Category Archives: Public parks

Regent’s Park for garden visitors

Which is the best Royal Park for garden-loving visitors? The more I think about London’s Royal Parks, the better I like them. So I can’t give a favourite. But if a gardening friend was coming to London and said ‘I’ve only got time for one Royal Park – which should it be?’ I would say ‘Regent’s Park’. If an architect or urban designer asked me the same question I would give the same answer. The two most astonishing things about Regent’s Park, for me, are that no urban expansion scheme of the twentieth century equaled its quality – and that Modernist architects wanted to knock down the Nash terraces in the 1950s. The above video shows some of the things I love about Regent’s Park.

Lee Rigby Memorial bikers ride from Greenwich Park to Woolwich 22 May 2015

In addition to many other design objectives, public parks should be designed as good places to hold public events and demonstrations. The main avenue in Greenwich Park was not designed for this purpose but serves it very well, as here for a memorial event for a British soldier, Fusilier Lee Rigby of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, who was attacked and killed by Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale near the Royal Artillery Barracks in Woolwich. Rigby was off duty and walking along Wellington Street. Two men ran him down with a car, then used knives and a cleaver to stab and hack him to death. Armed police officers arrived five minutes later. The assailants, armed with a gun and cleaver, charged at the police, who fired shots that wounded them both. They were apprehended and taken to separate hospitals. Both are British of Nigerian descent, raised as Christians, who converted to Islam (info from Wikipedia).

Is Greenwich Park London’s most interesting Royal Park?

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.

Queen Elizabeth II Olympic Park London: a review of the landscape architecture by Robert Holden and Tom Turner

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.
Comments welcome.

Has the Olympic Development Authority designed a new London airport in the QE Olympic Park

First 747 comes in to land on the main runway at London's Olympic Airport

A 747 comes in to land on the main runway at London’s Olympic Airport. The Terminal, designed by Zaha Hadid, was previously an Aquatic Centre

A 747 pilot mistook a footpath in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park for a runway and the Aquatics Centre for an Airport Terminal. The passengers disembarked safely. After a short walk to Stratford International Station many remarked that it was a much easier journey into London than from Heathrow, Stansted or Gatwick airports. A journalist on board contacted the Civil Aviation Agency. No one was available for interview but a spokesperson issued a written statement saying that the plane must have ‘come in below the radar’. Another spokesperson, for the Olympic Development Authority, said they wanted to generate revenue from the Park and it was only a trial. One wonders.

The landscape architecture of Maidan Nezalezhnosti = Independence Square Kiev

Independence Maidan Kiev

Independence Maidan Kiev

Asked by a communist dictator to design the central space in a capital city what should a landscape architect do?

  • go for the Baroque, as so many communist leaders did (left above)?
  • spend on bling, as was done in Kiev? (below)
  • keep the space clear, to facilitate future revolutions (right above)?

It was the ‘square’s’ name which made me wonder about the alternatives. ‘Maidan’, I assume, is a Persian word which, I guess, was brought to Kiev by the Tartars. They were a Turkic people and the Turks, as former nomads, learned much from the urban civilisation of Persia (just as the Persians, also formerly nomadic, learned from the urban civilisation of Mesopotamia). See photos of the Maidan in Isfahan – it was a space used for markets, games of polo and military displays. The present square dates from after the Tartar period and took its present form after the Second World War. In 1919 it was Soviet Square and in 1935 it became Kalinin Square. The present name came with independence in 1991. Please correct me if I am wrong but I think the bling (fountains, planters etc) appeared after the Orange Revolution of 2004. [Note: one can’t help wondering if the re-design proposal for Gezi Square is, in part, an idea for how to prevent public spaces being used by revolutionaries). If so, please could we know the designers’ names.
Should the Maidan be re-designed to take account of the latest revolution?

