If you find yourself near Canary Wharf in London's Docklands, don't miss the new public garden that's just opened above the Crossrail station development there.
The railway line won’t be up and running until 2018, but the station's first stage – Crossrail Place – is welcoming visitors. There are plenty of shops and restaurants, but it's the roof garden that's got people talking. Under a transparent canopy are hundreds of plants that draw on the area’s heritage as a nineteenth-century trading hub. Many are native to countries visited by ships of the West India Dock Company, which unloaded their wares where the station now sits. They were transported in Wardian cases - mini glasshouses that protected them - and these inspired the design of the transparent roof.
The development sits almost exactly on the Meridian line and the garden designers Gillespies (who also landscaped the Skygarden on top of the Walkie Talkie at 20 Fenchurch St) took this as their inspiration, dividing the area into two geographic zones. Plants from the Western hemisphere such as ferns (left) and Sweet Gum are on that side of the Meridian line, with Asian plants such as bamboos, magnolias and maples on the other.
The central area of the garden is open to the sky, allowing in fresh air and pollinating insects. (A bumblebee was busy among the flowers while we were there.) Paths wind through the planting, and there are benches where you can relax and enjoy the panorama. Descriptive plaques give details about the history of the area and the planting.
One surprising feature is a vegetable garden, tucked away in a corner. Newly-planted tomatoes, beans and peppers seemed to be thriving.
The development itself is designed by Foster and Partners, and (below) makes a bold and exciting visual statement in what for many years was a wasteland. Admission to the roof garden is free, and unlike the Skygarden, you visit without booking in advance.
Once complete the 85-mile Crossrail line will stretch from Shenfield in Essex to Heathrow and Reading. Until then an easy way to reach Crossrail Place is the short walk north from the Jubilee line's Canary Wharf station.