It’s difficult to spot exactly when trends in the gardening world change, there’s always talk of the latest trends at The Chelsea Flower each year, but recently there’s also been much talk of the 2012 Olympics bringing the naturalistic prairie-planting style to the attention of the public.
Callirohe involucrata, a drought tolerant perennial from the U.S.A.
So the big interest for me visiting the Olympic Park last year, was how this type of planting would work on this site and more generally how 250 acres of contaminated, industrial land next to the River Lee in East London could be transformed into a park worthy of world attention.
Although it was still a building site when I visited last year, Zaha Hadid’s Aquatic Centre and the Velodrome looked very sculptural against the vivid blue sky, making a wonderful backdrop to the site. I had really hoped that we would have something as stunning as the Birds Nest Stadium in Beijing and these two buildings really fit the bill.
Buildings in a landscape are important because they help to define the space, just as the buildings do in and around a domestic garden and the planting should relate to it all, whatever the scale of the project.
Before any planting could be done over 4 hectares of invasive Japanese Knotweed had to be exterminated, having worked on sites where this is a problem I know how difficult this can be. The soil was cleaned and de-contaminated on site and as much waste material as possible was re-used rather than taken to landfill.
Just to give you an idea of the scope, over 65,000 plants specially grown in a Nursery in Ashford, have been planted on site, along with 65,000 bulbs, and there are over ten football fields worth of nectar-rich annual and perennial wildflower meadows in the Park. Hilliers Nurseries have supplied over 2,000 semi-mature trees.
The area of naturalistic planting that has had so much attention is The Riverside Gardens, stretching for half a mile between the Aquatics Centre and the Olympic Stadium next to the River Lee. Over 120,000 plants make up the meadows of cornflowers, marigolds, Californian poppies and prairie flowers sown to flower gold in time for the Opening Ceremony. The design is a collaboration between Sarah Price , James Hitchmough and Dr Nigel Dunnett of the University of Sheffield.
There was no detailed planting plan, twenty-five different species were planted at twelve plants per square metre to give a random, natural appearance, and it works beautifully. It has colour and texture and really stands it’s ground against the striking buildings. Small leaved lime trees (Tillia cordata ‘Green Spire’) and Liquidamber styraciflua add volume to the planting and should provide welcome shade.
A Biodiversity Action Plan to protect new habitats for the whole park and a ten year Management Plan are in place, a very positive sign as lack of future planning for maintenance is often where any landscape project or garden design can fail.
After the Games the Park will become a public space, in fact it’s the largest new urban park in the UK for over a century, it will be a wonderful place to visit for inspiration and planting ideas.
Getty Images via ODA