Defending public parks: the case of Banstead Downs Common

To make themselves richer, a few bloated putocrats seek to deprive the public of ‘public goods’. Sir John Craddock is a prime example:
A leaflet issued by Banstead Commons Conservators relates that in 1873 Sir John Cradock Hartopp Bt from Yorkshire bought 1700 acres of Banstead Commons. He planned to purchase the commoners’ rights and enclose and develop the most suitable parts. Turf, top soil, gravel, etc were to be removed and sold from Banstead Heath, and houses built. To stop this, local residents formed Banstead Commons Protection Committee in 1887. Legal action followed, culminating in Sir John’s bankruptcy. In 1893, Parliament passed the Metropolitan Commons (Banstead) Supplemental Act, protecting the downs from further development.’
I invite the landscape architects defending Taksim Gezi Meydani to celebrate Sir John’s downfall and bankruptcy. As Gloria Steinem said ‘Power can be taken, but not given. The process of the taking is empowerment in itself.
Image courtesy garda

The landscape architecture of Taksim Gezi Meydani 'Park' or 'Square'

Taksim Gezi Park Istanbul is a rallying point for Turkish landscape architects

The Turkish government wants to build a shopping mall on Taksim Gezi ‘park’ or ‘square’. The local people are against it. One way or another, I believe the outcome of the Taksim Gezi events will be good for Turkish landscape architecture. To the barricades. If the shopping mall is built, it will become a cause célèbre. As Tertullian remarked ‘the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church’. And if the shopping mall is not built it will be a famous victory – in which landscape architects should aim to share.
Queen Anne asked one of her Ministers what it would cost to stop public access to London’s Hyde park and was told, “It would cost you but three crowns, ma’am: those of England, Scotland and Ireland.” . Public open space should be at the centre of public debate.
The Bosphorus is the traditional boundary between Europe and Asia and also the meeting point of the two cultures which govern modern Turkey: western and eastern. Many Ottoman intellectuals and leaders came from western (European) Turkey. Though born in Istanbul, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s political culture has Anatolian roots. Ataturk, who founded the Turkish republic, was born in Greece and sought to westernise Turkey. So the question, as ever, is: will Turkey look east or will Turkey look west? We can extrapolate the choice to landscape architecture. Looking east, to the Turks’ nomadic past, suggests a lack of significance for permanent open space. Looking west, to the settled lands of Europe, suggests a desire to protect open space.
Though rendered in English as Taksim ‘Square’, the Turkish name is Taksim Meydanı. ‘Meydani’ derives from the Persian word maidan which was used for a multi-purpose civic space. It was not a park (paradaeza in Persian) and it was not usually planted. The uses included markets, parades, festivals, games and camping. This made it a very important place – though the famous maidan in Isfahan has since been laid out as a western park and is not busy. So should Turkish landscape architects look west or east? Both. Topkapi Palace is a good symbol for this: the pattern of its open spaces is that of an encampment, but the encampment has become permanent (as Gülru Necipoğlu, explains in Architecture, ceremonial, and power: The Topkapı Palace in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Cambridge, Mass, 1991).
Well, Istanbul lost its chance to host the 2020 Olympics yesterday for, it is thought, two reasons (1) the brutal treatment of protesters over the proposed development of Taksim Gezi (2) Turkey’s poor record in controlling the use of drugs by its athletes. I give my sympathy to the landscape architects and others involved in Istanbul’s bid and have no hesitation in saying that the landscape architecture of Istanbul is of the very highest quality.
I am pleased to report that London’s park users (photo of the gates of Finsbury Park below) support Istanbul’s park users in calling for the conservation of Taksim Gezi Meydani. We might be able to send protesters if another occupation becomes necessary but we are not considering armed intervention of any kind.
London park users call for Taksim Gezi Meydani to be conserved

