All of London is celebrating the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee this week. There’s bunting everywhere and we’re getting an extra public holiday. Superbloom at The Tower of London is the culmination of a 3-year project for Historic Royal Palaces.
The historic dry moat has been transformed. And this is a permanent change. Over 20 million seeds have been sown here to create a new naturalistic landscape. The flowers have been chosen to attract pollinators to the urban space and introduce a new biodiverse habitat for wildlife.
It’s going to be an evolving display with soft green hues in June then whites, blues, pinks, and oranges throughout the height of summer and into September.
As an aside, this is not the first time that the Tower of London has created a garden display in the moat. In 1977, the moat was used to mark HM The Queen’s Silver Jubilee with a garden display.
As the land here is archaeologically sensitive – this is a 13th-century moat! – the garden planning team knew they could not dig down. To create the planting areas, new soil was brought in which meant they could start completely weed-free.
Careful consideration has been given to each seed mix – even taking into account the shadows cast by The Tower of London in the moat. Throughout the growing season, the seed mixes will merge to produce beautiful and dramatic effects across the moat. (Note, gardeners, can’t go in to deadhead or weed as they can’t walk on the soil as it will get compacted.)
There are 29 different plants to create changing colors and varying heights. It’s not a flat wildflower meadow as there are undulating mounds ready to offer swathes of color this summer. The display grows up in layers throughout the season. Taller plants will create a wonderfully immersive experience for visitors. Along the path of the west moat, there are insets so you can feel more “within” the flowers.
The seed mixes feature different varieties of many familiar wildflowers such as red poppies, yellow corn marigolds, and blue cornflowers. It’s an Impressionistic color palette and the sunflowers will start to appear soon.
You will notice I’ve used a future tense to describe Superbloom even though it opens to the public this week (Wednesday 1 June). Sunshine and optimism are needed for a project like this. Then we just had one of the driest Aprils on record. Plus there is a micro-climate in the moat keeping it cool as wind funnels down from the Thames.
There are many buds to see but the moat is not at full brilliance yet. On every day out, I’m always looking for the “reasons to return”. I definitely wasn’t disappointed with this visit; I just know I want to come back in a month or so and see the changes. It really is a treat to be in the 13th-century moat as it hasn’t been regularly open before.
The plants are already attracting bees though. I learned that you don’t need beehives in London; you need more food for bees.
Yes, you can walk down the new, wide accessible ramp to enter but why do that when there’s a slide to deliver you into the moat rather spectacularly? And, yes, it’s not just for the kids!
The recommended way to reach the moat is by sitting on a mat and sliding down. The 4-lane slide was used at Cliveden. As the National Trust no longer needed it, they passed it on to the Tower of London.
I tried this in the morning and was advised that you slide down faster later in the day as it gets more “polished”. I can confirm it was a lot of fun.
Follow the Path
Whichever entrance you choose, there is a winding path to follow. You start in the west moat and get to explore the north moat and the east moat. Each has a different microclimate, and the planting in each offers a different atmosphere.
The paths have woven willow edging which has hidden lighting within. I reckon this will make it all look just as spectacular at night as during the day.
In the north moat, which is nearest the main road, a specially-commissioned soundtrack masks the traffic noise. The 20-minute ambient score offers meditative music from harps, cellos, violins, and pianos.
It’s called ‘Music for Growing Flowers’. It ebbs and flows as it takes a musical journey through the life cycle of a plant. It is a calm and peaceful melody. The volume changes throughout the piece so it’ll be interesting to see whether that needs adjusting once the public are in the moat every day.
On the northeast corner of the moat, there’s a willow sculpture made by artist Spencer Jenkins. It’s a large circular space with two arches. It will be a place to gather with friends and meet along the journey. It is a lovely spot to stop and contemplate the vantage point of Tower Bridge.
There are ‘windows’ at lower levels to frame the view for children. It’s often good to find a way to focus on the detail and not the whole picture.
The finale is the east moat as you have that wonderful view of Tower Bridge ahead. Here, the path is more winding. You get to go through a willow tunnel with raised bedding on either side. The sweet peas were already starting to climb the curved willow branches.
Then there is a wooden walkway that felt like a pier at the seaside. The planting below will grow up and around offering a ‘sea of color’.
And, lastly, there are titanium and copper insect sculptures to offer a sense of being in amongst the pollinators.
June to September 2022
Superbloom opens to the public on 1 June and stays until 18 September. When the display ends, the plan is for the new natural landscape created to remain as a permanent legacy to the Platinum Jubilee.
The last big change here was in 1845 when the moat was drained. This is the next permanent change to the moat. The transformation should offer inspiration for urban gardeners as this was a short-mowed lawn that no one could use. Next year the plants which are good at self-seeding will return as an ‘echo’ and more will be added to tweak and edit the natural process.
As part of the Superbloom display, a Queen’s Garden has been created. Its design takes inspiration from The Queen’s 1953 coronation gown designed by famed British couturier Sir Norman Hartnell. A lawned area known as the Tower’s Bowling Green has become an elegant garden featuring a combination of meadow flowers, topiary and summer-flowering perennials, bulbs, and ornamental grasses. You can see this on the right as you enter at the west gate, or it can be viewed from the riverside.
The concept for the garden draws on the colors, shapes, and motifs employed by Hartnell for the coronation gown. The layout of the space – with its concentric scalloped hedging – is intended to evoke the scalloped tiers of embroidery which feature on the gown’s silk skirt.
A semi-formal structure of shrubs including lavender, santolina and brachyglottis greyi frame a mix of summer flowers in this knot garden, hinting at the gold bugle beads, pearls, and diamante which dazzled viewers around the world on coronation day.
Rising from the garden are twelve cast glass forms. These represent the national emblems featured in Hartnell’s embroidered design, including the thistle of Scotland, the Australian wattle and the Canadian maple leaf. Basically, the ones that wouldn’t grow here. The glass sculptures are textural representations of the flowers. Some of the colors have a fluorescent element so it’ll be interesting to see them under the nighttime uplighting.
In the center of these motifs sits a glass crown – a reminder of the Tower of London’s ancient role as the home of the Crown Jewels. The glass crown is more complex as it is made from four sections bonded together around the metal.
Dates: 1 June to 18 September 2022
Location: The Moat, Tower of London, London EC3N 4AB
Tickets: Adult Superbloom only tickets: £13.20 including donation. Adult Superbloom and Tower of London: £42.20 including donation. (Check other prices.)
Official Website: www.hrp.org.uk/tower-of-london/superbloom