I had the chance to take a ride in this garden in the sky this afternoon, at the launch of the Cityscapes garden festival, taking place this summer in the South Bank and Bankside area of London.
Sturgeon’s garden is simple, but brilliantly effective: clean white square pillars echo the architecture of the city beyond, surrounded by a restful green and white planting palette made up of native tussock grass (Deschampsia cespitosa), white-flowered sweet rocket (Hesperis matronalis) and Baltic parsley (Cenolophium denudatum). All these plants remained in their pots (this is very much a temporary creation) but they knitted together very well: add the branches of flowering quince trees curling around the roof of the capsule and the curving white path below, and Sturgeon has managed to make this tiny space look like far bigger than it is. A soundtrack recorded at various points on the ground visible from the Eye, featuring everything from birdsong to sirens, brings the world below into the glorious isolation of the capsule.
Sturgeon had headed back to Chelsea to continue his garden build by the time I visited, but the Cityscapes press release quoted him as saying: “Whilst I am always trying to take garden design to new heights, this opportunity has meant that I can do it quite literally! It is great to create the highest garden London has ever seen, at one of the capital’s iconic landmarks.” Is this a dig at his old rival, Diarmuid Gavin, who is creating a towering seven-storey pyramid made of scaffolding at Chelsea this year? Possibly. But Sturgeon should be applauded for his stamina in taking on two gardens at once: no mean feat, especially given the challenging weather of the last few months. For instance, Cityscapes curator Adolfo Harrison told me that Sturgeon needed a last-minute change of planting plan, as the angelica plants he’d banked on were set back by the cool temperatures. They were replaced by the Batlic parsley, which doesn’t have the height the angelica would have achieved, but its green umbels had a similarly frothy effect.
Three more garden installations will follow in the coming months: an underground garden in the Old Vic Tunnels below Waterloo station, a community garden made up of potted plants at the Architecture Foundation and a mini-forest at the Design Museum: there’s also a garden trail to follow. In fact, London is simply stuffed with gardening events this summer, from the Chelsea Flower Show and the Chelsea Fringe Festival (more of which soon) to Open Squares Weekend and The Big Dig.