London park users call for Taksim Gezi Meydani to be conserved

Top image of Taksim Gezi courtesy Alan Hilditch. Lower image

Northala Fields – the landscape planning of a public park

Northala Fields landscape design

Northala Fields opened as a public park five years ago and I have been slow in making a visit. From the photographs I judged it ‘good but not very good’. After this morning’s visit I have upped this to ‘very good but not excellent’. The landscape planning, however, is excellent:
– the conical hills look good, shield the park from traffic noise, provide destinations for walkers and runners and offer fine views over London. They were made out of rubble from demolishing the old Wembley Stadium. That’s good too – but I wish they had salvaged some features instead of reducing everything to rubble.
– the water park to the south of the hills is an attractive place with ponds, trees, shrubs and wild life
The landscape design was by FoRM Associates, a London practice which was run by Igor Marko, Peter Fink and Rick Rowbotham (the firm operated from 2007-2012). The founders were an artist, an architect and a landscape architect but the latter is not credited with the project: it was regarded as public art.
My visit was a deviation from the route of London’s Capital Ring, which I have been following. It links a number of greenspaces of varying quality. I suppose I could set up a system to assess their quality and, if doing so, would remember the four lunches I have enjoyed in a four day trip. Each time I asked for a ‘bacon roll and cappucino’. Much the best was in a cafe near Eltham College – maybe the boys have trained them. The cost was £3.70. Next best was from a caravan in Richmond Park: £5.20 – good coffee and a very well cooked bacon roll for £5.20. Next best was from a cafe outside Harrow School: £7.20 for a decent coffee with a disappointing bacon sandwich. Worst quality was from a transport cafe beside Streatham Common: £2.70 for flabby white bread and tough bacon. ‘This is not coffee’ I complained after the first sip ‘Yeah – we don’t do coffee’ they told me. The compensation was free newspapers to read (Sun and Star only). Price is the easiest thing to assess but does not correlate with gastronomic quality (for which my assessment criteria were: quality of coffee, quality of bread and quality of bacon. Price does however correlate exactly with quality of service. The most expensive provider also had the best interior design, though it was very traditional. The seating area around the caravan in Richmond Park was a total disgrace ‘wood effect picnic seating made of solid plastic’. So is it true that ‘you get what you pay for’? No: if you want a coffee and bacon sandwich the best buy cost £3.70. The same is true of public open space: the largest budget does NOT produce the best design. Much better to deploy imagination, ingenuity and wisdom.

Ultra-safe policing in London public parks

Britain’s police forces have been criticised for heavy-handed policing. From time to time, policing shows every sign of being based on prejudice and self interest tempered with sloth and incompetence. We have had the Birmingham Six, the Guildford Four, the Maguire Seven, Jean de Menezes, Ian Tomlinson, Bloody Sunday and this week’s Hillsborough Report. They are deeply troubling and when the ‘Independent’ Police Complaints Commission investigates it is like the KGB investigating the Stasi. But NO ONE can accuse the police of neglecting the excruciatingly arduous task of policing the Royal Parks, THANK GOD.

Wildflower meadows in London's 2012 Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park

Is this a wildflower meadow in London's 2012 Olympic Park?

The BBC Today Programme (7.45 on 20.8.2012) had an item about the wildflower meadows being one of the great successes of the 2012 Olympic Games. I congratulate Nigel Dunnett and James Hitchmough on their planting design – and would like to know more about the origins of the planting design idea. Their history may be as follows, but any extra details from readers would be welcome:

  • EDAW (now AECOM) produced the master plan for what was the Olympic Park during the games and will re-open as the Queen Elizabeth Park in 2013. The idea for the planting design may have been theirs.
  • LDA with George Hargreaves produced the design plans – and probably commissioned Dunnett and Hitchmough.
  • LDA were guided by the Olympic Development Authority ODA and by John Hopkins, landscape architect and Head of Parklands & Public Realm at the Olympic Development Agency
  • Dunnett and Hitchmough were probably inspired by Piet Oudolf’s ideas on New Perennial planting design
  • Oudolf probably drew on Christopher Lloyd’s advocacy of wildflower meadows, and his work at Great Dixter
  • Christopher Lloyd was inspired by his mother, the beautifully named Daisy Lloyd, who made a flowery meadow at Dixter which she connected with the meadows in renaissance painting (eg Botticelli’s Primavera) and Pre-Raphaelite painting. Daisy also introduced Christopher to Gertrude Jekyll – and both were surely influenced by William Robinson.
  • Gertrude Jekyll popularised the idea of using plants in ‘drifts’
  • William Robinson shared John Ruskin’s love of the middle ages. He wrote a famous book on The Wild Garden and advocated ‘wild flower meadows’ instead of mown grass.
  • A medieval ‘meadow’ was ‘a piece of land permanently covered with grass to be mown for use as hay’ OED (mædewan, mædua, mæduen, etc in Old English).
  • Meadows contained wild flowers and meadow turf was cut from pastures and laid in gardens, probably as ground cover in small herbers for the delight of ladies and minstrels. ‘Mead’ is cognate with meadow. Deriving from Old Dutch and Old German, it was used rarely in Old English but later became popular with poets etc in the combination ‘flowery mead’.

