The world is watching as the Olympics officially launches in London this weekend. The opening ceremony and Games will be watched by millions; London briefly becomes centre of the world. If quality of garden was an Olympic event, would London get a gold medal?
London gardens account for about a quarter of the area that Greater London covers. For comparison, Sheffield has a similar ratio of private gardens in the main conurbation. That’s gardens, private and communal, but not parks and open green spaces. Look around you; does that feel like a reasonable proportion where you are? Some of you will be in a rural area, but I’m guessing that most of you reading this will be in a suburban or urban scenario.
The problem with our statistic is that it includes front and rear gardens and both hard landscaping – paths, patios, decking, drives – and soft landscaping – plus lawns and plants. As well as ponds, compost heaps and sheds. And this is where the astute among you perceive a flaw. How are we to define ‘garden’?
One person has a block paved drive full of cars and bins but devoid of plants. Another has a rear garden which is mainly grass and weeds such as dandelion, nettle and bindweed. A third has a tiny front patch with recycling bins and two big pots of topiary by the front door. Yet another has a decked rear garden with some troughs of bedding plants for summer colour. Are these gardens?
A first floor flat with a balcony has pots and troughs full to bursting with herbs and red hot chilli peppers. An office block has stunning metallic planters at its entrance; they’re filled with a bit of dirt and some cigarette butts. A second floor flat has window boxes of sempervirens and alpine bulbs that flower in the spring. A local hardware store has used old watering cans as containers for Hostas. Are these gardens?
The worrying trend over the last twelve years – say since the years since the Sidney Olympics – has been the reduction in the amount of green in gardens. London gardens may cover a quarter of the space, but of that, just over half is vegetated green space. This is a trend which we need to change – for lots of reasons. Flooding, air pollution, shade, human health, biodiversity and quality of life, for example, are impacts whose effects can be reduced if they’re bad or increased if they’re desirable, by going for gold and turning London and all of Britain into a ‘green and pleasant land’.
And no, I’m not suggesting we have to rip up all the concrete, there are ways around the constraints which we have. For example, we have designed, built and planted raised beds and green roofs over recycle boxes. Low maintenance doesn’t mean boring or no flowers at all, it just needs to be designed well, so the planting adds to the enjoyment of the garden, relaxing not stressing the occupants.
And as we’re going for gold, why not have some gold, silver and bronze flowers and foliage in our gardens and outside spaces, taking a leaf out of the Olympic Park’s scheme of gold, silver and bronze, but translating it into a design that suits you and your life. The Olympics are a chance for us to be inspired and inspirational not ‘just’ in sport, but in our gardens too.
If you would like some design advice, whether that’s a full garden design with plants patios and ponds, or a planting scheme for planters in an Office courtyard, we have the inspiration and the know- how to help you ‘go for gold’! Get in touch