Please see this page for video reviews of selected show gardens.
I’ve been too hot at Chelsea and I’ve been too cold. On Press Day, in 2015, I was too wet and too windswept. When the sun came out in the afternoon, the Press had to leave so that the Royal Family could enjoy the show. I’m not a republican, yet, but the rain did fall like stair rods. So what of the design quality of the Show Gardens? I thought some of the Fresh Gardens, on Royal Hospital Way, were better than most of the large gardens on the Main Avenue – some of which could be described as Stale Gardens.
The Society of Garden Designers has produced a very good book on garden design. I commend it to anyone commissioning a garden and to future historians of garden design.
The section I like best, on Outdoor Experiences, deserves to become a book in its own right. There are only four sections, on Relaxing, Dining, Playing and Bathing. But there are subsections, so that Dining includes Cooking Outside, Keeping Livestock and Growing Your Own.
This approach to garden design comes, in the UK, from John Brookes. His Room Outside, first published in 1969, launched British garden design on its profression from the Arts and Crafts Style to Modernism. In his introduction to Great garden design Brookes draws attention to the way in which ‘this book breaks down the overall plan of a garden and deals with the various sections and functions it may include’.
A failure to grasp the key principle of Modernism hindered, and hinders, the development of garden design. ‘Form follows function’ is the most convenient summary of Modern Movement principles but caused problems for garden designers. ‘What’ they wondered, ‘are the functions of a garden?’ My criticism of Great garden design is a weakness in the history and theory of garden design.
After Brookes’ Forward and an Introduction by Ian Hodgeson (the author) there is a chapter on Contemporary Garden Styles. A section on Sourcing Inspiration is followed by a section on Choosing a Style – which struck me as a return to the high Victorian eclecticism of Edward Kemp and the Mixed Style. It is followed by a menu of styles. Their names are Contemporary Formal, Urban Chic, Cottage and Country Style, Natural Style, Water Gardens and Subtropical Style. This is a departure from Modernism but I would not call it Postmodern and nor do I think the categories will be of use to those future garden historians who come across this useful and very well-illustrated book.
Great Garden Design was published 5th March 2015 by Frances Lincoln www.franceslincoln.com.
As explained on the video about Greenwich Park, Henry VIII and Elizabeth I were rowed from Whitehall Palace to Greenwich Palace in a royal barge. So keeping Gloriana in Greenwich is a really great idea. The Gloriana is a 94-foot-long (29 m) royal barge which was privately commissioned as a tribute to Queen Elizabeth II. The project to build Gloriana was initiated by Lord Sterling, who liked the idea of a waterborne tribute to the Queen for her Diamond Jubilee in 2012. The Greenwich Park video has a short clip of the Gloriana passing some suburban houses. She would look much better traveling between Whitehall and Greenwich – preferably with wealthy tourists paying a fortune for each trip. It costs £2,800 for a ceremony in the London Eye. How about £10,000 for a couple of hours on Gloriana? I would see it as a contribution to London’s urban design.
I think the answer is ‘yes’ – and it should certainly be included in London garden tours. For a start, it is the oldest of London’s Royal Parks. Greenwich has associations with the period in British history most loved by the BBC and English schools. Only the 1930s and ’40s rival the Tudors.
Greenwich was enclosed by Duke Humphrey of Gloucester, who also built what became the Royal Palace of Placentia. Henry VIII was born here. So was his daughter, Elizabeth I. The design and the design history are also of great interest. Greenwich Park began as a late-medieval Hunting Park with an Early Renaissance garden. It was then influenced by the Baroque Style in the seventeenth century by the Serpentine style in the eighteenth century and by the Gardenesque Style in the nineteenth century. The green laser beam is a Post-Abstract twenty-first century addition – and a great idea. The designers who influenced the park include Inigo Jones, André Le Nôtre, John Evelyn Christopher Wren, Lancelot Brown and John Claudius Loudon.
Here is a video of the recent Stop Killing Cyclists protest march in Oxford Street. It was very well organised, with a theatrical dash, but did not get the media coverage it deserved. There was a massive police escort. The officers were very friendly to the marchers but I wonder if the relationship has become too cosy. The police would not have liked it but we might have achieved more if the die-in had taken place in Oxford Circus and if we had waited for the police to remove each and every demonstrator in a police van.
Here is the text of the above video reviews of Paul Cummins and Tom Piper’s Blood-swept lands and seas of red, where angels fear to tread.