The flowers in old English meadows were, of course ‘wild’ flowers. Those used in the Olympic 2012 Queen Elizabeth Park were wild somewhere at some time. But many are cultivars from outside the UK. If my plant identification is satisfactory, the above photograph has: Coreopsis (Tickseed, native to North America), Centaurea cyanus (Cornflower, native in the UK), Chrysanthemum carinatum ‘Polar Star’ (a cultivar of the annual chrysanthemum, native to North America), Calendula spp (pot marigold, native to the Middle East). The drifts of annual and perennial plants in the Lea Valley have visual connections with meadows and  the flowers are, or were, wild in some place at some time.  But they will not be used as pastures and one could make a good case for NOT calling them ‘wildflower meadows’. As Immanual Kant observed, paradox is an inescapable aspect of how we understand the world.

Space and place

Famous Danish Urbanist Jan Gehl after a nine month study of central Sydney in 2007 called for the addition of three new public squares along George Street:

“His report paints a picture of a city at war with itself – car against pedestrian, high-rise against public space. “The inevitable result is public space with an absence of public life,” he concludes.

His nine-month investigation found a city in distress. A walk down Market Street involved as much waiting at traffic lights as it did walking. In winter, 39 per cent of people in the city spend their lunchtimes underground, put off by a hostile environment at street level: noise, traffic, wind, a lack of sunlight and too few options for eating.”

If the City of Sydney was to implement his vision how would the addition of public space improve the perception of place in Sydney?

The City of Miami is also feeling the lack of a public centre. In considering the attributes of good public squares they describe a few of the most successful spaces in the US, including Union Square and Madison Square.

Feel free to nominate your favourite public square and tell us why it is so good!

Free street camping in Central London

Free camping in Central London

It used to be a regrettable fact that London did not have a campsite for those who find hotel prices steep. So the anti-capitalism protestors currently occupying the space in front of St Paul’s Cathedral have done backpackers a big favour. The Church, the police and the Corporation of London have, today, decided to take no action against the protestors. My conclusion is that anyone who wants to camp in a London street, square or public park only has to say ‘I am an anti-capitalist’ and they will be allowed to camp for free. At this time of year, my recommendation is to look for a pitch near the vent from an office building. Tramps have always know these places are well-supplied with hot air.
image courtesy spinkney

Edinburgh as an urban landscape design with some brilliant greenways

Following upon the discussion of Copenhagen’s Greenfinger Plan, here are two photographs of my hometown. They show examples of ‘urban landscapes’. BUT BUT BUT I do not regard the buildings as ‘urban’ bits and the green bits as ‘landscape’. I regard the scenic composition of buildings+landform+vegetation+paving+water (ie the Five Compositional Elements) as urban landscape compositions. Another reason for calling these examples Urban Landscapes is that they are beautiful. The below photograph of part of what was once of the most important early baroque-influenced gardens in England (Sayes Court, in Deptford) now lacks beauty and I would rather call it an ‘urban wasteland’ than an ‘urban landscape’. Sayes Court was nearly the first place to be saved from demolition by the National Trust. Things didn’t quite work out! Should any elements of the historic design be restored when Convoy’s Wharf is re-developed? The current design looks a bit Dubai-on-Thames but with duller architecture. The developers are Hutchinson Whampoa and the architects are bptw working with Aedas Architecture.

Singing the greens: Joni Mitchell in concert 1970 – Big Yellow Taxi

They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot
With a pink hotel, a boutique
And a swinging hot SPOT
Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got
‘Til it’s gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot

They took all the trees
And put them in a tree museum
Then they charged the people
A dollar and a half just to see ’em
Don’t it always seem to go,
That you don’t know what you’ve got
‘Til it’s gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot

