The Garden Guide

Book: Landscape Planning and Environmental Impact Design: from EIA to EID
Chapter: Chapter 4 Public open space POS

Public gardens

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GARKS vs Public Gardens

Cities need gardens and parks, not 'garks' While 'urban park' suggests an area of grass and trees, 'public garden' suggests a much more intimate type of space with loving management. Much harm has been done by confusing gardens with parks. We have made too many gardenesque-parks, or 'garks' for short. Their creators imagine they will combine the best of both worlds. More often, they combine the worst of both worlds. When an actress propositioned a writer, Bernard Shaw, that they could have children with her looks and his brains, Shaw replied that they might have her brains and his looks. Let us start by considering the gark's parents: the garden and the park. Town gardens, where they exist, have a wonderfully civilising influence on cities. For half an hour or half a day, we citizens can luxuriate in a resplendent urban scene, with sweet scented flowers, comfortable seating, a sparkle of fountains, bright sun, warmth, or deep shade. Birds sing, bees hum, lovers coo. Such a place needs to be secured at night, so that the seats need not be bolted to the ground or the beds filled with tough low-maintenance shrubs. New York 's 'pocket parks' may be classed as public gardens, as can the Jardin de Luxembourg, in Paris , and the garden of Copenhagen 's Royal Library [Fig 4.13]. Parkland should provide an equally delightful but altogether different experience, more like being in the country. Such spaces can liberate the soul. In autumn, one wants to stride along with the wind in one's face and the leaves at one's feet. In winter, the frost should crackle and the mist collect in damp hollows. In spring, woods and meadows should be alive with flowers and butterflies. In summer, it is good to laze under a tree overlooking the lake. At all seasons, it is a joy to watch deer or other animals which benefit from the imparkment. Now consider the poor gark [Fig 4.14]. Mown grass does not change with the seasons. Duck ponds are seriously eutrophic. Clumps of exotic trees are so mixed they resemble shrubberies. There are too many statues of dead politicians. Mass plantings of Prunus 'Otto Luyken', Rosa 'Frau Dagmar Hastrup' and Berberis stenophylla provide a gardenesque experience, with their evergreen leaves, flowers and berries, but the scale is non-domestic. One cannot have an intimate experience with a block of low-maintenance ground cover, any more than one can with a Corbusian residential tower block. GARK can stand for Gardenesque Arrangement of Ruralesque Kitsch. Some garks should be converted to public gardens. This requires walls, lockable gates and a high level of horticultural expertise. If more urban places were maintained in this way, there would not be the same need for urban dwellers to make long journeys to find country gardens which have beautiful flowers and plant combinations.