The poppy installation at the Tower of London is by Paul Cummins, a ceramic artist, with help from Tom Piper, a stage designer. Its name comes from a Derbyshire man who died in Flanders. He wrote of The blood-swept lands and seas of red, where angels fear to tread. There are eight hundred and eight-eight thousand two hundred and forty six poppies: for each British and Colonial death in the First World War.
The Prime Minister, David Cameron, told the House of Commons it was a stunning display, and extremely poignant.
The Washington Post described the installation as ‘a must-see on the tourist trail.
CNN John McCrae’s famous poem, which launched the poppy metaphor: In Flanders fields the poppies blow, Between the crosses, row on row, That mark our place.
The Professor of the History of War at King’s College, observed that : Since the war is still generally misunderstood, such popular interest is encouraging, and the more people who have an opportunity to visit the poppies the better.
The Mayor of London called for the installation to be kept in place a bit longer. A spokesperson from the Historic Royal Palaces responded that The transience of the installation is key to the artistic concept, with the dispersal of the poppies into hundreds of thousands of homes marking the final phase of this evolving installation’.
The actress, Sheila Hancock, suggested that the poppies should be mown down by a tank to commemorate the horror of war.
Jonathan Jones, an art critic with The Guardian, also wanted more horror. He argued that In spite of the mention of blood in its title, this is a deeply aestheticised, prettified and toothless war memorial,
Robert Hardman, for the Daily Mail, responded by calling him a Sneering Left-wing art critic.
So what do I think? Well, as an art installation, it’s hard to fault. As a war memorial, one might think it lacks pathos. But the 1-for-1 symbolism and the fact that the poppies are frozen in time save it from being floral bedding.
For pure pathos a moat-filling tank of red liquid, inspired by Richard Wilson’s installation at the Saatchi Gallery, would have been more telling – and could have evolved into the water-filled moat the Tower needs. But I doubt if this would have raised any money for soldiers’ charities – as the poppies most certainly have done.
Taking the footage for this video, in September 2014, was a good opportunity to reflect on landscape change in a hitherto remote region of India: Ladakh. There are many considerations:
- Ladakh was an important sector on the of the Silk Road Network, particularly for north-south trade and travel between India and China. The video uses quotations from European travelers who undertook the journey c1850-1950.
- Travel between Ladakh and Pakistan ended with the partition of India in 1947.
- Travel between Ladakh and China ended with the closure of the border, by China, in 1949.
- India responded by closing Ladakh to all travel and tourism
- From 1949 until 1974 Ladakh was cut off and isolated as rarely in its history
- Since 1974 Ladakh’s economy has become dependent on the army, which invests in roads. The military population of Ladakh is now greater than the civilian population but the army keeps its personnel largely separate from the local people.
- Ladakh’s other post-1974 economic prop is tourism. In summer there are more tourists than locals in the regional capital, Leh.
- Westerners, in the main, want Ladakh to remain an undeveloped and traditional region.
- Ladakhis, in the main, want to experience the ‘luxuries’ of western civilization.
So what should be done? I think Ladakh would have done better, if it could, to have followed the development path of Bhutan. This involves a very cautious approach to development and a concentration on the luxury end of the tourism market.
As things stand, the best approach is probably the adoption a forward-looking development policy as firmly rooted as possible in the principles of context-sensitivity and sustainability. This policy is exemplified by the Druk White Lotus School and its Dragon Garden.
Romesh Bhattacharji, an Indian who knows Ladakh very well, wrote in 2012 of the new roads which will open up Zanskar that ‘Many people, all outsiders typically, I have met, however, also moan about the loss of the traditional way of life of the people of Zanska. The latter want a better way of life than just being museum relics for tourists’ It is a well-aimed criticism. But ‘traditional’ and ‘development’ need not be in opposition: a Middle Way is also possible, by design. The Druk School and Dragon Garden make a cameo appearance on the above video and are explained in more detail by the videos on the DWLS Dragon Garden Playlist.
- The UK spends £2/person/year on cycling
- Holland spends £24/person/year.
- So Holland has better cycling infrastructure.
- The Dutch spend ten times as much on cycling as the British and they have ten times as many urban journeys/person (30%+ vs 3%+)
- It figures
To make up for years of neglect, the UK should spend £50/person/year on cycling. When UK cycling infrastructure is as good as Holland’s, this can drop back to £25/year.
Just think, about this quotation from a Sky report on The British Cycling Economy.
