Lockdown Landscaping

An Instagram discovery led us to Bruce (and Fi) Robertson in Willoughby House who finally had the time with lockdown to discover some impressively green fingers!

Despite having lived in the Barbican for three years, we had never had the time to properly cultivate our top floor bedroom balcony. Having checked out of The Standard Hotel, where I was managing director for five years, and then with the onset of lockdown, time (and travel) were suddenly no longer issues.

We had already bought some vegetable seeds – determined to make an effort this time! In April we started growing on our windowsill 7 varieties of tomato (in for a penny and all that!), peas, courgettes, radishes, lettuce and rainbow chard. We also started growing some sunflowers, nasturtiums, balsam and sweet peas in the house, to plant out later.

We ordered a selection of plants, including a fuscia, corderline, acer, dogwood, and some bedding plants. And whilst waiting what seemed like an age due to COVID affected deliveries we realised that, with our growing population of seedlings and the anticipated new arrivals, we were running out of space (and pots)!

To provide height and maximise space we decided that three narrow console tables against the wall of the balcony would be a great solution. However, struggling to find the perfect solution that would let us keep the fire escape clear, we set about making our own. We ordered a walnut kitchen worktop (pre-cut to size) online, and found a supplier of hairpin legs who could then send it on for powder coating, to our specification. As fans of Memphis design, we opted for mint green. Five coats of teak oil and four coats of yacht varnish later and the consoles were ready, and soon playing host to our new trees and plants.

Our peas were planted out, with a home-made trellis, in mid April, with the radishes, lettuce, chard and flowers raised from seed following shortly after. At the end of May (after some hardening off) we finally got our tomatoes and courgettes planted out in pots on the balcony.

We ate our first peas in early June, having already been snacking on radishes since May. We started eating courgette flowers at the start of July, and got some courgettes in July and August (though not our best crop), and then finally, our tomatoes all started ripening in late August and we are still harvesting more now.

We’ve also been saving seeds from our sunflowers, sweet peas and balsam and will be using these as favours for Fi’s sister’s wedding in October.

It’s been such an incredible year going for a million miles an hour and fifty plus flights per year to almost standstill. The plants throughout our home and balconies have provided a very welcome focus during this time and has also made me feel more grounded; tuning in to the pace of nature had been a revelation for me.

Whilst Fi has been working from home throughout she’s felt they have also given her a real source of respite from the strange situation we all find ourselves in and something both to marvel at and look forward to.

As summer draws to a close there have been many lessons learned and we are already excited enough to be searching for some evergreen to get us through the winter, and are awaiting a rather large number of spring bulbs arriving…

We have been so privileged to have discovered another aspect of Barbicanlife that makes living here all the more compelling.

I think we’ve found a hobby for life.