A new roof garden has opened in the City of London, and what it lacks in height, it more than makes up for in width — it’s the largest roof garden in London.
What is known as “The Garden at 120” sits on top the newly opened Fen Court office building at, unsurprisingly 120 Fenchurch Street, and is dramatic in size and the views available.
Fen Court is a new office block that was planned in 2008, then revised in 2011 and took over a whole block of smaller buildings, combining them into a single unit. Running through the middle is a large alley, Hogarth Court, which is in fact the same as the old alley that used to run here, and in the center is the entrance to the roof garden.
A large square space known as the Banking Hall, as it’s based on the banking hall spaces created by Sir John Soane for the Bank of England, and a roof video and audio art that’ll play during the daytime.
Here are the usual bag searches and security, then whisked up in a lift to the 15th floor, and straight on the roof.
The first think you notice is that it’s big. I mean, really big. It fills the entire roof of the building, and is entirely given over to the garden space. If you’ve been used to the shared space in the Sky Garden which is more a restaurant with plants, or the narrow top at the Shard, then this place will be a shock.
It does share the roof with one other occupant, the office plant equipment which has been hidden behind wooden shuttered concrete walls, which are intended to slowly be covered by planting. The boxes also then create a more interesting perspective as you walk around, almost breaking up the space into rooms.
Above you head what looks at the moment like an unfinished roof waiting for the glass is a pergola, which over time will fill up with climbing plants. At the moment, it has an odd effect of both being in the way of views, but also helping to ground the space and concentrate the views.
Around the edges are fruit trees, Italian wisteria, seating, a water feature and a (not currently open) coffee hut.
The space would not look unusual at ground level as a modern pocket park, but that it’s up on the 15th floor gives you a garden, with a view.
Unlike the super-tall towers, with grand vistas across the wide city, this is a more human level of view, for something that’s still up on the 15th floor. You can see the details of buildings, and their often utilitarian roofs. Some of the modestly tall buildings poke up in places framing vistas that would otherwise be impossible to appreciate.
Some of the city skyscrapers are easier to appreciate at this middling height as well. The view of Gherkin will be a soon too familiar selfie-spot, while the Lloyds Building is resplendent when see from a height that is comparable to its own.
On a clear day the views across to Canary Wharf, Wembley and south London should be equally impressive, but for me, the close up intimate views of the surrounds are more appealing.
The garden space is large, will be a lot greener in the next few months, and easy to visit.
Is it good? Yes, it’s damn good.
Under the terms of the planning agreement, the roof garden is open daily, and can be only closed for private functions during normal hours a maximum of 14 days each year.
If you worry about visiting at lunchtime thinking it’ll be packed of the office staff in the building below popping up for lunch – they’re supposedly banned from the roof garden unless they go in just as a member of the public would have to.
Monday to Friday access will be between 10 am and 6.30 pm over Winter (October 1 to March 31) and between 10 am and 9 pm during the Spring and Summer months (April 1 to September 30).
Entry is free of charge – just turn up and go in.
Although the website doesn’t indicate it’s a trial, the City of London says weekend openings will be for two six-week trial periods.
This is what they expect the space to look like once the planting is a bit more settled in.
Location map and local interesting places
- 1] The Garden at 120
- 2] Fen Court, EC3
- 3] Seething Lane Garden, EC3
- 4] St Dunstan-in-the-East
- 5] Aldgate Square
- 6] Star Alley
- 7] French Ordinary Court
- 8] Hartshorn Alley, EC3
- 9] Lovat Lane
- 10] Sugar Bakers Court, EC3
- 11] Talbot Court
- 12] St Peter's Alley
- 13] Bengal Court
- 14] Castle Court
- 15] Golden Fleece Court
- 18] Aldgate Pump