Planting as an art form: ecologically-tuned, aesthetically aware. Planting as an essential: creating healthy cities and liveable places
Project Title: London Olympic Park 2012 Gardens Date of Completion: 2008 - ongoing Planting Design: Nigel Dunnett, James Hitchmough, Sarah Price, with LDA Design/Hargreaves
Project File: The London Olympic Park 2012 Gardens The Western Europe section of the Olympic 2012 gardens under construction, October 2011 The Western Europe garden beginning to flower in late June 2012. Prominent are Leucanthemum 'T.E.Killin and Deschampsia cespitosa
The 2012 gardens in the London Olympic Park are a spectacular celebration of contemporary horticulture and planting design, comprising half a mile of naturalistic perennial plantings. While the main focus in the Olympic Park as a whole is on native biodiversity and ecological approaches, the 2012 gardens explore the horticultural diversity of British gardens and take visitors on a tour of the biodiversity hotspots of the world that have been the major source of plants for UK gardeners over the past 600 years. The design of the gardens is a collaboration between Professors James Hitchmough and Nigel Dunnett (who originated the overall concept for the gardens, and the concept for each of the four individual gardens, and who developed the plant lists and specifications) and Sarah Price (who undertook the spatial design of the gardens, and the detailed planting design within the gardens). James, Nigel and Sarah worked in close cooperation with the teams from LDA Design/Hargreaves to develop and deliver the final scheme. Location of the 2012 gardens
Concept There are four gardens running in sequence and forming a timeline. The regions each garden represents are (text taken from the outline concept document):
Western Europe, The Mediterranean and Asia Minor. The source of most garden plants from the classical civilizations but increasingly sampled with the accelerating development of international trade and travel post 1400 AD.
The Temperate Americas. Particularly important from 1600-1800, and now once more with interest in prairie and woodland planting. Still the main source of summer flower colour in British gardens.
The Southern Hemisphere; South Africa, Australia, New Zealand. The major plant passion of the late C18th-early C19th is South Africa. Winter cold historically limited the possibilities in gardening terms but now with global warming these “strange and exotic”flora will now have their time again.
Temperate Asia, particularly Montane China, Japan and the Himalayas. Politically closed in many cases till the C19th, climatic similarity to Britain makes these the dominant plant passion of the C19th and C20th. More details of the content of these gardens is shown below.
Schematic drawing by Sarah Price indicating structure and textural qualities of the gardens The gardens are composed of three main elements: clipped formal evergreen hedges that create a permanent structure; monocultural 'strips' of ornamental grasses or structural perennials that frame the main components of the gardens: the 'field' plantings' that determine the character of each garden. This detail from the Europe Garden shows the three main planting types: clipped evergreen hedges, monoculture strips of perennials and grasses, and the diverse field plantings The field plantings in each garden represent a highly innovative approach to setting out naturalistic perennial plantings. Rather than having a detailed planting plan, showing the location of every plant, instead, the field plantings consist of carefully worked out mixtures of perennials that are laid out on a random basis according to their proportions in the mix. This enables very large areas of planting to be set out in an efficient manner, and giving rise to a highly spontaneous visual effect. Part of the newly planted Europe garden, showing the nature of the random planting technique The same area in June 2012
Western Europe Garden: Design - Nigel Dunnett and Sarah Price The diverse grasslands of Europe have been the traditional backbone of agriculture for centuries. The beautiful spectacle of a wildflower meadow in full flower may seem to be the height of naturalness, but these diverse grasslands are in reality a human creation: the end-product of that traditional agricultural management. Stretching from the lush hay meadows of lowland Britain through to the dry steppes of central Europe, these grasslands have also been the source of many of our best-loved herbaceous plants. They are also store as much carbon as all of Europe’s forests and have the highest biodiversity (or number of species) of all European habitats, but have all but disappeared from the countryside because of modern farming methods. The reference point for the Western Europe garden is the lowland wildflower or hay meadow. In many ways these plantings are a designed or abstracted horticultural version of the native wildflower meadows of North Park, but using a range of species and cultivars from a wider geographical area.
A captioned photoset of the newly planted Europe Garden can be found here Part of the newly planted European Garden. Plants were cut back at planting time (July/August 2011) because of the summer planting season. The Olympic Stadium and Orbit are in the background. The 'field planting' is in the centre, consisting of randomly planted perennials, between monocultural 'strips' of grasses. Detail in the Europe Garden, soon after planting (all plants were cut back at planting time because of a late planting period in July and August 2011) . Lythrum 'Robert' is prominent in flower, with blue Succisa pratensis, red 'Lychnis chalcedonica and white Leucanthemum x superbum 'T. E. Killin'. Detail of the Europe garden in June 2012, with Leucanthemum x superbum 'T. E. Killin' and Deschampsia cespitosa Strip of Phlomis russeliana in the Europe Garden, June 2012
Temperate Asia Garden: Design - Nigel Dunnett and Sarah Price The great Victorian and 20th Century plant collectors greatly enriched British gardens through their adventurous travels in the woodlands, mountains and meadows of China and Japan, bringing back exotic plants such as the magnificent Tiger Lily (Lilium tigrinum), and filling the great woodland gardens with exotic trees and shrubs. The Temperate Asia garden focuses on the herbaceous plants of woodland glade, forest edge and grassland, and has a greater emphasis on texture and foliage, and a more structured character than the other 2012 gardens. Features include sweeping swathes of different cultivars of Japanese anemone (Anemone japonica), Hostas and Irises, and large drifts of Tiger Lilies (Lilium tigrinum), with monocultural strips of Miscanthus and Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’ The newly planted Asia Garden in September 2011 - all plants were cut back at planting time in July/August. Persicaria amplexicaule is in flower. The newly planted Asia Garden in September 2011, with Hosta 'Tall Boy' in flower and strip planting of Calamagrostis x acutiflora 'Karl Foerster'
South African garden: Design - James Hitchmough and Sarah Price "These plants naturally grow in the mountain grasslands of the Drakensberg range, at altitudes of 2000-3000m, where the summers are mild and the winters bitterly cold (to -20C) but dry . Most of the species flower in summer and grow between tussocky grasses, and have flowers that stick up in the air on the ends of tall naked stems to make them more obviously to pollinating insects and birds. With climate change many of these plants will be much more widely used in the future in British Gardens, as will many Southern Hemisphere spp that for most of the C20th have been considered to be"Tender". Interest in South African plants is growing dramatically in Britain. " Interpretation text from James Hitchmough
Detail of the Southern Hemisphere Garden, September 2011
North American prairie garden: Design - James Hitchmough and Sarah Price "The name prairie was given by french fur trappers in the C18th, and refers to a grassland, but prairie also supports many summer and autumn flowering herbs, and once stretched from Manitoba to Texas, and the Appalachians to the Rockies. In the wild much of this vegetation is now lost, destroyed in the C19th replaced by Corn, without only small fragments remaining; prairie has largely been reduced to a memory. Many late summer and autumn flowering herbaceous plants in British Gardens are derived from Prairie, for example many Asters. The value of prairie plants for wildlife lies in the late supply of nectar and pollen, at a time when many British native flowers have long ceased flowering; both people and insects find many prairie plants pretty irresistible at this time of year." Interpretation text from James Hitchmough Detail of the North American Garden, with Echinaceas and Verbena bonariensis