9/11 Memorial Landscape Architecture

9/11 World Trade Center Memorial Landscape Architecture

9/11 World Trade Center Memorial Landscape Architecture

The 9/11 Memorial to the victims of the World Trade Center attack opens today, 11th September 2011. The memorial was conceived by the 42-year-old Israeli-born architect Michael Arad, with help from co-architect, Gary Handel, and landscape architect Peter Walker. The first pool opens on the 10th anniversary of the attack. When completed, it will be a tree-covered plaza with two giant pools marking the footprints of the Twin Towers. Maya Lin, who designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, was on the jury which chose the design. It is difficult to find similarities between the 9/11 attack and Vietnam events but there are undoubted similarities between the memorials. Both are sunken spaces, unlike most traditional memorials. Londoners may compare them to the Merchant Seaman’s Memorial on Tower Hill below), designed by Edward Maufe, which is also sunken and has names carved on black granite. Which of the three groups of people is best memorialised by a sunk space? The Vietnam memorial was criticised for making the fallen soldiers anti-heroes, associated with an unjust war. This cannot be the intention for the 9/11 Memorial.
Since the minimalist squares of the 9/11 memorial are Platonic Forms, they seem closer to God than to Man. Plato’s forms were the universal perfect shapes which must exist before any particular forms can exist on earth. Does their use in a sunk space indicate that the victims of the 9/11 atrocity are destined for a perfect world? Or are they symbols that Death, Revenge and Destruction may also be Platonic Forms which shape the world? If the squares were simply the outlines of the Twin Towers they could be historical traces, like the outline of the old fortress on the Place de la Bastille in Paris. Repetition of the square motif with the pools makes them Platonic forms in my eyes.
Judging only from the photographs, I think the 9/11 Memorial is very beautiful and very moving. Its sustainability credentials are also admirable. But should it be a memorial to human folly, not to the essential eternal wonder of the creation. The pile of rubble on the right-hand photograph would have been a good aid to remembering the tragedy. If it was too dangerous and too big then it could have been 3D-scanned and cast it in steel salvaged from the ruins, at a reduced scale.
There are always other ways of looking at memorials. The 9/11 attack was a disaster from every point of view, injuring both the cause of the attackers and the cause of the attacked. My view is that the Americans should have behaved like a Christian nation and, with the greatest heroism, turned the other cheek. This would have made an immense contribution to the Christian virtues of purity, forbearance, ethical conduct and the rule of law. So I recommend the following interpretation of the 9/11 Memorial: it is a symbol of the lofty idealism for which everyone admires America at its best. It tells us how the nation should have responded to the 9/11 attack. A peaceful response might have dealt a crushing blow to terrorism everywhere, showing that sacrifice purifies the victim and vilifies the perpetrators. This would remind us that the War on Terror was a misconceived and badly executed blunder. So the deep truth in the 9/11 Memorial would be ‘Forgive us, O Lord, for we knew not what were about to do’.

The precedent for sunken memorials with names carved on polished stone walls

Could Hemel Hempsted's Jellicoe Water Gardens be managed by volunteers?

Volunteering to help in public parks and gardens

Would British gardeners volunteer to help with local public parks and gardens? The Americans do!

We observed that Hemel Hempstead Water Gardens are a National Disgrace and that Hemel Hempstead Water Gardens are getting worse and worse and worse. This led to a number of people making contact to say ‘If someone started a Friends of the Water Gardens organisation then I would help’. This, I believe, is the best way forward. As our Prime Minister would say ‘It is a Big Society initiative which would cost Dacorum Borough Council little and make the standard of care much higher’. Jane Austen, however, would have said that ‘It is a truth universally acknowledged, that two old ladies with good skills can manage a garden better than a dozen youths in sweatshirts’. I would caution her against sexism but confirm that good gardens need brains more than they need brawn. A gardener has to know what to do, how to do it, when to do it, where to do it and why it is being done.
Britain is a nation of gardeners to a much greater extent than it is a nation of shopkeepers – and to a much greater extent than America. But UK public parks make hardly any use of volunteers. The UK National Trust, in comparison, makes extensive use of volunteer gardeners and in the USA it the normal way of managing public gardens and parks. New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, for example has a page for volunteering. So do US gardens open to the public, like Longwood and so do US botanical gardens like Missouri.
My suggestion to Dacorum Borough Council (DBC) is to provide an elegant little building with a verandah where volunteers can keep their tools, wash their hands, make tea, distribute seeds and keep an eye on the gardens. You can see how this would work at Phoenix Garden in London. It is an approach which would soon make the Hemel Hempsted Water Gardens a beautiful place and a social amenity. Old folks would go there to meet their friends and get healthy exercise. The Council might find its social services bill falling as fast as its parks maintenance bill. The lager drinkers one sometimes sees in the Water Gardens might change to a life of tea drinking and hard work. Younger volunteers might find that the skills learned from older gardeners leading to skilled employment. So come on DBC: why not make everyone happier and reduce the Council budget? Isn’t that your job?

