Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Bristol street life

Between 2001 and 2009 I worked on a series of plantings for Bristol City Council, some perennial borders in parks, but mostly roundabouts, traffic islands and junctions. The sort of places which thousands of people drive or are driven past every day. Traditionally these were planted up with bedding or with shrubs and mown grass.
People moved on, budget cuts bit, etc, so I haven't done anything in the city for few years now, although in fact council staff had told me that I had saved them a lot of money, one even telling me “we've not done any maintenance, and it still looks all right”. It was never the idea to do 'no maintenance' but I designed some very robust plant mixes, which have in fact coped pretty well.

Last week I was in Bristol over night and went out and photographed some of my work. I was amazed at just how much had not just survived but done really well. I felt very vindicated. Bristol offers fertile soils with a long growing season so weed competition can be severe. In most cases this was not a problem, with 'my' plants able to out-compete most weeds.

Levels of maintenance by council contractors varies. Smaller plantings in small parks are more likely to have a higher standard of care. Roadside plantings tend to have less. In some instances community groups have taken over and looked after plantings or in one case completely taken over to make a community-run area (Snuff Mills).
Phlomis russeliana at Three Lamps junction. Totterdown. Planted 2003/2006
Three Lamps junction of the Bath and Wells roads
Very successful coverage by the plants chosen, but not a huge amount of colour. Partly perhaps because I just didn't photograph it at the right time, but also the stronger coloured Achillea definitely dies out whereas the paler survives. And there is a huge plant mix in here, so there's a long season of interest. What was good though was how complete the vegetation coverage over the soil is – denying space to weeds (and hiding the rubbish).
Oxford St. 2006

Oxford St – visible from the Wells Rd. just up from Three Lamps
This was intended as coppiced shrubs and perennials. No coppicing ever happened, and for some reason Geranium 'Claridge Druce' has taken over with a vengeance.Planting was done into a very thick layer of green waste, which over time has either degraded or been washed off, which did perhaps have a negative impact on some plants. This does show however just how well these pink geraniums do in the west of England climate. Long flowering season too. Few more of these and Bristol could be 'pink city'.
St.Johns Cres. 2007

St. John's Crescent, Bedminster
A pocket park. Pretty well looked after this one.
Malago Lane, 2006

Malago Lane, Bedminster
A triumph over adversity this. Nasty place to be a plant: salt, poor soil. A limited selection of toughies were planted, ALL species have survived. Rudbeckia fulgida greatly reduced but Euphorbia cyparissias does a fantastic job of filling spaces. Crambe cordifolia makes impact.

All very encouraging. The socialist in me loves doing this. Beautify the city. There are so many silly little patches of green all over Bristol, which all need mowing. They could all be planted up. It doesn't cost much. For a fraction of the money spent on the new gardens that our kleptocratic financier class seem to be busy making you could 'do' the whole city.

Have you read the unique soap opera for gardeners – Dig, Plant and Bitch. Recently described by a colleague as 'Jilly Cooper meets Geoff Hamilton' (translation for non-Brits: sharp-nailed chicklit crossed with gardening advice from favourite uncle).


Unknown said...

I have been doing the same in a green patch of formerly mown grass on a roundabout in Sheffield. Designed and planted it up (with no soil remediation) two years' ago. I have used some of the species that you have e.g. Phlomis russeliana. Some ruderal perennials have arrived as well (such as fennel) which have been welcomed. The weed suppression of the selected plants has proved excellent. We (volunteers) weed and cut down flowering stems once annually (late winter/early spring).

It would not be an exaggeration to say that the public LOVE it.
Geranium 'Claridge Druce' is a thug. Never use it is my motto!
Marian Tylecote

Anonymous said...

Looks great! I grew up in Bristol (near Bedminster) and must go back to see your plantings. Now in Stirling - the Council is replacing some bedding with edibles and wildflower seeds but I'm trying to encourage them to use perennials too. Thanks for the inspiration!

Country Mouse said...

You have certainly beautified your city! I'm thinking about what little I can do along our country lane :-)

Country Mouse said...

Unfortunately dig, plant, bitch is only available in the U.K. Oh well, I'm distracted enough as it is I guess!

Unknown said...

Nice to read the term "socialism" in a piece on gardening...doesn't crop up too often in Gardens Illustrated. This and your other post on privacy and greed capture what a depressingly class-ridden field gardening is in the UK.

Saxon Holt said...

You Brits surely have a different definition of "no maintenance". No doubt your selection of plants was superb, but I bet there were neighbors in the night who did some tidy work to help out public maintenance crew.
Or perhaps, as I have long suspected, garden plants in GS have some sort of modified dna that allow them to thrive anywhere...

Phil Hirst said...

Like Marian I too have been involved in planting a (different) public area in Sheffield on very thin soil and infrequent maintenance by volunteers. Successes have been Eryngiums, Verbena bonariensis, Sedum Matrona, Rudbeckias and Stipas. Less successful have been Heleniums which despite being stunning in the first year, really suffered in a very dry summer last year. Locals have been very complimentary even asking for names and suppliers of plants.

alex bishop said...

I noted these planting by reading a variety of journals for the landscape industry. Yes, they make positive sense especially when local authority parks want bedding in areas where there is no water supply e.g a roundabout. We need varied and dynamic bedding in our public realm but we must not banish or disrespect bedding. My thoughts are working in the landscape management industry are yep a little less bedding, more drought tolerant bedding, diverse at that and some of the plantings you have shown here. Show some more pics if you have some.

Telegraph Tea Room Garden School said...

Totally brilliant Noel. Those planting areas are just my thang (Canadian!) Amenity Horticulture, you cannot beat it, and done well, as you so clearly do, what a difference to society it makes. I used to go to the seminars at Sheffield and listen to everything 'The Man' said about meadows and turning Industrial sites into landscape that changes everything. You know this whole thing has started up again in me now, along with adapting to climate changes, there will never be a dull moment again. I am going to have to check out the soap opera....hmm I'll do that now. Great read and Great Job you have done there on those areas of planting.

Unknown said...

Thank you SO much for these beds around my city. Infact just today my mum commented on the Three Lamps and Oxford St and how amazing they're looking. Well done sir!

Lisa said...

The plantings look great! What an positive reflection on the original plant choices.

I'm a big fan of these kinds of plantings in city settings- I'm seeing it done a bit more here in the U.S. -- opportunities abound.

Many of the public pocket plantings in my small mountain city are maintained by volunteers, both freelance and through a local non-profit (Asheville GreenWorks).