Sky Garden, London

CBRE Group
Our services
CBRE Group | 2021 | London

Sky Garden, London

From the start of 2021, idverde has been maintaining and improving Sky Garden at 20 Fenchurch Street (sometimes known as the walkie-talkie building) on appointment by CBRE. In addition to creating a wow factor at London highest public garden, idverde also maintain the external landscaping and London’s largest living wall.

Background

As any gardener will tell you, managing a diverse range of plants that are both practical and visually arresting is not without its challenges – particularly in the centre of London. However, the challenges become more acute when you are caring for and cultivating plant and tree life on the 35th floor of one of London’s most iconic skyscrapers, all under the watchful eye of the general public.

Sky Garden is a premier hospitality and tourist destination, offering an open balcony and stunning 360-degree views across London’s skyline, taking in many iconic sites. It has several distinct zones:

  • Shade Tolerant Forest featuring some of the tallest tree ferns in the UK,
  • A Cycad zone that merges into a Mediterranean style planting with lots of exotic flowering plants, all inhabited by trees and plants from across the globe.

While carefully managing the number of visitors to ensure everyone can experience the diversity of the trees and plants, in a typical year the venue welcomes thousands of guests. However, this has been far from a typical year. With lockdown hitting all parts of the economy, Sky Garden has been closed to the public for much of the time, only reopening in May 2021.

Idverde - Sky Garden - April 30 2021 - LARGE-9441-2 copy 2

The Project

From the start of 2021, idverde has been maintaining and improving Sky Garden at 20 Fenchurch Street (sometimes known as the walkie-talkie building) on appointment by CBRE. In addition to creating a wow factor at London highest public garden, idverde also maintain the external landscaping and London’s largest living wall.

Our Role

Arriving on-site in January 2021, the garden had seriously deteriorated from a combination of reduced service and severe damage from the cold temperatures. Lockdown provided an opportunity for idverde to replenish and reinvigorate the garden. This took the form of an initial six-week plan that included the following:

  • Pruning all damaged planted and removing any dead species
  • Replanting using dramatic, exciting cultivars
  • Twice weekly treatment of all pests and diseases
  • Hand-picking all dead leaves
  • Hand cleaning all plant leaves so they are free from pests
  • Pruning the dense crown on the large Ficus nitida trees
  • Thinning out all plant species where they had been allowed to become overgrown
  • Re-aligning each individual tree fern mister so it watered the crown
  • Re-staking all trees
  • Mulching the entire landscape using 200 bags of a premium grade mulch
Idverde - Sky Garden - April 30 2021 - LARGE-9438-2 copy 2

Under the watchful eye of head gardener, Wes Shaw, idverde created colour and diversity to the planting scheme by adding variation to the form and texture of the displays, along with plenty of new colours with groups of flowering perennials and exciting Bromeliads, all while working closely with the architects, Gillespie, to stay sympathetic to the original design concept.

One of our aims was to put drama and excitement back into the planting as well as delivering a high level of horticulture. The aspiration was to get people to take pictures of the garden as well as the view, this led to the incorporation of several rare and unusual plants to the garden, such as the:

  • Madeira cranesbill geranium (Geranium maderense) from Maderia
  • The Giant Cabuya (Furcraea foetida) from Mexico
  • The Foxtail Agave (Agave attenuata) from Mexico

Living wall

While most people know about the garden in the sky, what may surprise many is that 20 Fenchurch Street is also home to London’s largest living wall. A living wall is a biodiversity-friendly wall made from plants that provide the space with pleasing aesthetics and improved air quality. Situated outside the main entrance to 20 Fenchurch Street, idverde supports the maintenance of the 712m2 living wall and its irrigation system, working hand in hand with Biotecture, who created the wall using an industry-leading patented system.

Challenges

The most obvious challenge is the fact that the majority of the work is undertaken 500 feet off the ground. In this environment, air and temperature, already crucial factors in a tropical garden, take on added significance.

Speak to the team on the ground and they will tell you that the biggest temperature challenge came as an indirect result of the Covid pandemic. The lack of visitors to the site and the reduced activity from the offices and restaurants in the building meant that the temperature of the garden itself fell significantly. The team had to adapt to this to try and save plants from dying, while carefully monitoring for the slightest temperature change which could fatally impact recuperating plants. Thankfully, the plant came through relatively unscathed.

Working 35 floors up is also not for the faint-hearted, and storage space for landscape and maintenance is a low priority when the stars of the show are the plant life and the view, therefore idverde had to be careful in the delivery of materials so that only enough was brought in for each day.

As the planting is all sub-tropical, and across different layers and heights, a sophisticated and vast irrigation and water system is required to prevent both the pooling of water, flooding and just the right amount of water for many of these species.

The site is now back open to the public, so it must be maintained under that gaze. Maintaining some of the UK’s premier sites, from Regent’s Park to the Manchester City football facilities, idverde’s team are well trained in supporting the public with information and are open to questions about what they are doing.

Result

Despite the challenges posed by lockdown, the floral displays have come through unscathed and indeed dramatically improved in appearance and the quality of horticulture. In addition, idverde has added to its already exciting collection of tree ferns and cycads.

This is now a professionally managed space with skilled management both in terms of service delivery and horticulture, providing guests with a wow factor beyond the dramatic views of London’s skyline.