There’s more to the City than fat cat bankers and shiny office blocks. Built up as it is, the Square Mile is also home to a quirky collection of gardens, planted highways, churchyards and burial grounds.
Although most of the gardens themselves are post WWII creations, history is unavoidable in London’s most ancient quarter, with sites incorporating everything from Roman remains to plague pits alongside the latest in contemporary architecture.
Most of the City’s 200 open spaces are managed by the Corporation of London, with biodiversity high on the agenda. Wildlife friendly initiatives include insect hotels, bird and bat boxes, green roofs, nectar rich planting, and the use of pheromone traps instead of chemical pesticides. It’s a strategy that seems to be working because in recent years the City has become a habitat for rare species such as the Peregrine Falcon and is a stronghold for the country's Black Redstart population. The Barbican Estate is home to a healthy population of the once common but now endangered house sparrow while strategically placed log piles have been created in gardens such as Finsbury Circus, in the hope of enticing stag beetles into the City.
City gardens flourish in the face of considerable adversity. The air is polluted and the soil is poor, compacted and of limited depth – beneath its scanty surface runs a Swiss cheese labyrinth of communications cables, power lines, sewers, railway lines, cellars and basements, not to mention burial sites and archaeological remains. Although there’s a toasty microclimate that favours exotic species, some native plants resent the generally dry conditions, while the City’s tall buildings create destructive wind tunnels and vortexes. One third of the City has been redeveloped in the past 30 years, and this relentless change causes its own problems too, particularly for trees, which need time to mature and which are susceptible to damage or removal by reckless contractors.
But its not all doom and gloom; over the past three decades the number of green spaces in the City has increased tenfold as all new building developments have to show an environmental gain. It also helps that the City’s open spaces are protected by their own Acts of Parliament and that over £1.5 million a year is lavished on their upkeep. A walk around the City quickly confirms that its well-used and much-loved gardens are as much a part of its identity as chalk stripe suits, and telephone number salaries.