Parks managers, parks police and polite gardeners

Expert gardeners should maintain good order among plants and people in public parks and gardens

Expert gardeners should maintain good order among plants and people in public parks and gardens

I had a chat with a gardener in one of London’s Royal Parks this week and he was a nice a man as you could meet anywhere. He loved his work and he loved the visitors who admire his work. Talking about a park user who seemed troubled, and who he tried to look after, he remarked that ‘One thing I know for sure is that whatever you do in this world – you get it back tenfold’. His idea was that she must have treated some people badly and now she was experiencing the consequences. Anyway, he was such a nice man that it made me wonder about the park administrator vixen who shouted at Tian Yuan with the help of a portable PA system. I think it is wrong to have separate administrations for gardening staff and policing staff. Instead, they should give the gardeners more training and more money and more responsibility – and smartphones. If they have serious trouble they should film what is happening and call on support from the real police. The video could be recorded in the police station in real time. The advantages would be (1) the public tend to love and respect good gardeners who make beautiful places (2) there would be less expenditure on parks police – and less aggro to park visitors.

Two Garden Shows

County Garden Show, Norderstedt

County Garden Show, Norderstedt

County Garden Show, Norderstedt

National Garden Show, Koblenz

National Garden Show, Koblenz

National Garden Show, Koblenz

National Garden Show, Koblenz

This year Germany offers both the County Garden Show in Norderstedt and the National Garden Show in Koblenz. Norderstedt is using the show to unite an old mineral excavation site with an adjacent woodland and grassland to create a new park and Koblenz has renovated an antique military site to parkland and upgraded existing urban open space on three sites on both sides of the Rhine. The competition for the Norderstedt master plan was won by Kiefer Landschaftsarchitekten (Berlin), that for Koblenz by RMP Landschaftsarchitekten (Bonn). Both competitions were run in 2006.

Despite the large difference between the budgets for County and National shows, there is not much to choose between Norderstedt and Koblenz, and I believe that Norderstedt will leave a more substantial legacy behind it after the show. I am told that the renovation of the military site swallowed large amounts of money in Koblenz, and perhaps this is the reason why I judge this National Show to be the dullest I have seen in the 30 years that I have been visiting them. Whereas previous shows offered political comment, experimental design and a cornucopia of exhibits, Koblenz offers as its central attraction a threadbare expanse of grass surrounded by the dullest temporary exhibits, most of a commercial nature. The highlight of the visit is the cable car ride between sites, strung high over the Rhine at the point where the Mosel joins it – but this is also a temporary installation which will be dismantled when the show closes in autumn. Norderstedt leads the way when it comes to the technicalities of ground modelling, offering crisp and sculptural soft detailing and beautiful flowering meadows.

Both shows continue the trend of an emphasis on horticultural excellence. German plant designers are at the top of the range when it comes to herbaceous perennials, carpet bedding and the contemporary combinations of the two and they are certainly putting the Garden back into Garden Shows. Unfortunately, this does seem to be happening at the expense of the inspirational designs that were such a characteristic of past shows, particularly those that took place in the 1980s, the golden financial years before reunification.

Permaculture as an approach to planting design for landscape architects

Permaculture at Glovers Street Organic Community Garden in Sydney

Permaculture at Glovers Street Organic Community Garden in Sydney

Permaculture is an attractive idea and may become an economic necessity (as argued in the video below) when the oil supply begins to run out. Permaculture relates to the ancient agriculture of West Asia but, in its modern form, originated in Australia and was popularised by Bill Mollison. My worry is that too often it looks cheap and nasty, with coloured plastic, rusty iron, wire and junk. My hope is that landscape architects will make it more beautiful and more efficient – so that food forest gardening can become one of the standard approaches to managing vegetation in urban and rural areas. I can add to my concerns about London’s 2012 Olympic Park the fact that it is being designed for recreation, aesthetics and biodiversity only – not for urban food production.
The above image, of Permaculture at Glovers Street Organic Community Garden in Sydney, illustrates the point that if Permaculture is to win the success it deserves then it must look good as well as being good. See the video, below of a beautiful Devon farm and also these links

A 2008 paper from DEFRA examined the UK’s food supply and supplied these figures

  • pre – 1750 around 100% (in temperate produce)
  • 1750 – 1830s around 90-100% except for poor harvests
  • 1870s around 60%
  • 1914 around 40%
  • 1930s 30 – 40%
  • 1950s 40 – 50%
  • 1980s 60 – 70%
  • 2000s 60%

The amazing figure of 70% in the 1980s was caused by the fabulously generous EU agricultural subsidies. Food prices and the proportion of GDP spent on food has been in decline for half a century. It is now rising and this could be the stimulus to make the UK self-sufficient in food. This ignores the UK’s reliance on oil to produce the food but, as argued in the video, this problem could be solved by a change to forest gardening and permaculture techniques.