Spaces open to the public are full of practical solutions to various problems, making them a great source of ideas to adapt and incorporate into your own space.
The small list below is of Public Open Spaces that Ben has had the pleasure of visiting and believes to be some of the most inspirational and influential. Various images accompany a review of each visit, as well as contact information should you plan to go there yourself.
Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, London
Note: The planting in the park has a wild and carefree aesthetic, capturing light and movement whilst softening the hard landscape.
Returning almost 3 years later I was not sure what to expect at the site that once hosted the 2012 Olympic games. My memories were of vast swathes of annual flower meadows, framed by large flat amenity areas connected with access paths the size of roads. The extraordinarily large and unusual shaped buildings, used to house the different events, dominated the landscape. Through the middle of the site meandered the River Lee, which at the time had been completely re-landscaped and planted.
The park’s 560 acres contrasted greatly from North to South. Whilst much of the excitement and events occurred in the South, the North retreated quietly into a very native and natural looking environment. A huge part of the Olympic Legacy was that the park would bring economic investment, local housing and facilities, but it would also provide diverse habitats for wildlife. This was not an easy objective given the site had a history of over 200 years of heavy industry and pollution.
Arriving in the south of the park my first impressions was that there had been many changes. Several of the buildings had been reduced in size to adapt to their present use. The amenity areas and paths had been scaled back too, divided up and separated with gardens and borders that give way to play areas, cafes and seating. My general observation was that it now feels a lot greener, softer and more intimate.
Note: Species of plants vary greatly within the park. In some areas natives rub shoulders with exotics whilst in others the planting follows a theme or climatic zone. Here Haphlocarpa scaposa represents the Aster family in the Southern Hemisphere planting.
Note: The hard landscaping follows a simple, clean and contemporary design, whilst being hardwearing and very practical.
Looking around the park it is hard to believe what it once was. All the soil on site, some two million tonnes had to be screened and cleared of industrial waste, then topped with a 600mm layer of clean top soil that had been specifically made from recycled quarry dust and various composts. Then, and only then, did it meet the strict criteria set for both planting and Health and Safety.
The hard landscaping, simple and robust, cleanly frames and contrasts with the naturalistic style of planting, giving a contemporary yet relaxed feel to the park. However quirky seating and unusual flora from various continents around the world, make this park stand out from its contemporaries. It’s a buzzing place for people of all ages. Groups, families, couples and individuals all use the park for recreational purposes, whilst its buildings play host to various concerts and sporting events.
Heading North the park begins to change. A softer, quieter and more peaceful atmosphere, where borders give way to large swathes and entire banks of semi-native planting. Reed beds line the banks of the river and low-lying paths are designed to withstand flooding during the wetter months. It’s a place for quiet contemplation whilst watching out for local wildlife.
Note: Further north in the park vast swathes of both annuals and perennials mix informally, creating a very beautiful and natural feel to the park. Paths and benches provide access and places to relax.
As you move further through the park you begin to reach its boundaries, these are areas where development is yet to begin but will hopefully link the surrounding communities with the park. The temporary planting here is exquisite. Known as the “Stitch” planting, it is exciting, vibrant and looks effortlessly beautiful with its mix of native and foreign species. Designed to be temporary, this planting has a dynamic, ephemeral feel that will change as the seasons pass. Personally speaking this was the highlight of the park…inspiring and uplifting!
So whether you’re looking for planting inspiration, a few lengths in the pool, a glass of homemade lemonade or a Great Crested Grebe, this park has something for everyone.
Note: The temporary "stitch" planting is vibrant and exciting it its ephemeral nature. Simple cube like planters house semi mature trees, giving height to the scheme and contrasting with the loose mix of Annuals, Biennials and short lived Perennials.