The proportion of GDP spent on public infrastructure by the UK Government has been lower than government spending in many other countries, averaging around 1.5 per cent between 2000–2004 – around half of the investment occurring by governments in Italy and France. Despite rail accounting for only six per cent of total passengers in the UK, the sector received a subsidy of around £6.5b, almost equalling road investment, which carries the majority of journeys undertaken in the country. In addition, tax revenues from transport eclipse expenditure on transport by £14b, reflecting a net flow out of the sector from receipts. Cycling’s proportion of the UK transport budget is less than one per cent, whilst in the City of London, one of the UK’s larger cycling ‘hot spots’, cycling has been apportioned 0.45 per cent of the £135m transport budget, amounting to around £600,000.54 Currently, 10,000–15,000 cyclists commute into the Capital each day, which has increased by 52 per cent since 2007, and is forecast to quadruple by 2025.55 These macro and micro conditions continue to create the ideal milieu for cycling participation to increase across social strata, with significant benefits.
– the town’s population is growing
– traditional architecture is still favoured, but new roads and telephone poles have an ‘anywhere’ quality (they are built and funded by the Indian army)
– Lamayuru is popular with tourists, despite its remoteness
– the expansion, so far, has been on stony ground
– there is a danger of Lamayuru expanding onto its very scarce resource of agricultural land (but there is also a danger of the land being neglected, because it is cheaper to import food from other parts of India)
– either there are more poplar trees or they are being allowed to grow taller for amenity reasons
– the ‘agriculture’ in old Ladakh is closer to what we would call horticulture than to what we call agriculture but if you call the cultivated areas ‘gardens’ it must be noted that their use is to grow food plants rather than ornamental plants.
Dr Adolph Reeve Herber, who took the black and white photo was an English doctor and missionary. He and his wife were based at the Moravian School in Leh from 1912-25. The mission ran a school, which survives, but did not have much success in converting the Ladakhis to Moravian protestantism. Nor did Dr Herber find much demand for his medical skill – because the local people were so healthy. He therefore had time to study other aspects of Ladakh’s culture and environment, including its flowers: ‘At the foot of the high Kardong Pass behind Leh… to mention a few only, are found yellow Iceland poppies, Michaelmas daisies, small deep-blue gentians, forget-me-nots, forming a carpet of blue on the Zogi [Zoji-La] stretches, but replaced by the deep blue of the borage below the Kardong, deep purple orchids, primulas in all shades of magenta and purple, cow parsley, a kind of stinging nettle, asters, saxifrage, vetches, Canterbury bells, and on the Zogi the single anemone and the tall bunched Japanese variety, even the green foxglove and the coarse edelweiss.’
Reading about Swan Upping, I found that in the early 20th century the ceremony began in Central London. It now starts at Sunbury-on-Thames because no swans nest on the river in Central London and few swans are seen there. This is a pity. The river landscape would be more beautiful if there were swans to be seen. The Thames, is far the most important landscape feature in Central London, and in 1496, the Venetian Ambassador’s secretary wrote that ‘it is truly a beautiful thing to behold one or two thousand tame swans upon the River Thames, as I, and also your Magnificence have seen, which are eaten by the English like ducks and geese’. We could get the swans back by feeding them, preferably with vegetable matter but a little bread would do little harm. But could the swans be persuaded to nest on floating islands, as they do on the island in Brayford Pool (Lincoln?). See webpage on The re-introduction of swans to Central London.
Otherwise, this may prove to be a video of CENTRAL LONDON’S LAST SWAN
This video review of the QE Olympic 2012 Park, by Robert Holden and Tom Turner, comprises a discussion on 29th June and video footage taken on 29th and 30th June. Mainly a review of the master planning, the two landscape architects spent too little time on the park’s often-very-good detailed design. Our fundamental point is that ‘the landscape planning is much better than the landscape design’. The landscape planning includes the opening up of the River Lea in the northern section of the park, the habitat-creation strategy and the park’s excellent links with its hinterland. The landscape design is dominated by vast pedestrian concourses which will be busy during events but will resemble unused airport runways on every other occasion. There is some good garden-type planting but it has not been used to make ‘gardens’: it is used more like strips of planting beside highways.
The designers were EDAW/Aecom, LDA Design with George Hargreaves.
The traffic lanes in Oxford Street have been narrowing for 40 years, with the sidewalks being widened and regularly re-paved. Use of the street by private vehicles is restricted and use by diesel-powered commercial vehicles is increasing. Last week the Evening Standard reported that ‘Traders today said urgent action was needed to slash traffic levels after a report revealed Oxford Street has the highest levels of a toxic pollutant in the world. The mayor is facing demands to reduce the build-up of the “wall of buses” after a monitor installed by scientists showed high levels of nitrogen dioxide – linked with asthma and heart attacks.’
