A horticulturist's ramblings around London

The week after school ended I couldn't stand the cold and grey "summer" weather of Edinburgh a second longer, so I jumped on a fast train to London. In four and a half hours I walked out of King's Cross station into sun and warmth.

I did all my favorite London things and explored some new neighborhoods, walking up to 15 miles a day. I got day-of tickets to the Alexander McQueen retrospective at the Victoria and Albert Museum, which I always regretted missing when it was at the Met in NYC in 2011. The queue was worth the wait---it was hands-down the best museum or gallery show I've ever seen and filled up my well of artistic inspiration, which had been running dangerously low after what turned out to be a very challenging (but very successful) first year of school.

Despite being in the middle of a huge city, the horticultural world was well represented by interesting plants and installations. Here are a few that caught my eye:

I ducked into the Anthropologie store on Regent Street and found the largest green wall I've yet seen. That it was in a retail space was thrilling. This wall was designed by Biotecture and installed in 2009. It is 160 square meters, spans the four floors of the store, and the plants are hydroponically watered with collected rainwater.

But it wasn't without it's faults. Some of the plants had made a run for the sun, and escaped the wall (a look I actually love, but can't be good for the building). There were significantly empty areas of the wall in which the plants had failed to thrive (at right), which is the biggest problem I have with most green walls. I have never seen one in which all the plants are looking good at the same time. It seems green walls require frequent maintenance to not only keep them in bounds, but also to replace dead and failing plants. This level of care and impermanence equates green walls, in my mind, with cut or potted flower displays that aren't meant to last. And so I wonder just how "green' green walls really are.

An amazingly lush hydrangea border, just coming into bloom, stretching the entire length of the Victoria and Albert Museum courtyard.

The naturalistic planting trend was still in full effect all over the city, and this raised bed outside a hotel did it particularly well. The feathery meadow-effect planting softened the severe metal and stone of the building's facade.

In Hyde Park, at right, a strip of sown wildflowers glowed in the sun.

My favorite window display of the whole trip was so subtle I walked right past it before realizing that what I'd seen was actually a garden/farm stand done in fabric. I loved everything about it including how the fabric vegetables played off the different types of wood and the gleaming metal tools.

At left, a plea from a hell strip planting. Above, a nice display in the Liberty store that I may recreate some day.

I thought this planter design made from painted concrete blocks and a variety of succulents was nice and easily reproducible at home. And finally, one of the nicest things about London is one can toss a picnic rug on the ground and spend an evening watching other people enjoying a little bit of nature in a great big city.