One of the great things about a birthday is that it focuses the mind. No, I don’t mean being overwhelmed with thoughts of the wretchedness of aging and death and how irritating accomplished 26 year olds are and does sitting in a cold chamber really remove wrinkles. I mean it gives one the excuse to do things you want to do but hadn’t otherwise gotten round to doing. “It is for my birthday,” is a very useful phrase when booking all sorts of self-indulgent outings. Especially, if, like me, you decide that a birth DAY is so limiting, better a birth WEEK. Come on, I made it this far in relatively one piece, I should be able to do better than a few witty cards and a slice of Sainsbury’s rose iced madeira cake (which was delicious by the way.) So I dug out my “things I should have already done in London” list and got busy. Top of that list (oh, a little pun there) was the Sky Garden. The beautiful, mostly enclosed botanical garden on the very top of the Walkie Talkie building, the one that set fire to things when it first opened in spring 2014. But I didn’t just want a quick dash up. I wanted to savour, relish the experience. And the security protocol is formidable, so might as well make it worthwhile. Most of all, I wanted to enjoy the Sky Garden before hoi polloi swarmed in with their buggies and backpacks and selfies. It was my birthday, after all. And I am an unrepentant snob, if you haven’t figured that out already. So I booked an early morning breakfast, at the cafe, and invited my gorgeous friend and frequent companion in all sorts of London adventures, Sara, to join as my “birthday treat.”
We loved it. Being there early in the morning meant we had it almost to ourselves. We lounged elegantly on the blanket-strewn sofas with our coffees and grapefruit juices and admired our gorgeous city from on high, from all angles. The Shard looked particularly powerful and the rooftops of the older, shorter buildings are such a jigsaw of shapes and shadows I half expected to see free runners or secret lovers. The roof of the Walkie Talkie, officially 20 Fenchurch Street, designed by Rafael Vinoly, is a series of curved, glass panels, which were being carefully cleaned by a team of harnessed window washers on the morning. The light is extraordinary, constantly changing under the swift moving clouds and multi-coloured sky. Dutch 17th century painters,with their talent for painting sky in permanent transition, would have loved the space.
We had cake, but the request for a candle was met with great nervousness and suspicion, as though we had suggested a little live grenade throwing, and ultimately denied. Nevermind, it was delicious anyway.
The gardens themselves begin just above the expanse of the cafe and swoop upwards, on either side, to a smaller, higher level, with a restaurant just above. The planting is beautiful and meticulous, segmented by water features, narrow pathways and hidden alcoves. It would be a fantastic place to have a party. London spreads out below you, yet, standing under the trees, you feel very far away from the hustle and bustle indeed.
And then 10 o’clock came. The hordes arrived. The spell was broken. And we’d taken all the photos we wanted. So we left. But with plans to return. Soon. It is a rather lovely way to start a day, birthday or not.
Visiting the Sky Garden is free, but booking is essential. https://skygarden.london/sky-garden