The solution should be ‘NO HALF MEASURES’. Creating a ‘good shopping landscape’ should be the 100% priority. This will require (1) pedestrian movement to be prioritized (2) electric vehicles only to be permitted (3) far more planting (4) the use of glazed canopies over sidewalks should be encouraged.
I am happy to point to Nanjing Road Shanghai 南京路 as an example of how Oxford Street should be managed.
The problem, of course, is what to do with the buses and taxis? My answer is that they should be progressively excluded from Central London, to be replaced by underground trains, small electric vehicles and bicycles. Taxis are likely to be electric powered before long – because a Chinese company is now making the black cabs and this is its plan. Buses carrying passengers on long-distance journeys should be excluded from the central zone. Travelers can use non-polluting vehicles to reach the fringe of the zone and then continue their journeys by other means. These policies are related to Colin Buchanan’s proposals for Traffic In Towns but modified in response to the increase in London’s population, the growth of cycling, the availability of electric vehicles, the need for fuel economy and a better understanding of the health risks arising from noxious pollution. The Wiki article on Oxford Street has attractive photographof the street in 1875 and its progressive debasement.
Zaha Hadid: ‘Personally, Robin Hood Gardens is one of my favourite projects.’
Richard Rogers: ‘It has heroic scale with beautiful human proportions and has a magical quality. It practically hugs the ground, yet it has also a majestic sense of scale, reminiscent of a Nash terrace.’
Simon Smithson: ‘I believe Robin Hood Gardens to be the most significant building completed by my parents. ‘
Tom Turner: ‘Sao Paolo could learn a lot from the Smithsons’ approach to planning urban landscape’
Here are 3 videos, by Alison and Peter Smithson, by Jonathan Glancey and by me. I am impressed by the Smithsons and in full agreement with Glancey that (1) I would not choose to live there (2) the scheme should not be demolished – as has been decided (3) it should become student housing, because it is so well suited to communal use. The Smithsons account of the scheme justifies slapping a preservation order on Robin Hood Gardens. The English Heritage commissioners were right about the building architecture being mediocre: the elevations are elegant but the roofs are leaking, the concrete is spalling so that the rebars are exposed, the stairways are pokey, the balconies are usable only for drying clothes (so the residents protect them with bird netting) and a ‘street in the air’ (often with hoodies) is not a nice thing to have outside your living room window. BUT the site planning is excellent. London’s ‘tower blocks’ are usually planned like tombstones in plots of grass. The Smithsons protected against noise and used their buildings, as in London’s Georgian Squares, to define and create outdoor space. I have never seen their hill well used but attribute this to its not being a safe protected space. I also agree with their comment, on the video, that using Robin Hood Gardens as a ‘sink estate’ was not wise. Both these mistakes can be attributed to the housing managers: Tower Hamlets Borough Council. So what should be done now? (1) keep the Smithsons excellent site planning (2) implement Glancey’s idea if it feasible – and convert the buildings for use by a student community (3) otherwise, replace their shoddy architecture with better buildings on the same footprint (4) manage the central space as a garden, instead of as a public park.
Alison Smithson has a strange manner and makes some strange remarks (eg ‘Any African state would have as good a chance of joining the Common Market as London’). But the two of them speak wisely about what should happen to London Docklands.
Jonathan Glancey presents a well-reasoned and well-balanced account of the design.
The previous video argued that London’s Thames beaches are much safer than the beaches below the Seven Sisters and Dover white cliffs. This video looks in more detail at the availability of public stairs down to the foreshore. They have been in decline for 3 centuries and the twentieth century was the period of sharpest decline. ‘The Authorities’ by which I mean the London boroughs and the Port of London Authority, discouraged access for reasons of health and safety. If logic ruled, these Authorities would be even more opposed to horse riding, boxing, crossing roads, cycling and foreign travel. Fortunately, logic guides this blog – which therefore calls for a landscape strategy for the visual, ecological, archaeological and functional aspects of London’s Thames foreshore and beaches.
The Health and Safety Executive believes that ‘complying with health and safety regulations was often used as a “convenient excuse” for organisations to justify unnecessary decisions.’
Very nice to see the Chelsea Fringe going from strength to strength. It began in London and this year it has events in in London, Brighton, Bristol, Vienna, Ljubljana, Turin, Kent, Norwich and online.
My only criticism is of the Chelsea Fringe website. The graphics are fine but it does not seem to have been user-tested. I find:
– the search facility far too complicated
– the search returns repetitive
– the website unhelpful for finding a group of events in a visitable geographical area
What the Fringe needs is a sponsor which could provide a user-friendly website. It could be great publicity for the firm.
