees and some unexpected sights: a green wall that is a vertical garden, plants tumbling down from balconies and appearing on rooftops; they soften the harsh landscape. A community garden, creative and inspiring, has been squeezed into a piece of open land.

There are wooden planters where residents grow fruit, vegetables and herbs. People may live high up, almost in the clouds but they come down to the ground to tend their crops.

Rhubarb growing in the city

Barber-Surgeons Hall Gardens, just close by, continues a centuries' old tradition of growing medicinal herbs. It is tucked away by one of the old city walls and not far from where the barbers who once attended the monks became apothecaries.

The species that are grown here are still used for both herbal and pharmaceutical medicines

Herbs still grown after centuries of cultivation

Postman's Park, once the site of three churches, has old walls that create an environment where Camelias is grow happily as well as exotic plants which thrive here.

Camelias blossom all year round

Brick walls shelter plants

Even a Banana Tree can bear fruit here.

Tiny bananas grow

A Handkerchief Tree can be seen flowering in May - so called because its white leaves appear as handkerchiefs hanging from the tree. It is very rare: there are a few in London - another can be found at Kenwood House on Hampstead Heath.

Handkerchief Tree in late Summer

A short walk from The Barbican the trees around Bunhill Fields grow high and wide, creating a canopy that provides shade and shelter for the people who come from the blocks of flats and offices to find peace.

Bun Hill Fields

In the other direction away from The Barbican it is a short walk to St Mary Aldermanbury, which at first sight appears to be a sunken garden and is actually the site of a church that was taken brick by brick to be rebuilt across The Atlantic.

Some of the structure remains and nature is greening the ruins, covering them with mosses and ferns. This tiny green oasis in a very built up area has been discovered by squirrels who dart around and disappear into the trees.

Mosses create a miniature landscape

Close by on the corner of Wood Street and Cheapside a centuries old Plane Tree reaches up to the sky. It is one of the oldest in London and inspired both Wordsworth and Dickens. We may feel insignificant amongst the tall buildings all around, seeing the vested interests of developers, but natural forces have greater powers and the tree has grown even higher than the office blocks and is still growing today.

Stretching up and above the buildings

From this spot, follow Cheapside and then Newgate Street to Christ Church, Greyfriars. Here there is a path underneath a cathedral of trees, leading to the door of the remains of the church that once stood here. There may be a waft of Star Yasmine as you enter and the sound of the bells of nearby St Paul's Cathedral.

Wooden structures show where the pillars of the church once stood, with plants climbing up them amongst the tangled flowerbeds. Only the tower and parts of the walls remain - and now there is a wide variety of flowers and evergreens.

A church that became a garden

On the other side of St Paul's Cathedral a newly planted copse is hidden away - Distaff Lane Garden is a welcome retreat from the noise and heat of the city. The whiteness of the silver birch tree trunks is illuminated on a sunny day and reflects the rays of the sun.

Tree trunks appear to light up

The leaves of the trees are small and allow light to reach the ground below where ferns spread around this green space.

Just a mile from here is St Dunstan's in the East. This gothic ruin also is surrounded by plants and in this sheltered spot palm trees grow. The windows frame the views in and around the ruins, left by bombs during the Second World War.

Now a santuary for nature

The windows frame the views in and around the ruins, left by bombs during the Second World War.

Three city churches destroyed in conflict in the City of London. Yet nature brings new life and hope and provides sanctuaries for people and wildlife in the City of London.

North London and Central London map


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