This year, I was lucky to pick up a leaflet for the Nine Elms contribution to the Chelsea Fringe. It was a paper map with a list of events. Wonderful! But I would have been just as happy to download it as a pdf.
Here is a video of the gardens which caught my eye at Chelsea. The aim was to balance the designers’ accounts with critical comments but I have given too much time to their puffs and not enough to myself (!). Shooting the video gives me a keen appreciation of the BBC videographers’ skills – and an envy for the 25 person crews they use for the ‘filming’.
My first impression of the gardens on the Main Avenue was of a nineteenth century style revivalism. ‘Is 1850 the future of British garden design?’ I asked myself? The M&G revival of ‘Persian’ ideas was a prime example in this category – and is not included on my video. My vote for the best Show Garden goes to the Cloudy Bay garden and, nearby, my vote for the worst garden on the Main Avenue goes to Alan Titschmarsh (also not on the video). The ‘hilly bit’ at the back of his design was quite nice but the ‘summer house’ and ‘pond’ were awful. The BBC was right to replace him with Monty Don as their lead presenter but Monty looked frail and I worry that he is taking on too much work. If Monty finds it too much it will be a real pity if they go for Joe Swift as his replacement. Joe’s horticultural knowledge may be OK but his design judgement is jejune. OK, I know it is the Chelsea Flower Show, but I find the gardens more interesting than the flowers and a goodly proportion of the TV coverage is about the show gardens.
See also: Review of garden designs at the 2014 Chelsea Flower Show
Congratulations to Northern Ireland Greenways for a super set of infographics (+ thanks for permission to reproduce the above pic). Of the chosen countries, why does the UK have the lowest figures for cycling to school? Does the UK have colder weather and higher mountains than Switzerland? Is it windier than Denmark and Holland? Is the UK’s GDP so much higher than Germany’s that we all have big cars? Or is the UK governed by blockheads who prefer cars to bikes and therefore employ legions of highwaymen and hardly any landscape architects to plan the country’s transport infrastructure? I incline to the last of these explanations – but we have a Mayor of London and a Prime Minister who are both keen cyclists. So there may be another explanation: the UK has over-strong central government and lapdog local government. The Whitehall bullies and barons keep asking themselves ‘What does THE COUNTRY need?’, Nobody can take locally relevant decisions to benefit local people. Switzerland has the best system for subsidiarity and local decision making. My guess is that were it not for those pesky Alps and snowdrifts it would have the best cycle infrastructure in Europe.
Londoner’s require a right to roam on London’s beaches and, wherever possible, a public access route along the entire foreshore.
The Port of London Authority PLA does not encourage access because it was set up to manage the port, commercially, for maritime shipping. It gives safety considerations as a reason for not spending money on public goods. But the Seven Sisters Country Park is a much more dangerous place and is managed for recreation, conservation and wildlife. My suggestion is to transfer the amenity responsibilities of the PLA to a Landscape Agency and to bring both bodies within the GLA Greater London Authority family of public authorities. Construction of the Thames Tideway Tunnel will make the water much cleaner and the beaches more desirable.
- the London Assembly report Access to the Thames Scrutiny of the Thames foreshore and path
- public access to the Thames beaches and foreshore
Modernism, said Charles Jencks, died with the demolition of the Pruitt-Igoe housing project in Chicago.
Post-modernism appears to be dying with the demolition of Marco Polo House in London (see video).
Post-postmodern (Post-POMO) design may arrive when designers recover the confidence to blend reason with beliefs eg in Vitruvius’ design objectives: design should be functional, multi-objective, sustainable and meaningful.
- There was something really good about modernism, because design should be functional.
- And there was something really good about postmodernism, because design should be multi-valent.
- But something will always be missing if design is based on reason alone: for Commodity, Firmness and Delight, designers must also hold beliefs.
PS of these three words, the most problematic is ‘Delight’. It suggests the type of pleasure you get from a pudding, like Raspberry Delight, rather than the more serious objectives which have led the development of the arts from century to century.
It is good to have
– scenic drama, with the route planned by a landscape architect
– emotional music, planned by a musical director and extending along the whole route
– a persuasive narrative, with speeches by children, activists and politicians
– good co-opration from the police
– jokes, fun and glamour
– good supporting information on a website, with facts, figures and international comparisons
And it’s good to reflect that ‘Power must be taken, it is never given’. (William Powell)
The 2013 London bicycle die-in was good on music and drama but not so good on speeches.
The 2014 POP Pedal On Parliament in Edinburgh was good in all respects.